Urban sustainability is
the challenge of the century as more of the world’s population becomes urbanized
(50 percent in 2008, 60 percent by 2030), at an ever-faster rate. Global climate change has been caused in large
part by the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy, materials and food for
metro areas. Yet urban culture also constitutes a powerful response capability
by which to cope with the diminishing socio-economic options forced by climate
change, especially in megacities, metro areas of more than 10 million people.
Upon this tableau, I am collaborating with the
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
in conjunction with other UN agencies (United Nations Environment Program, UN
Development Program, UN Habitat and UN Center for Regional Development) and the
Shanghai World Expo Bureau on a sourcebook for sustainable urban management in developing
The sourcebook will consider sustainability advantages
to urbanization along with disadvantages. It will cover broad topics including
greening the urban economy, effective management, as well as solution sectors (land
use and planning, water, buildings, transportation, information and
communications technologies). Case studies will be provided to illustrate how
solutions have already overcome a host of urgent challenges, or how they may soon be able to help do so.
With the acute rise of
urbanization in developing nations, megacities will increase in both number and
economic-environmental influence. There are between 12 and
15 developing nation megacities (cities of 10 million population in their
metropolitan areas), with 19 developing nation cities in total expected to
reach megacity status by 2025.
During the next ten
years, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (pdf), 90 percent of urban population growth will take place in developing
countries. In India, for example, cities are forecast to garner 85 percent or
the nation’s total tax revenue (up from current level of 80 percent), which
will be the primary source for financing economic development on a national
scale. Seventy percent of all new jobs are projected to be created in India’s cities by 2030, though cities are expected by that date to represent only 40 percent
of the nation’s total population.
In terms of impacting climate change, consider
that the cities of Asia alone are expected to contribute more than half the global
greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2027.
Besides the threats and risks that megacity
growth poses to global humanity and regional resources, trends in
developing nation megacities will also strongly define emerging economic
opportunities for large-scale low-carbon and resource-efficient technologies,
services and strategic approaches. Whether in Delhi or Mexico City, megacities
are devising more effective methods of integrated sustainability management using
everything from social networks and crowdsourcing, to paticipatory budgeting and
comprehensive green planning.
Cities are the most powerful economic engines in the world for advances in
information and communications technologies, health care, education and energy
systems. These combined capacities have provided urban areas with
anywhere from 55 percent (developing nations) to 85 percent (developed nations)
of total national income, significantly surpassing per-capita income averages,
and trending even more upward during the next two decades of hyper-urban growth.
Megacities and urbanization, in other words,
should be the cause for global concern that needs to be tempered with concerted
strategy, actions and ultimately, hope for humanity.
The complete United Nations study is expected to be released on
1 May 2011, the first anniversary of the opening of the 2010 Shanghai World
Expo-which has a theme of “Better city, Better life.”
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current,
an internationally active consultancy based in San Anselmo, California. He is a Fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute and author of How Green is Your City?: The SustainLane US City Rankings.