Cities are good

An­gel ar­gues slow­ing down ur­ban­i­sa­tion will hurt the poor the most


BE­TWEEN 2015 and 2050 the num­ber of peo­ple living in cities will grow from about 4 bil­lion to 6.3 bil­lion.The UN es­ti­mates that the pro­por­tion of ur­ban dwellers will swell from 54 per cent to 67 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.The fig­ure is likely to swell to 77 per cent by 2100 ,with more than 8 bil­lion peo­ple living in cities. This growth will largely oc­cur in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.We are mov­ing to­wards a planet of cities, ar­gues ur­ban plan­ner and aca­demic, Shlomo An­gel, in his new book.

An­gel calls for aban­don­ment of ar­ti­fi­cial lim­its on ur­ban ex­pan­sion and pop­u­la­tion growth and in­stead seeks eco­nomic devel­op­ment and im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of life. An­gel is a mem­ber of the Ur­ban­iza­tion Project of New York Uni­ver­sity and con­ducted his re­search as a fel­low at the Lin­coln In­sti­tute of Land Pol­icy.He pro­vides a de­tailed, data-driven anal­y­sis filled with maps of world ur­ban­i­sa­tion pat­terns, as well as charts and ta­bles doc­u­ment­ing the chal­lenges fac­ing global cities.

The book, how­ever, is much more than an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise in ur­ban statis­tics. An­gel is an un­abashed sup­porter of ur­ban­i­sa­tion. He ar­gues that the move­ment of peo­ple into cities can­not be stopped. Try­ing to slow down ur­ban­i­sa­tion and even stop it will hurt the poor the most.

Planet of Cities ar­gues against the one-size-fits-all ap­proach that seems to be the stock-in-trade of many ur­ban plan­ners to­day.The city-build­ing re­quired

to­day is not so much about tear­ing down ex­ist­ing ar­eas for slum clear­ance and ur­ban re­newal, but rather mak­ing re­al­is­tic plans for new ur­ban land. That, An­gel says, re­quires plan­ning for ex­pan­sion and in­fra­struc­ture as soon as pos­si­ble. He ar­gues that the den­sity of some cities is too high and should de­crease and that of some is too low and should in­crease. For ex­am­ple, ex­plains An­gel, Dhaka is over­crowded and there is not enough living and work­ing space per per­son. It needs to ex­pand and sub­ur­banise so that its den­si­ties can be re­duced. He says cities in most de­vel­op­ing coun­tries (and in some Euro­pean coun­tries) are in the sus­tain­able range. They al­low for ad­e­quate living and work­ing space, and yet are dense enough to sup­port public trans­port, so as to limit en­ergy use and car­bon emis­sions.But a large num­ber of cities in the US, Australia, and Canada con­tain vast ar­eas where den­si­ties are too low to sup­port public trans­port. As a re­sult, th­ese cities use more than a fair share of en­ergy—through use of per­sonal ve­hi­cles—and they gen­er­ate more than a fair share of car­bon emis­sions.

An­gel does not mince words about the con­se­quences of ur­ban con­tain­ment pol­icy—smart growth, the man­age­ment of growth, com­pact cities—as a strat­egy for re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions. Such so­lu­tions are apt only for cities whose pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties ex­ceed sus­tain­able lev­els. In other cities, con­tain­ing growth would mean pro­tect­ing the planet would vic­timise the poor. An­gel ar­gues that strict mea­sures to pro­tect the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment by block­ing ur­ban ex­pan­sion could “choke the sup­plies of af­ford­able lands on the fringes of cities and limit the abil­i­ties of or­di­nary peo­ple to house them­selves.” An­gel crit­i­cises the no­tion that “cities should sim­ply be con­tained and en­closed by green­belts or im­pen­e­tra­ble ur­ban growth bound­aries” as “un­in­formed and utopian” be­cause it makes sus­tain­abil­ity “an ab­so­lute end that jus­ti­fies all means to at­tain it.” This pol­icy ap­proach sac­ri­fices such im­per­a­tives as the qual­ity of life and full em­ploy­ment.

The clas­sic ex­am­ple of the con­tain­ment par­a­digm is Seoul, where the estab­lish­ment of a green belt in 1971 pre­vented the con­ver­sion of land to ur­ban use in a 1,500 sq km area sur­round­ing the city. Ur­ban growth bur­geoned in the per­mit­ted area and led to the devel­op­ment of satel­lite towns and edge cities out­side the green­belt area. This has led to in­creased com­mut­ing dis­tances and higher car­bon emis­sions. Within the city, re­stricted sup­ply of land has led to sky-rock­et­ing house prices.

All this leads An­gel to ar­gue that the hous­ing prob­lem in cities of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is fun­da­men­tally a land one. When the poor can get ac­cess to an af­ford­able plot of land, they will build their own houses by them­selves us­ing their sav­ings and their sweat eq­uity, with

fi­nan­cial help from fam­ily, em­ploy­ers and ac­quain­tances. He be­lieves hous­ing will re­main af­ford­able— both in the for­mal and in­for­mal hous­ing sec­tors—as long as land on the ur­ban fringe is plen­ti­ful and af­ford­able.

An­gel also ar­gues against old style cities, which had one—or two or three—city cen­tres. He sug­gests spheres of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity spread across cities and in sub­urbs. He be­lieves if public trans­port is to be a vi­able op­tion in ar­eas of ex­pan­sion to economise on the en­ergy ex­pended and to limit green­house gas emis­sions, then it can­not be limited to con­tin­ued re­liance on ra­dial routes to the city cen­tre.

An­gels’ ar­gu­ments are healthy cor­rec­tive to plan­ners’ pen­chant to look for uni­form so­lu­tions. How­ever, they also seem too me­chan­i­cal to fit in with the chaos of the Third World. What about coun­tries with ru­ral pop­u­la­tions equally dense as ur­ban pop­u­la­tions. There, the sprawl is a re­sult of a ru­ral area chang­ing char­ac­ter. This ex­plains the grow­ing ten­sions be­tween peo­ple hold­ing land in ru­ral ar­eas in coun­tries such as In­dia and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers. Fer­han Benabadhil is a Dur­ban-based town plan­ning aca­demic cur­rently re­search­ing

South Asian cities

Estab­lish­ment of a green belt around Seoul in 1971 led to the devel­op­ment of satel­lite towns out­side the green belt. This in­creased com­mut­ing dis­tances and, con­se­quently, car­bon emis­sions


Lin­coln In­sti­tute of Public Af­fairs| ` 1,095


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