Half the World is Urban

Half the World Soon to Be in Cities – New York Times

By next year, more than half the world’s population, 3.3 billion people, will for the first time live in towns and cities, a number expected to swell to almost 5 billion by 2030, according to a United Nations Population Fund report released today.

The onrush of change will be particularly extraordinary in Africa and Asia, where between 2000 and 2030 “the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation,” the report says.

This surge in urban populations, fueled more by natural increase than the migration of people from the countryside, is unstoppable, said George Martin, author of the report, “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.”

Cities will edge out rural areas in more than sheer numbers of people. Poverty is now increasing more rapidly in urban areas as well, and governments need to plan for where the poor will live rather than leaving them to settle illegally in shanties without sewage and other services, the United Nations says.

Most cities in the ‘developing world’ don’t have functioning water system, electricity, or transportation grids.  These things in the US were paid for by public subscription programs or infrastructure taxes.  Now, US city power and water systems are crumbling, but there are all these new economic opportunities.  Let’s see…. are businesses going to invest in building new power and water systems in countries where workers have few/no rights and they can vacuum up wealth quickly, or in repairing failing systems in old countries which have at least nominal worker rights?

Oh, right… wealthy people all drink bottled water and have their own generators now.  I guess that answers that question.

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12 comments

  1. That huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of us keeps getting wider every year – but I’m sure it’s just because people are lazy and don’t work hard enough to get rich and not because policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too).

    Bitter much?

    That aside, at least for the US, census data and other economic indicators suggest that everyone is getting wealthier. And I mean that literally — even the bottom %5 of the economic pyramid are making steady climbs compared to the purchasing power of the rest of the world. Keep in mind, you’re talking about one of the few places in the world where one of the prime conserns for those in poverty is obesity.

    Do you have any idea how ludicrous your statement is in light of that fact?

    So, yes, the gap between the top and the bottom of the chain is increasing. One might point out, “So what?” Really. The US “middle class” deals in goods and services equal to the top of those in Europe, and the middle class in the US and Europe as a whole live better than the elites pretty much everywhere else on the planet.

    “A rising tide lifts all boats” is an apt metaphor.

    You want to talk about bias? How about:

    […] policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too)

    You know what? Everyone in the US who buys a Subway franchise does have the opportunity to be a millionaire. So do street-sweepers and garbage-men. And to be really compelling, they can do so without changing their lines of work. It just takes drive, opportunity, intent, and yes, hard work.

  2. Yes, people should just work harder to get wealthy.

    That huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of us keeps getting wider every year – but I’m sure it’s just because people are lazy and don’t work hard enough to get rich and not because policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too).

    Your bias is showing.

  3. Yes, people should just work harder to get wealthy.

    That huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of us keeps getting wider every year – but I’m sure it’s just because people are lazy and don’t work hard enough to get rich and not because policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too).

    Your bias is showing.

    • That huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of us keeps getting wider every year – but I’m sure it’s just because people are lazy and don’t work hard enough to get rich and not because policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too).

      Bitter much?

      That aside, at least for the US, census data and other economic indicators suggest that everyone is getting wealthier. And I mean that literally — even the bottom %5 of the economic pyramid are making steady climbs compared to the purchasing power of the rest of the world. Keep in mind, you’re talking about one of the few places in the world where one of the prime conserns for those in poverty is obesity.

      Do you have any idea how ludicrous your statement is in light of that fact?

      So, yes, the gap between the top and the bottom of the chain is increasing. One might point out, “So what?” Really. The US “middle class” deals in goods and services equal to the top of those in Europe, and the middle class in the US and Europe as a whole live better than the elites pretty much everywhere else on the planet.

      “A rising tide lifts all boats” is an apt metaphor.

      You want to talk about bias? How about:

      […] policies are being made to ensure money stays in the hands of those who already have it and prevents middle class people from becoming “wealthy” (and everyone who buys a Subway franchise has the opportunity to be millionaires, too)

      You know what? Everyone in the US who buys a Subway franchise does have the opportunity to be a millionaire. So do street-sweepers and garbage-men. And to be really compelling, they can do so without changing their lines of work. It just takes drive, opportunity, intent, and yes, hard work.

  4. However, Tuscon, AZ built a 300-mile long open canal, which provides safe water as long as you’re not using it for a fishtank. Let’s see… open canal in a dry desert atmosphere, water that will kill fish… hmm.

    Are you saying that fish screwing in your water makes it unpalatable? I mean, it is for me, but it seems a hugely “green” solution. I’m more concerned about the fact it’s an open canal, but on reflection, easy maintenance access and a relatively small surface-area for evaporation probably means it’ll end up delivering more fresh water faster and cheaper than NY’s solution.

    But wealth in this country is increasingly moving into gated communities, many with back-up generators and the spare cash to spend on bottled water or Poland Spring delivery trucks.

    Well, yeah. Thus why they’re called “wealthy,” they can buy stuff like gates and Poland Spring delivery trucks. Do we want to deny folks the ability to be wealthy, now, just because it makes the have-nots feel bad and maybe be motivated to fix up their own infrastructure, which they might have to work and — get this — become wealthy to have? You do realize that everyone in those gated communities are paying taxes, both city and state, to support the water systems that supply the slums? In fact, they’re paying vastly more, per capita, than the ghetto-crawlers.

    Maybe if they stopped, people’d stop moving to the slums subsidized on the backs of the folks who don’t live there, no?

    Private heavens are currently allowing for the public Purgatories. Hells would, in most ways, be better because at least the inhabitants would have reason to do something to improve it and those not living there could spend their monies on something useful. Public schools suffer from a lack of competition, ie too few private heavens. In areas where there are a number of private schools or voucher systems, public schools improve. Rapidly.

    So, yes, I think your position is clarified. I also think as a means of approaching the problem, it misses root causes and thus solutions, an expense gained at the advantage of providing comfort to outsiders as observers and insiders as victims.

  5. I completely agree. Historically, people never move back to rural areas, in large part because life is so much better in cities – this was true in Britain in 1850 and it’s just as true in Kenya in 2007. What will happen (and will be made even easier by the availability of cheap cellphones and internet cafes for the middle class) is that urban people have an opportunity to organize and either through legal political means or if necessary illegal means will work to improve their situation. The transformation of the squatter settlements in many of the South American megacities has been quite impressive and hopeful – a number of the older locations that started out as hellish slums now have electricity, running water, and decently built houses. Expect that trend to continue. One of the powers that urbanization give people is numbers and organization. 5 million isolated farmers cannot communicate or organize effectively. 5 million poor people living in a single large city can scare the hell out of the local leadership and demand reform. If you look at the history of the last 20 years, in many, likely most 3rd world nation, these people have gotten at least some of their demands met.

  6. I intended this to be more of a comment on the increasing unlikelihood of massive renewals of American urban infrastructure. New York City is working on a new underground pipe to bring in hundreds of millions of new gallons of water. However, Tuscon, AZ built a 300-mile long open canal, which provides safe water as long as you’re not using it for a fishtank. Let’s see… open canal in a dry desert atmosphere, water that will kill fish… hmm.

    Lagos, Nigeria is one of the new urban centers, and it will likely surpass both Mexico City and Tokyo in the next few years, in terms of both size and population. People move there because there are educational and medical opportunities, and they can work the angles to make money to feed families. Moreover, some of them will eventually set their eyes on developing networks for electricity distribution and water distribution and perhaps purification. I’ve got no objection to any of that.

    But wealth in this country is increasingly moving into gated communities, many with back-up generators and the spare cash to spend on bottled water or Poland Spring delivery trucks… even though water coming out of the tap in the US is substantially less likely to be compromised than almost anywhere else in the world. Yet that only applies if people actually pay for the systems that provide that water, and make periodic upgrades in their services. And if the wealthy and the middle class opt out of that upgrade, or make private arrangements for themselves… well, other people are screwed.

    That’s what I’m really worried about… so many private heavens that the public hells grow larger. Witness as exhibit A the deterioration of the typical American public school.

    Is this a useful clarificaiton of my position — which, admittedly, was formed on a snap judgement from preconceived notions on one of the hottest days in June locally?

  7. Most cities in the ‘developing world’ don’t have functioning water system, electricity, or transportation grids. These things in the US were paid for by public subscription programs or infrastructure taxes. Now, US city power and water systems are crumbling, but there are all these new economic opportunities. Let’s see…. are businesses going to invest in building new power and water systems in countries where workers have few/no rights and they can vacuum up wealth quickly, or in repairing failing systems in old countries which have at least nominal worker rights?

    Oh, right… wealthy people all drink bottled water and have their own generators now. I guess that answers that question.

    So … the solution is to assume the poor are so stupid, that they’ll stay in an untenable situation where they’re starving and suffering, rather than move back out to the rural areas? Or that they are already so stupid that they move into places they can’t earn enough to eat or live with something that they consider better than what they came from?

    I suppose it’s just as valid a statement as “wealthy people all drink bottled water and have their own generators now.”

    I dread a world in which people aren’t free to make their own decisions and make their own judgement calls about what they consider good for them. So, you object to people moving to urbs where there aren’t functioning water, electrical, and water systems? Do you suggest they stay in the rurals, where there’s no medical support, jobs, education, or social opportunities?

    People should be able to pick their own Hells, at the very minimum.

  8. Most cities in the ‘developing world’ don’t have functioning water system, electricity, or transportation grids. These things in the US were paid for by public subscription programs or infrastructure taxes. Now, US city power and water systems are crumbling, but there are all these new economic opportunities. Let’s see…. are businesses going to invest in building new power and water systems in countries where workers have few/no rights and they can vacuum up wealth quickly, or in repairing failing systems in old countries which have at least nominal worker rights?

    Oh, right… wealthy people all drink bottled water and have their own generators now. I guess that answers that question.

    So … the solution is to assume the poor are so stupid, that they’ll stay in an untenable situation where they’re starving and suffering, rather than move back out to the rural areas? Or that they are already so stupid that they move into places they can’t earn enough to eat or live with something that they consider better than what they came from?

    I suppose it’s just as valid a statement as “wealthy people all drink bottled water and have their own generators now.”

    I dread a world in which people aren’t free to make their own decisions and make their own judgement calls about what they consider good for them. So, you object to people moving to urbs where there aren’t functioning water, electrical, and water systems? Do you suggest they stay in the rurals, where there’s no medical support, jobs, education, or social opportunities?

    People should be able to pick their own Hells, at the very minimum.

    • I intended this to be more of a comment on the increasing unlikelihood of massive renewals of American urban infrastructure. New York City is working on a new underground pipe to bring in hundreds of millions of new gallons of water. However, Tuscon, AZ built a 300-mile long open canal, which provides safe water as long as you’re not using it for a fishtank. Let’s see… open canal in a dry desert atmosphere, water that will kill fish… hmm.

      Lagos, Nigeria is one of the new urban centers, and it will likely surpass both Mexico City and Tokyo in the next few years, in terms of both size and population. People move there because there are educational and medical opportunities, and they can work the angles to make money to feed families. Moreover, some of them will eventually set their eyes on developing networks for electricity distribution and water distribution and perhaps purification. I’ve got no objection to any of that.

      But wealth in this country is increasingly moving into gated communities, many with back-up generators and the spare cash to spend on bottled water or Poland Spring delivery trucks… even though water coming out of the tap in the US is substantially less likely to be compromised than almost anywhere else in the world. Yet that only applies if people actually pay for the systems that provide that water, and make periodic upgrades in their services. And if the wealthy and the middle class opt out of that upgrade, or make private arrangements for themselves… well, other people are screwed.

      That’s what I’m really worried about… so many private heavens that the public hells grow larger. Witness as exhibit A the deterioration of the typical American public school.

      Is this a useful clarificaiton of my position — which, admittedly, was formed on a snap judgement from preconceived notions on one of the hottest days in June locally?

      • However, Tuscon, AZ built a 300-mile long open canal, which provides safe water as long as you’re not using it for a fishtank. Let’s see… open canal in a dry desert atmosphere, water that will kill fish… hmm.

        Are you saying that fish screwing in your water makes it unpalatable? I mean, it is for me, but it seems a hugely “green” solution. I’m more concerned about the fact it’s an open canal, but on reflection, easy maintenance access and a relatively small surface-area for evaporation probably means it’ll end up delivering more fresh water faster and cheaper than NY’s solution.

        But wealth in this country is increasingly moving into gated communities, many with back-up generators and the spare cash to spend on bottled water or Poland Spring delivery trucks.

        Well, yeah. Thus why they’re called “wealthy,” they can buy stuff like gates and Poland Spring delivery trucks. Do we want to deny folks the ability to be wealthy, now, just because it makes the have-nots feel bad and maybe be motivated to fix up their own infrastructure, which they might have to work and — get this — become wealthy to have? You do realize that everyone in those gated communities are paying taxes, both city and state, to support the water systems that supply the slums? In fact, they’re paying vastly more, per capita, than the ghetto-crawlers.

        Maybe if they stopped, people’d stop moving to the slums subsidized on the backs of the folks who don’t live there, no?

        Private heavens are currently allowing for the public Purgatories. Hells would, in most ways, be better because at least the inhabitants would have reason to do something to improve it and those not living there could spend their monies on something useful. Public schools suffer from a lack of competition, ie too few private heavens. In areas where there are a number of private schools or voucher systems, public schools improve. Rapidly.

        So, yes, I think your position is clarified. I also think as a means of approaching the problem, it misses root causes and thus solutions, an expense gained at the advantage of providing comfort to outsiders as observers and insiders as victims.

    • I completely agree. Historically, people never move back to rural areas, in large part because life is so much better in cities – this was true in Britain in 1850 and it’s just as true in Kenya in 2007. What will happen (and will be made even easier by the availability of cheap cellphones and internet cafes for the middle class) is that urban people have an opportunity to organize and either through legal political means or if necessary illegal means will work to improve their situation. The transformation of the squatter settlements in many of the South American megacities has been quite impressive and hopeful – a number of the older locations that started out as hellish slums now have electricity, running water, and decently built houses. Expect that trend to continue. One of the powers that urbanization give people is numbers and organization. 5 million isolated farmers cannot communicate or organize effectively. 5 million poor people living in a single large city can scare the hell out of the local leadership and demand reform. If you look at the history of the last 20 years, in many, likely most 3rd world nation, these people have gotten at least some of their demands met.

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