The Enduring Allure of Urban Environments

Even if the swelling modern metropolis doesn't reflect the gleaming city of science fiction, Edwin Heathcote finds much to be optimistic about with regard to the future of cities on a rapidly urbanizing planet.
June 14, 2013, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The numbers are astonishing. After surpassing the threshold at which more people live in cities than do not for the first time in recorded history in the last few years, 75 percent of humans will live in cities within 20 years. 

"Can cities cope with these explosive increases in population?" asks Heathcote. "The city of the future used to be envisioned as a sci-fi landscape of flying cars and elevated walkways, of skyscrapers and spaceports. But now we are more likely to see the grim, endless expanses of mass-produced housing on the edges of the booming Chinese cities, or the self-built shacks of the informal settlements tumbling down hillsides adjacent to some of the world’s most desirable property."

"Yet something keeps people coming," he says. "The worst abuses of corruption and slum landlords, of homelessness and joblessness, are not enough to send people back to the country. It is rarely remarked on, but once rural dwellers make up their minds to come to the city, no matter how tough life is without the support networks of the village, they almost never return. City life seduces." Or perhaps they don't have any other choice.

"If the migration is inevitable, the question is: how can we create more equitable cities? How can we alleviate the worst of the problems facing the new 2bn and the countless others who are already there?"

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Published on Thursday, June 13, 2013 in The Financial Times
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