Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Sketch Of Cities As Wild

TO ESCAPE FORWARD environmentally, the most needed technology to enhance global health will be a “philosophy of care,” an emotional technology, that underlies and determines/guides our actions and our material technology.  We have a plethora of material, physical resolutions.  This “emotional technology” in relation to global urbanization is different.  It involves revisioning the city as an expression of nature. 

As our eco-literacy expands, the important difference between landscapes begins to reveal crucial similarities that are far more important than differences.  The forest and the city share a core strategy.  In Finite And Infinite Games, James Carse describes infinite games as effusive and having no explicit end, no clear boundaries, no clear beginning point, with the intent of the game that of addressing threats to continue.  When viewed as a machine, the city wears the appearance of being a “finite game”—an “end game,” but the city-form is open ended, yes, like a forest or river or desert.

Our longstanding emotional technology approaches cities as over-old to the point of being detached and apart from nature [i.e., “built,” implying artificial, an end-product of civilization], and ecologically dysfunctional.  We tend to view events from an everyday time scale that may look back in time or forward a little more than two generations if that far.  From an everyday perspective, this view appears sensible.  However, seeing things from a perspective of geo-time, our extreme youthfulness in the history of the Earth becomes apparent.  By any measure, urbanization is a fresh event on Earth rather that over old, and immature.  Cities are immature rather than advanced.  While seeing events in geo-time seem impractical and/or philosophical, If we can see that cities are immature and just beginning, we might open a practical, immediate opportunity where before we only seemed to be approaching an endpoint.
As natural events, cities are unpredictable, and this unpredictability is amplified by their immaturity that makes them somewhat incomparable with established “mature” ecosystems such as climax forests and deserts.  For example, we know what an eagle or bear needs for survival, but what the city-form needs is more “naturally” vague.  And this amplified unpredictability is a central element in future urban design because it suggests that design must primarily observe rather than know.  Encountering the “ immaturity” of the city that we had described as being over-old implores us to “dive into” the activities of the city rather than design the city as if we know what is required.  In this sense, we discover a “fresh ecosystem” that we may have overlooked.

It is now broadly accepted that any city is incomprehensible and unpredictable in terms of fully controlling its development.  Go to the “starchitects” or “city planners” that are asked to resolve urban “problems,” and they implore us to first listen before we act.  And because the city is incomprehensible, it has been erroneous to approach the city-form as a machine.  As a result, the fundamental ecological nature of urbanization has been poorly described.  Seeing the city as alive rather than as a machine will point us in directions that we have never allowed ourselves to imagine.  Seeing the city as “alive” can begin suspect that there are elements in urbanization that are “natural” as well as erroneous, so that there may be processes at work that may enhance ecological adaptability or function.  

Finding a “natural process” in urbanization would offer design directives if it truly existed.  Cities have appeared to be so inventive as to be “beyond nature.”  But our best measures suggest that cities have always been very fragile (which is apparent in the archaeological record), and continue to be fragile.  In The World Without Us,[i] a speculation of what would happen if human being became abruptly extinct, Alan Weisman describes the rapid deterioration and impermanence of the “concrete,” seemingly impermeable, built environment.

The terms, “artificial” and “domestic” and “wild” and “culture” and “nature” and “human” and “nonhuman” are terms that describe real distinctions at work in the world.  Modern consumption appears to be artificial in terms of over-serving base needs, with, for example, perhaps 350,000 gallons of water needed to manufacture one ton of rayon, or 15,000 gallons of water being consumed daily by each American both directly and indirectly.  But these terms are, finally, not that desperate.  The terms are not helpful for innovative urban planning when arranged into dialectics of opposites.  Rather than discard them or choose one set over another, there is a value in revisioning these concepts, primarily by expanding them.   For example, there is a very real way in which the artificial expresses the wild.  The “eco-literate reality” is that these terms are on continuums, and are facets of the other rather than mutually exclusive, and interrelated and inseparable.  Appearing to be primarily a “built” environment, human settlements seem to be “hard” and artificial.  But “hard architecture”—built stock—is fluid and overturns at a rate that is similar to the replacement rate of trees in forest succession.  And the real essence of the wild living city is, finally, not hard architecture, but rather, the action of human life itself that continuously “softens” the hard grid.

Continued emphasis upon difference more than similarity impedes human integration with the larger Earth community.   Our definition of the term “wildness” has referenced qualities of remoteness and the archaic.  Described in this way, wildness can have little to do with modern human life.  However, this sense of opposites is misleading.  Our most rational scientific measures suggest that wildness is the central dynamic—the functional essence—of a cosmos in which we are deeply immersed.  As Geoffrey West argues, “Cities are just like creatures.  They obey the same metabolic laws that govern every organism.”[ii] 

Wildness is how the Earth and cosmos work.  To suggest that modern human life is subject to some other process suggests our immaturity and limits and biases far more than reality and maturity.  We live inside the comprehensive wilderness of the biosphere, that is, in turn, a minute facet of stellar evolution.  This challenges our sense of wildness being restricted to being a descriptor for a complex unsettled ecosystem that has clearly been reduced to a remnant.  It opens the possibility of an enduring inherent wildness in everything.   It implies that wildness is a dynamic to meet the needs of any species—the “needs” of being alive—including  Homo sapiens.  Outr very bodies will change, and leave our immanent bodies behind, and this is because we are both subject to and express the large Earth ecosystem across the long run of events.

By opening the concept of “wildness,” we can find it already operant in urbanization that appears to be the antithesis of wildness.  As an expanded expression of a naturalist, as an “urbanologist” who begins to approach the city as natural, the core wild task of a species is that of alertness and adaptation to the ever-changing conditions of existence can be seen as inherent in the city and as essential for long-term sustainability.  Inclusion of all human activity is the deep, intuitive heart of Henry David Thoreau’s admonition in his essay “Walking” that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World” and “Life consists with wildness.”[iii] 

In some very real ways, cities may even fit the heart of our traditional understanding of wildness.  As unpredictable infinite games, cities are like “wild” non-human events.  And cities can be both dangerous to live in and dangerous to the surrounding landscape. 

We might approach cities as unfitted because they are a relatively new event on Earth, rather than because they have evolved beyond a fit with nature.  In geo-time, cities are far too young to have evolved beyond nature.  In fact, cities can be viewed as still-crude, spontaneous efforts to adapt a global human population of billions to the Earth ecosystem that other models of human habitation, while important to continue, would not efficiently support.  

Cities might be unbalanced because they are new adaptations.  Perhaps cities are even biologically neotenic—retaining “juvenile” characteristics—perhaps because plentiful resources have not challenged development to fully mature until now.  It is not the city-form itself that is the ecological problem.  The city is wild and unpredictable.  But the city-from is an attitude container.  And its predominant attitude is a longstanding strategy based on separation and homocentrism—still one of pioneering rather than residency.  But now, the global human population is spontaneously migrating toward the city as a residence as a strategy of survival, and no longer outward from an exploitive center.  Wild, intuitive actions are overcoming nearly intractable beliefs of separation and the centrality of human life in the universe as farcical.   Finally, cities might be understood to not describe exclusive human enclaves.  Seemingly artificial and built and hard, the largest quantitative populations of urban areas are non-human.  And the intensive energy of cities can enhance these nonhuman populations.

In The Landscape Papers, Edgar Anderson writes,
If more naturalists would accept homo sapiens they would turn their attention more and more to the plants and animals with which he spends so much of his life: trees of heaven, squirrels, sunflowers, dogs, dandelions, cats, crab grass, English sparrows, gingkoes, weeds of all sorts.  We would take the time to learn the dynamics of waste lots in the city, of dump heaps, and of city parks.  We would know what is and is not practical in bringing country values into city landscapes.  More importantly, we could acquire a fellow feeling for these organisms with which we live.  We would accept cities instead of trying to run away from them, and in accepting them, mold them into the kind of communities in which a gregarious animal like man can be increasingly effective.[iv]

i Alan Weisman, The World Without Us. New York: Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
ii Geoffrey West, “The living city,” CEOS for Cities, Conversations, CEO blog, 7.17.07,, the_living_city.
iii Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” in Nature/Ralph Waldo Emerson Walking/Henry David Thoreau. Boston: Beacon, 1981, pp. 95 and 97 respectively.
iv Edgar Anderson, The Landscape Papers. Berkeley: Turtle Island Foundation, 1976, pp. 83-84.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cosmic Wildness: A View From The Abyss

THE ACTIVITIES OF modern, post-industrial, cybernetic life seem to have left wildness far behind—to be outside wildness and intrusive in the Earth ecosystem rather than remaining an expression of it.  And yet, it is remarkable that we continue to imagine that we have left wildness far behind. 

Perhaps since literacy emerged in human development, we have described human life has having irrevocably left a wild state.  In the 19th Century, wildness was dangerous, in need of control and as a wasteland needing our use to activate it.   With a growing ecological perspective, wildness was revisioned in the 20th Century as complex and dynamic.   Now, we look nostalgically “back” at landscapes and biota, and reference wildness primarily as “wilderness” that our 19th Century perspective has reduced down to remote zones.

Now in the beginning of the 21st Century, however, we have been challenged by our most objective measures that place us deeply lost in a cosmic wilderness still in creation.  In this vast cosmic terrain, we have barely appeared in its time-scale, and the Earth itself has been reduced to far less than a dust speck.  Now, we look at and measure the whole Earth as an ecosystem.  And we find the Earth ecosystem to be the expression of the evolution of one obscure star, and the Milky Way galaxy in a local galactic cluster that is interrelated with myriad other clusters.    The biotic Earth is not something in it own right, but rather, a niche where macromolecules can exist in the outer reaches of a star that is still in its own evolution.  The capacity to step out of this context or rise above it becomes farcical.

Still, our measures have not caught up with our much slower-paced perspective that continues to describe post-modern life as separate from wildness.  In our most “real,” rational scientific reality, human life occurs in the deep abyss of a cosmos that essentially operates on a strategy of wildness.  Now, when looking at “wildness,” we find ourselves deep inside a landscape of stars within galaxies that are inseparable from the dynamics of other galaxies, and all of those galaxies, perhaps within a tapestry of many universes—a “multiverse”—that are all based on a strategy of wildness—alertness to changing conditions of existence in a vast, ongoing process of creation.

So, when we look at a city-form, with its hard architecture and high consumption (“massive eco-footprint”), it can appear to us (with a 19th Century or 20th Century perspective) to be irrevocably lost from “wildness” as nearly the antithesis of wildness, and to many, of nature in general--artificial.  But, when we begin to look from a cosmic perspective, we begin to see both the impossibility of being separate from wildness and the reality that the city, cybernetics, astro-physics, and even plastic, are the expressions of the Earth ecosystem.  And we also begin to discover that they are not fundamentally “intrusions” upon wildness, as much as they are features of wildness—some maladaptive and some ecologically adaptive.

Everything around us and within us is a living miracle, down to every atom and wave.  The nucleus of each atom spins at perhaps 150,000 mph, and was born in generations of nuclear fission within exploding stars.  We sit in a “skyscraper” that seems remote from rainforests, but on a dust speck moving at many speeds through space:  the rotation of the Earth, the rotation of the sun around the galactic center, and the movement of the Milky Way galaxy through space at well over a million miles-per-hour.  Once presuming the center of the universe to be inside our skulls, we can’t even begin to make ourselves visible in the universe or to really describe the parameters of the cosmos.

Since literacy, our description of wildness itself has fluctuated wildly.  We have gone from referencing dangerous forces that we have had to overcome to complex resources that we now damage and abuse.  But since literacy, wildness has consistently remained either nostalgically or rationally on the outside of human life—now cultural rather than creatural.   This view is destructive and drives inappropriate design.  It is an attitude more than a reality.

Post-industrial, cybernetic culture continues to express the creatural; is totemic, talismanic.  The rich diversity of opinions—even in their irrationality in the face of information, or in either their narrowness or holistic reach, or in their scientific precision—and the rich diversity of interests and skills are wild responses.  The spontaneous, unthinking action of global urbanization is a spontaneous expression of wildness.  For all of the nasty eco-footprint that the city provokes, it is also accomplishing adaptive features such as a reduction of the rate of global population and decreased consumption of resources [primarily driven by population density] as compared to other forms of human habitation that every bit of nature writing, environmental advocacy, and legislation has failed to achieve.

Our astonishing technologies still crude and built from Earth elements and energies.  And all of our customs still archetypal, far more than personal—still mythic—and still fundamentally serving creatural functions of nutrition, shelter, territoriality, reproduction for continuance.  All of our eco-costly shopping and consumption is still gathering and hunting.  They are not that different from the magical thinking of First World societies that are extremely culturally structured—“domestic”—that tends to produce far higher homicide rates than post-modern societies.  Our bodies are still evolving in response to fundamental conditions of existence that are themselves still in creation.  Far more than leaving wildness behind, we are perhaps still neotenic—still immature and imbalanced—but richly wild. 

No matter of how much we aspire to degenerate modern life as eco-destructive (and we should as a eco-healthy measure of alertness), we are lost deeply in a cosmic Oceanus that operates on a strategy of wildness.  Were we to begin to really understand everything we do as an expression of the larger Earth ecosystem, we would begin to encounter adaptive features in that which we believe to be the antithesis of “wildness” that we might optimize. 

Being fond of unsettled landscapes such as rivers and forests and wild grasses and deserts, to begin to approach components of modern life such as urbanization as wild was a direction that I did not want to go.  But pressed to understand “wildness,” modern human life as wild, the context of Hubble’s “red shift,” and DNA, and quantum physics, and even exquisite flora/fauna orientations such as “the Wallace Line” or the implications of Darwin’s “Galapagos,” was unavoidable.  Unsettled landscapes and “post-modern,” “post-industrial,” “cybernetic” built environments are profoundly different.  But in the cosmic landscape where wildness is the core dynamic, differences markedly diminish.  And similarities between settled and unsettled landscapes can be found, especially ecologically adaptive features as well as similarity in such things as overturning of forest trees and housing stock. 

It is remarkable that we can imagine human life as having somehow leapt out of the process of the Earth, the sun, the Milky Way, the universe, and perhaps a multiverse of universes.  Not leaving wildness behind, we are likely gradually developing our eco-literacy that is still in its infancy.  We still do not know well how to say just who it is that we are, or where we are from, or where we are going.  Still, our eco-literacy is expanding. Intellectually, we read deeply in geo-time and have expanded our environment from a planet under a ceiling of stars to a universe of galaxies, and have even begun to knock on the possibility of a gateway to a multiverse.   And practically, having peopled the Earth with no vast remaining physical frontiers from which we can feel separated, we are more on the inside of the Earth ecosystem.  Now, human migration is primarily toward urbanization rather than outward, and environmental feedback nearly immediate. 

We find ourselves in a new, infinite context of nature where wildness is abyssal rather than relegated to dwindling remnants.   We begin to acknowledge that the ongoing conditions of existence continue to involve living in a wild state of alertness and adaptation.  With our widening view, we begin to find an inherent wildness in all our actions no matter how civil or domestic or even artificial that they may have appeared to us to be.  Finding this, we can begin to optimize those actions—those ecologically adaptive features of modern life—rather than aspire to remove ourselves from wildness, as if we could. 

We begin to understand that there is no way out of nature.  We begin to understand that this offers an opportunity, that the way forward is within, and that this way forward is renascent, not retro, and our destiny.  It offers a way to listen deeply and respond—to express whom we are, from where we come, and where we are going. 

It will appear apologist and dangerous to reference modern human life as wild, and to not reference “wildness” as nonhuman.  However, our stance of separation from wildness is no longer accurate, and such a stance is threatening to the fundamental health of the Earth ecosystem and human life to continue to design for modern life as if we are separate.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Balancing And Increasing Earth's Resources

A DISCUSSION OF URBANIZATION and environment focuses almost exclusively on resource consumption and pollution, with energy consumption by the built environment and transportation being the primary environmental locus for intervention.  Rather than an expression of nature, the city is envisioned to be like a vehicle that takes in energy and exhausts it.  Environmental actions are primarily technological—energy-reducing actions.  Thomas Berry encourages an expansion of our technological focus to a macro-scale or “the integral functioning of the entire complex of biosystems of the planet” instead of our emphasis upon the micro-scale or local scale.[i]  Designing for a micro-scale, we may incorporate green technology into larger structures that can deceptively negate a positive gain.  However, designing for the macro-scale, we need to examine our essential nature and revision our lives to be natural or ecological rather than just environmentally sensitive.

We need to continue to explore a conversion to green (“slurping-only”) architecture and vehicles and alternative transportation as a start, and to aspire to become energy-neutral and even energy producing as the cost of alternative technology drops [e.g., solar paint and hydrogen fuel and nuclear].   The city offers a technological opportunity because of its specialized technical skills.  Even without increasing innovation, we could incorporate existing technology to dramatically reduce our ecological footprint and even complement our use with the production of energy and recycling “pollution/waste” as a resource.

Increasing the efficacy of our technology primarily requires a non-technical vision.  Innovation that drives technology is essentially driven by an innovative vision of human nature.  We rely on technological solutions, but the heart of the solution is an avant-garde way of looking at the dilemma.  The key innovative non-technical design element will involve an overall orientation toward integration rather than toward exploitative extraction.  And this drive to integrate is driven by the experience of ecological inclusion.  We find that we are not simply “like” nonhuman creatures, but rather, we are creatural.  And that which we need to do does not need to be invented—it is already occurring automatically, and needs to be optimized.

The “automatic” functions of urbanization that impact positively on material resources that are not explicit technological actions first need to be recognized to then be capable of being enhanced. We can begin from a posture of strength and function.  For example, Richard Register notes that New York covers less land, uses about one-third of the energy than the Western average despite more extreme weather, has very few cars and much smaller square foot per person in streets/freeways/interchanges/parking structures/vehicles.[ii]  And globally, the popular sense of consumption as being nearly synonymous with comfort has begun to shift to environmental quality as “comfort.”  We begin to experience consumptive-based comfort as degrading environmental quality as well as making life seem frenetic and feeling like a half-life of going through the motions rather than being vital.

Green technology is not enough in itself.  Material technology alone does not challenge the vision of human nature to provoke a broad scale change.  With a sense of the living city guiding our actions, we begin to base our material technology on an emotional technology.  Material technology responds to a new sense of the city as ecological, and to increase our integrative actions and reduce our functional yet deconstructive actions.  And it expands our activities beyond the built infrastructure.  Myriad eco-friendly choices exist that involve a change in actions rather than a new technology.  Changes such as water reuse and recycled products, lawn care—rain gardens utilizing native flora, bike and car sharing and public transportation, no-idling policies and free bus passes and priority parking for hybrids, sales tax exemptions for energy efficient products, four day work weeks and tele-working, as well as extremes that explore possibilities that may even become the norm such as vegetated architecture [“vegitecture”] or solar paint or even illuminated umbrellas powered by rain.  Myriad “micro-changes,” such as favoring mugs over paper cups or bottled water or even using pizza boxes for seed gardens, represent the capability of positively modifying nearly every human action. 

Rather than technology, envisioning the city as an ongoing ecological adaptation prioritizes both affection for biota and landscape inclusion.  If we are separable, we will prioritize actions based on a strategy of separation.  Material technology is driven best by natural sensate experiences such as environment being walkable [e.g., “pedestrianism”] and by clean air and water and open space.  As evidenced in eco-vills, consideration of technologies such as wind turbines are, first, driven by an aspiration to be “ecological.” 

There are myriad “micro-eco-technologies” awaiting a vision of the “living city” that are evident in any Internet word search.  Solar plastics, smart cars, wildlife highways, bio-retention, urban farms, energy rebates, landfill mining, biodegradable materials and de-manufacturing represent a few of many micro-eco-approaches that are only just beginning to be described.  There is a natural evolution of building materials that is described as taking forty years for new materials to spontaneously appear as the norm. With a transformational view of the nature of the city as organic rather than artificial, new infrastructural materials might be expedited. 

Urban design can emphasize adaptive reuse.  It is not just new green technology that will “green” the city-form.  It is primarily how we use the materials that we have.  Adaptive reuse is typically applied to product design but it can be applied to everything built, including that which is popularly defined as the city—its architecture.  It is important to consider in building construction, for example, where new construction is estimated to consume forty percent of a contemporary landfill.  And new buildings replacing old buildings rather than restoring old buildings can also take decades to recover the energy lost in using new material.  It has been suggested that European design for new buildings tends to anticipate decades of use while American design tends to anticipate far less time before replacement.  And while they exist, buildings may produce 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 65% of landfill waste, and consume 70% of electricity produced.  In Germany, buildings may use one-half of energy of American-designed buildings.  And an orientation toward “urban modernization” can threaten local networks and their participation in design.  Finally, building design aspects such as “landscaping” for buildings can become “green skirts” or “building parsley” rather than landscaping that produces resources such as “vertical gardens.”

“Adaptive reuse” can and is emerging to some extent without a sense of the city as a natural ecosystem, but it remains secondary.  A sense of the city as natural and even wild rather than artificial and maturing out of nature can prioritize adaptive reuse and drive an even deeper vision of the possibilities of the city.  Like a wilderness ecosystem, the city can aspire to completely recycle and find ways to increase energy rather than consume energy.  But rather than simply inventing a new technology, the city as a producer of energy and material will require an underlying vision of the city as an ecosystem more than as an artificial machine that only consumes external resources and that can “run out of gas.”  Total recycling will involve initial product design for recovery, increasing the value of “waste” to the point of payment for waste resources to value it, as well as efforts to produce resources such as energy and food within and near the city.

Along with an emphasis on adaptive reuse design, we can also look at developing habitat that can be altered by inhabitants.  The living city will also be optimized when urban activity and technology can be increasingly participatory.  Participation is essentially driven by an “emotional” process such as the wonder of immersion and inclusion rather than isolation that come from an expanded sense of identity.  The street grid and the lawn and food and personal use of water and energy are immediate points of interface that can incorporate a personal change that is not simply material but also emotional.

Importantly, the living city explores and borrows technology from all of the potential approaches to wildness, from the feral through sustainability.  But each “technology” needs to be “mined” for aspects that are functional in an urban setting.  For example, the functional efficiency of an eco-vill of single-family dwellings will not match the functional efficiency of a large apartment building.  But the values and the technologies of the eco-vill can be adapted to the denser urban built environment. 

Traditional areas within urban environments, especially built environments that have been traditionally consumptive such as suburbs and industrial areas and city centers, can be explored as potential eco-producers.  Elements within suburbs such as “dead malls” can be explored for retrofitting.  Rather than approach buildings in a piecemeal fashion, whole landscapes such as suburbs can incorporate elements of eco-vills and the livable qualities of New Urbanism as well as elements of sustainable society models and even denser urban habitation (e.g., that produce perhaps 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases in New York City as compared to a per person American average of 24.5 metric tons) to not only reduce consumption but also produce energy and food and material resources.  These efforts can be expedited regionally through “green” loans and lines of credit and public emission goals.  Green neighborhood coops that mimic the eco vill, participation in “cool cities” programs, more dwellings per acre, location of routine services that form a “walkable village,” bike paths, food production, lawn modifications comprise a growing list of thousands of existing green modifications that increase daily as these priorities grow.  

Again, from the perspective of the city as “living,” the overall directive for future urban technology is an integrative emphasis for the species-specific purpose of enhancing health.  The needed breakthroughs to optimize public health are not technological as much as they are psychological and cultural.  It is not the technology itself, but rather why we use the technology.  Rather than continue to try to integrate by solving a problem, we can aspire to enhance health to optimize human life.  Enhancing health is always a process of enhancing connectivity, and human health is just beginning to be understood to be, inescapably, as Thomas Berry states,a subsystem of the Earth’s health.”[iii] 

Essentially, as residents in a peopled Earth, we are increasingly aware that urbanization is ecology and not just technology.  We have feared nature because to be natural meant to be primitive and to become natural meant to take a step backward.  We changed forever upon viewing Earthrise over moonscape.  The static globes and maps dissolved upon seeing the biosphere and we found ourselves in an animate living Earth.  And now in the contemporary moment where we people the Earth, we are directly experiencing our immersion in nature, and that the way forward is affiliation rather than isolation. 
Urban sustainability comes down to this: It is not primarily a technological response that drives sustainability.  The city can promote technological improvements to the degree that it can articulate an expanded eco-literacy that acknowledges an eloquence in all landscapes, affection or “topofilia” and “biofilia,” an inherent or “automatic” deep and complex functioning urban dynamic, usufruct, a sense of homeland and indigenousness, quality as comfort, self-as-landscape, subtlety, and affiliation with the Earth as human life as optimal human development.

[i] Thomas Berry, “The ecozoic era,”, 1991, p. 2.
[ii] Richard Register, “EcoCities: Making cities sustainable is a crucial challenge,” p. 5.
[iii] Thomas Berry, “The mystique of the earth,” Caduceus,Issue 59 [

Urbanization Reducing The Rate Of Global Population Growth

AN UNANTICIPATED ENVIRONMENTAL benefit of increasing global urbanization is the remarkable reduction of the rate of population growth that intentional socio-political efforts could not achieve.  Stewart Brand suggests that urbanization provides the global tipping point in stopping the “population explosion.”[i]  This decreasing rate of population growth may have an astonishing effect upon human development by eventually addressing the rapid growth of cities so that they gradually become more manageable.

Urban birth rates decline because the child that is an asset in underdeveloped countries becomes an economic liability in cities.  While this may seem to demean the child, the child in underdeveloped countries is valued as a social security resource rather than for purely intrinsic value.  A child in underdeveloped countries contributes to the reduction of available resources and increases competition for those resources rather than eases those economic pressures.  Further, this child personally experiences major economic and health barriers that compromise nutrition and life expectancy. 

All countries have lower rates of population growth than their 1960 rate.  An ecologically optimistic view is that global population may plateau at 8.4 billion (up from the current 6.9 billion) within twenty-five years, and potentially not reach a United States Census Bureau estimated population of 9.224 billion persons in 2050.[ii].  Globally, every 110 hours, a million more human beings are born than die,[iii] with 220,000 births daily.[iv]  However, the “exploding” population appears to be leveling off from a peak rate of 2.2% in 1963-64 to the current global rate of 1.14 %.  Ecologically optimistic views speculate that this current rate is anticipated to drop to .91% by 2020 and .46% by 2050.[v]  Less optimistic population statistics suggest a population of 13 billion by 2067 should the current rate of 1.14% continue.  The global population estimates vary from 7.5 billion to 10.5 billion by 2050. And eco-optimistic trends also suggest the possibility that the global population might decrease to 3+ billion people by 2150.

There is an “urbanization explosion” [rate of urbanization] that is reducing the “population explosion.”  It has been posited that there is around an eighty-five percent chance that the global population will stop growing before the end of the century, and a more guarded probability that the global human population may be lower at the end of the century than it was in 2001.[vi]  The highest rates of population growth are in developing countries, but developing countries also have the highest rates of urbanization that are likely to reduce population growth.  Also, the population is older, with the current percentage of persons over age 60 is anticipated to increase to 34% by 2100.[vii]
Stabilizing human population and having the majority of the population now shifted to the city may provide the opportunity to address the fundamental cause of urban blight—the very rapid expansion of the city through migration.  While the rapid rate of urbanization has created major ecological problems, urbanization itself might be seen as creating a concentrated opportunity to address ecological concerns more comprehensively than we have done in the past.

[i] Stewart Brand, “Emerging technologies and their impact.”
[ii] “World population,” United States Census Bureau, [www.census,gov].
[iii] Annie Dillard, For the Time Being. New York: Knopf, 1999, p.109.
[iv] “anthrosphere,” []
[v] “World population,” United States Census Bureau.
[vi]  Wolfgang Lutz, Warren Sanderson and Sergei Sherbov, “The end of world population growth,” Nature, Vol. 412, Number 6846, August 2, 2001, pp. 543-545.
[vii] “Global population estimates are revised downwards,” Sept 01 2001, Stats at George Mason University, [].