Urbanism As A Way Of Death?

Economist Jeremy Rifkin warns that unchecked urbanization is fueling unsustainable resource consumption and the destruction of the natural world.

"Large populations living in megacities consume massive amounts of the Earth's energy to maintain their infrastructures and daily flow of human activity. The Sears Tower in Chicago alone uses more electricity in a single day than the city of Rockford, Ill., with 152,000 people. Even more amazing, our species now consumes nearly 40 percent of the net primary production on Earth -- the amount of solar energy converted to plant organic matter through photosynthesis -- even though we make up only one-half of 1 percent of the animal biomass of the planet. This means less for other species to use."

"The flip side of urbanization is what we are leaving behind on our way to a world of hundred-story office buildings, high-rise residences and landscapes of glass, cement, artificial light and electronic interconnectivity. Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl continue to encroach on the remaining wild, pushing it to extinction."

"Try to imagine 1,000 cities of a million or more just 35 years from now. It boggles the mind and is unsustainable for Earth. I don't want to spoil the party, but perhaps the commemoration of the urbanization of the human race in 2007 might be an opportunity to rethink the way we live."

Full Story: The Risks of Too Much City

Comments

Comments

More proof that the ideological spectrum is actually a horseshoe

Rifkin's anti-urbanism has followers here in Oregon on the far left - the former "Alternatives to Growth Oregon" crowd (now thankfully defunct) that wanted to depopulate the state in order to eradicate "the human cancer."

It is quite interesting though, that Rifkin's take will be trumpeted by the anti-rubanist far right - the ones who want to destroy New Urbanism and return to their imagined 1950's autopia that never was. We've got plenty of this bunch in Oregon too.

When the far left and the far right team up, you know that the middle of the road is the place to be, as long as you don't get run over!

urbanplanningoverlord.blogspot.com

Sloppy Thinking By Jeremy Rifkin

In an example of very sloppy thinking, Rifkin attributes all the problems caused by growth to urbanization: for example: "Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl."

Actually, urbanization reduces many of these problems:

Rising Population: Cities do not reproduce their own population and grow because of migration from the country. As the majority of the world's people have moved to cities, population growth has slowed. World population is expected to peak and begin to decline during this century, largely as a result of urbanization.

Expanding Road and Rail Transport: Cities reduce the need for transportation. We would need much more transportation if we had the same economic growth in exurban rather than urban settlements.

Growing Consumption of Food, Water and Building Material: Likewise, we would more water, building materials, and energy if we had the same economic growth in exurban rather than urban settlements. Freestanding houses use more water for their landscaping, more building materials, and more energy for heating and cooling than rowhouses or apartments. And nothing could be more ludicrous than the idea that growing food consumption is the result of urbanization - rather than the result of economic growth.

This sort of sloppy thinking is dangerous because it would lead to bad policy if people took it seriously. If middle-class Americans start moving from the cities to exurbia to reduce the environmental problems that Rifkin describes, they would actually make these problems much worse.

Charles Siegel

Toward Sustainability, Not Exurbia

To me, the logical conclusion of this article is not that we need urbanization reduced in favor of the suburban model but rather that we need a) lowered global population and b) more self-sufficient rural living instead of modern-lifestyle ways -- shifting on a worldwide scale toward simple sustenance and away from more and faster consumption.

That's hardly realistic at this time in history, but nevertheless the point seems more that we must achieve sustainability, live more lightly and in harmony with nature, do with less, etc.; the point is not that Edgeless Cities are superior to the Chicago Loop.

The problem is that he uses the world's Beijings and Chicagoes to describe the issue when the issue extends beyond those types of places to suburban and exurban living as well.

What Rifkin Means - And What He Says

I agree that he *means* that we should move to "more self-sufficient rural living instead of modern-lifestyle ways -- shifting on a worldwide scale toward simple sustenance and away from more and faster consumption."

But then he should say that the problem is "industrialization" or " economic modernization" - not "urbanization." Maybe it is a question of sloppy terminology rather than sloppy reasoning.

The problem with this ideal of self-sufficient rural living is that it generally involves rapid population growth, while urbanization generally slows population growth. There is an obvious economic reason for this. In a subsistence economy, children have relatively little cost and provide a real economic benefit by helping with chores and taking care of parents when they get old. In an urban economy, children have very little economic benefit and a high cost, for child-care, education, food, clothing, etc.

The world's least developed countries tend to have high rates of population growth, and their subsistence economies are not sustainable even at low levels of consumption. Eg, they cut down the forests to keep themselves warm.

Rifkin clearly is wrong to connect urbanization (or economic modernization) with population growth.

Charles Siegel

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