Cultural Psychology

Urbanization Crisis and Sustainable Transportation

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Ran across this article at the World Resource Institute website:


From the article:

Urbanization – A Glimpse of the Future

“Cities continue to be seen as offering economic opportunity superior to what can be realized in the countryside. Urban migration takes place on such a scale that we now have a new category of cities ‘megacities’, with populations over 10 million. By 2015 there will be 23 of these megacities; most will be found in the developing world. They will include Beijing, China; Cairo, Egypt; Mumbia, India; Lagos, Nigeria; Mexico City, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 12 years, nearly 3 out every 4 city dwellers will live in a megacity. By 2030, conditions in megacities will define the quality of life for nearly 5 billion of the earth’s inhabitants, most of whom will be under 18 years of age.”

My main criticism is that the view here is somewhat limited by prevailing paradigms of thought. The solution isn’t necessarily to build more trains and bus lines, as was done in the previous century. We need an entirely new post-modern approach, with things like:

  • Pedestrian-friendly cities. We need to get people out walking (or biking); getting exercise and, hopefully, fresh air.
  • Better designed cities, where people need to travel less to get to work, shopping, and healthcare
  • Things like courier services. Let a delivery cart bring the groceries to your house.
  • Telecommuting and distance-learning

Nothing in the report explicitly contradicts these ideas, but neither are they emphasized. The conclusion:

“To meet these challenges, sustainable mobility will need a model representing a social and political approach to sustainable development in cities, one that invites and embraces public-private partnerships to create and finance sustainable transport solutions.”

also concerns me for two reasons. First, as always, the “public-private partnership” model leaves out the spiritual dimension. Second, there is too much emphasis on institutions, whether private or public. It’s like saying, “to save people for the harms produced by institutions, let’s promote new institutions.” The hidden premise is that we need to do more to solve the problem. Maybe we need to do less — or at least to consider obvious simple solutions before resorting to grand schemes of mass transportation, etc.

Here’s an example of what I mean by doing less, or perhaps we could call it doing by not doing. Last summer, Brussels had a “car free Sunday.” For one day, all unnecessary transportation by cars and trucks was discouraged. People took to the streets, families on bicycles, enjoying the sunny day. It utterly changed the tone and complexion of the city, from a stressful urban center to a charming European capital. Just do this every Sunday and see what happens. No new “public-private” partnerships. No new bonds. No new taxes. Just gradually ban internal-combustion vehicles from the city centers. This will produce immediate benefits, and also change peoples’ values. Values: that’s the key. We need to change people’s values and attitudes. That is both a relatively inexpensive solution, and a better one than building more mass transportation systems.

Finally, the article seems to take as inevitable that urbanization will continue. We should examine this assumption carefully consider whether post-modern de-urbanization is attainable and better. There’s an old saying that bears repeating: God made the country, man made the town, and the devil made the city.

Do we want urbanization to continue or not? We can stop it if we choose. As the report’s opening paragraph makes clear, this is something of historical importance. In the past human civilization evolved blindly, subject to economic forces, and innumerable problems resulted. But now we know enough to shape our own destiny.

My views are themselves doubtless shaped by my own North American and European experience. The situation in developing countries is potentially different. But if the developing countries de-urbanize, this will set an example and establish paradigms that developing nations will emulate.

Epilogue:  After posting this , I found an informative article about sustainable cities and ecocities in the Wikipedia.

John S. Uebersax


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