Alfômegacity

28 Aug

I wanted to quickly share what I thought was a very interesting article over at Foreign Policy, this piece discussing global urbanization and urbanity and arguing against a focus on megacities and their benefits. The website pits the article as being a matter of Megacities Vs. Suburbs, but I’m not quite sure why. If we look at some decent, admirable cities, some mentioned in the article and some not, we see that cities like Stockholm, Portland, Vancouver, Austin and Amsterdam tend to have metropolitan areas with a population between 1.5 and 2.5 million, with the core of the city generally under 1 million. Berlin, Hamburg and Singapore don’t go over 5 million. If the world population were to level off at 12 billion people, as it is sometimes estimated it will do, then even if one created a scenario in which zero percent of the population was engaged in rural agriculture, this population could be spread among 6000 (or, hey, 1000 metro areas of 4 million, 2000 of 1 million and 3000 of 2 million)  of these reasonably sized urban areas, many of which have proved very manageable. Selecting the population density of the entire Stockholm metropolitan area (which is much, much lower than the urban density) human settlement would cover 26% of the Earth’s land surface. Taking the urban density, 2.4%.  Obviously there would be no need to strictly consolidate all larger and smaller urban areas into areas of exactly two million, but it’s clear that one could physically house 12 billion people without requiring a single megacity or the sort of sprawl that in the United States is associated with suburbs.

The problem is with planning, and that’s a subject best  left for…well, several thousand books.

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One Response to “Alfômegacity”

  1. Trent September 11, 2010 at 5:15 PM #

    Is it possible that estimates of human population peak depend on some of the same factors that this article treats as a serious capacity, like how much of the worlds surface we’ll end up using for human structures? But I think you make a good point that a world of metro-type developed areas mixed with dense urban ones wouldn’t take up THAT much of the earth’s surface, especially when we’ll never need more than 10% of it for agriculture (and I’m pretty sure way below that realistically). AND, that all assumes no advances in cheap but relatively comfortable urban housing. I can see technological advances helping with the geographic factors of economics.

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