Adapting to an urban future

Slums

What’s the challenge?

Humans are rapidly becoming an urban species, with millions of people migrating to cities each year. Over half of the world’s population live in urban areas and this is likely to reach 70% of the population by 2050. How will urban centres across the world keep pace with predicted continuing growth? What are the visions of tomorrow’s cities?

Facts

  • In 2008 for the first time in history more people lived in cities than in rural areas.
  • Slums are the world’s fastest growing habitat.

Rural to urban migration

Much of global urbanisation is due to rural-urban migration. Such growth is especially commonplace today in developing countries, where job opportunities and levels of pay are far higher in urban areas than they are in rural areas. Rural to urabn migration has been happening in the UK since the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time there was a shift away from agriculturally based rural dwelling towards more urban habitation to meet the mass demand for labour that new industry required.

The global proportion of urban population rose dramatically during the twentieth century:

1900 13% (220 million)

1950 29% (732 million)

2005 49% (3.2 billion)

By 2030 this figure is estimated by the United Nations to be 60% (4.9 billion)

Source: The UN World Urbanization Prospects (2009)

migration

Cities

In 1900, the world’s largest city was London, which then had 6.5 million, and out of the 10 largest cities that year, only one was outside of Europe or America. That city was Tokyo, Japan with 1.5 million people. Today this is very different and the fastest growing cities are in Asia and Africa. Greater Tokyo is the largest urban area in the world, with a population of 37.8 million people.

Urbanisation

Slums

Deprived areas around big cities can be known by various names including barrios, favelas, slums, shantytowns or zopadpattis. These slum areas can be found in or around urban areas in different continents across the world. A slum household is defined by the United Nations as a group of individuals living under the same roof lacking one or more of the following conditions:

– Access to improved water
– Access to improved sanitation
– Sufficient living area
– Durability of housing
– Security of tenure

Slums can also be a source of inspiration and highlight the ingenuity and resourcefulness of populations.

Case study: Caracas slum in Venezuela
Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is located in a valley. The wealthier residents and businesses are located in the valley floor. But look up towards the hills and you will see the steep hillsides lined with shantytowns, known as Barrios. In the last 50 years the population of Caracas has quadrupled, fuelled by Venezuela’s oil boom. But it is estimated that 50 percent of those living here still live in poor neighbourhoods known as barrios. These areas also face serious security issues, with gang warfare, drug dealing, robbery and other violent crimes common. They exist outside the official city grid, built without architects or municipal maps, and are in a constant state of transition.

Case study: Dharavi Zopadpatti in Mumbai, India

Dharavi is the world’s most densely populated urban area. This one square mile neighbourhood in the heart of Mumbai is estimated to be home to up to one million people. Migrants labourers and long-term residents work day and night in thousands of single-room factories, businesses and sweatshops known as zopadpattis. Sewing clothes, working in tanneries, bakeries and recycling all manner of waste are some of the activities that can be found here.

Case study: Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya

Kibera is East Africa’s largest slum. It is only the size of Central Park in New York City, yet it is home to over 700,000 people, who live in thousands of 10-by-10 feet shacks. This makes up one-quarter of Nairobi’s total population. There are no paved roads so residents use the active railway track that cuts through the centre of Kibera. As the settlement is unauthorized, it is excluded from official urban plans and has no public water, sanitation, schools or health care. Kibera is often the first stop for rural migrants who have travelled from their villages to the city to find work.

Panel discussion

21st Century Challenges held a panel discussion on 13 December 2011 to discuss the issue.

Robert Neuwirth, American journalist and author
Robert Neuwirth is an American journalist and author. He wrote the acclaimed book Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, describing his experiences living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and Newsday. Robert has recently completed a new book, The Stealth of Nations: The rise of the informal economy, examining the often hidden world of the informal economy around the world. His blog, Squatter City, offers an ongoing look at the phenomenon.

Robert Neuwirth spent two years living in squatter cities on four continents to research his book Shadow Cities. He captures the shantytowns where a billion people live now, and where three billion (a third of humanity) are expected to be living by 2050. One of the most profound trends of our time is the mass migration of the world’s population into urban areas. As of 2005, close to 70 million people were migrating to cities each year, resulting in a billion squatters (one in six people on Earth live as squatters). A troubling trend? Perhaps not, argues author Robert Neuwirth.

Deprived areas around big cities — call them barrios, favelas, slums or shantytowns — are super-concentrations of urban poverty, to be sure. Life there is hard: no water, no transport, no sewage. But looking at them from the inside brings a surprising perspective. Living in the squatter cities of Rio, Nairobi, Istanbul and Mumbai, Neuwirth discovered thriving restaurants, markets, health clinics, an unconventional real-estate market, and truly effective forms of self-organization.

His vivid descriptions and frank admiration for the ingenuity and innovation he encountered force us to rethink assumptions about community, poverty and the shape of 21st-century cities. Our challenge, Neuwirth says, isn’t to end poverty or control populations, but to engage and empower the residents in these “cities of tomorrow.”

“If you call people squatters, you are defining them in a certain way. You could also call them homesteaders, and define them in a completely different way.” Robert Neuwirth

“The informal economy accounts for $10 trillion per year, which means that if it were its own political structure, it would be the second largest economy in the world.” Robert Neuwirth

 

Robert-Neuwirth @ glance

Doug Saunders, Canadian-British author and journalist
Doug is a Canadian-British author and journalist. He is the author of the book Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World (2010). In this spectacular book, award-winning author Doug Saunders takes you on a detailed tour of 30 cities and villages on five continents, introducing you to the people and communities whose tragedies and victories are changing the world.

His exhaustive research and investigative discoveries, drawing on the latest developments in scholarship, will change our views of migration, cities, population growth, foreign aid and politics. Examining the third of humanity that is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen centres of rapid change and dramatic activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.

Doug is also the London-based European bureau chief for The Globe and Mail. He writes a weekly column devoted to the larger themes and intellectual concepts behind international news, and has won the National Newspaper Award, Canada’s counterpart to the Pulitzer Prize, on four occasions. He has won the National Newspaper Award, the Canadian counterpart to the Pulitzer Prize, on four occasions, including an unprecedented three consecutive awards for critical writing in 1998-2000, and an award honouring Reckoning as Canada’s best column in 2006.

“130 people each minute are migrating from rural to urban areas.” Doug Saunders

Peter Bishop, Group Director at the London Development Agency
Peter trained in town planning at Manchester University and has spent his entire career working in London.
Over the past 20 years he has been a Planning director in four different Central London Boroughs and has worked in major projects including Canary Wharf, the development of the BBC’s campus at White City and the Kings Cross developments, one of the largest and most complex sites in London.

He was appointed as the first Director of Design for London, the Mayor’s architecture and design studio, in 2006. In 2008 he was appointed Group Director at the London Development Agency. In this role he combined Design for London with the Agency’s land development, environmental, housing and public space programmes. Peter lectures and teaches extensively, is a visiting professor at the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the Nottingham Trent University, is an advisor to the City of Bucharest and an honorary fellow of University College London.

Design for London is part of the London Development Agency (LDA). The work of this directorate links together design, planning and land development, alongside decentralised energy and environmental programmes, to promote sustainable growth and target investment to areas where it can deliver clear economic benefits. Peter trained in town planning at Manchester University and has spent his entire career working in London.

Over the past 20 years he has been a Planning director in four different Central London Boroughs and has worked in major projects including Canary Wharf, the development of the BBC’s campus at White City and the Kings Cross developments, one of the largest and most complex sites in London. He was appointed as the first Director of Design for London, the Mayor’s architecture and design studio, in 2006. In 2008 he was appointed Group Director at the London Development Agency. In this role he combined Design for London with the Agency’s land development, environmental, housing and public space programmes.

Peter lectures and teaches extensively, is a visiting professor at the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the Nottingham Trent University, is an advisor to the City of Bucharest and an honorary fellow of University College London.

“The Chinese economy is set to become the 2nd greatest in the world, possibly overtaking America, between 2017 and 2025.” Peter Bishop

“In this global economy, I think the 21st century is going to be a period of very intense competition between cities.” Peter Bishop

Professor Richard Burdett, Director, LSE Cities, London School of Economics and Political Science
Ricky Burdett is Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science and director of LSE Cities and the Urban Age programme. His research interests focus on the interactions between the physical and social worlds in the contemporary city and how rapid urbanisation affects social and environmental sustainability. He is a Global Distinguished Professor at New York University and a member of Council of the Royal College of Art.

Burdett is involved in major regeneration projects across Europe and was Chief Adviser on Architecture and Urbanism for the London 2012 Olympics and architectural adviser to the Mayor of London from 2001 to 2006. In addition to leading interdisciplinary research and teaching programmes, Burdett has curated numerous exhibitions including ‘Global Cities’ at Tate Modern and was the Director of the 2006 Architecture Biennale in Venice. He is co-editor of two books based on the Urban Age research project – The Endless City (2007) and Living in the Endless City (2011) – and a regular contributor to journals, books and media programmes on contemporary architecture and urbanism. Twitter @LSECities

“Without cities having real democratic engagement of its citizens, it is very unlikely that you will get fair and just environments…the way a city is governed is just as important as the way it is designed.” Richard Burdett

“There are two axes – social inclusion and environmental responsibility – right at the heart of the future of cities.” Richard Burdett

Further reading from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Growing Pains, Geographical Magazine, October 2014

Dire Dhaka, Geographical Magazine, October 2014

Megacities use megaresources, Geographical Magazine, April 2015

Islands make the city, Geography Directions, July 2015

Sustainable urbanism: Transport hubs and city perspectives, Geography Directions, March 2014