Economist is running a debate on this topic.
This house believes that restricting the growth of cities will improve quality of life.
Adam Roberts , South Asia chief of Economist is the moderator. Chetan Vaidya, director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs in India, opposes the motion. Paul James, director of the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University in Australia supports the motion.
Roberts says cities have increased manifold and quality of life is suffering:
Today, the world’s cities continue to draw millions to them, at a pace that would bewilder those who lived in industrialising Europe, or in southern Africa a hundred years ago. I now live in India, where emerging mega cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore—are bursting with many millions of people, a great proportion of them recent arrivals, many living in unplanned areas and slums. In China, too, huge cities, especially along the eastern coast, have been erupting, swollen by millions of internal migrants.
Just over half the world’s population now call cities home, though for many a city means a slum. Soon some 500 cities around the world will have more than 1m people each. Within a couple of decades, says the UN, 5 billion people will live in cities, with the most rapid change coming in Asia and Africa. Urbanisation should bring great gains to human development: creating wealth, spurring innovation, encouraging freedom and improving education. But with for many—from Lagos to Nairobi to Mumbai—lacking sanitation or housing, without clean piped water, suffering from chronic pollution, the costs of rapid growth, at least in the short term, may be just too high.
The UN has suggested that air pollution in China (mostly in its cities) may cause the premature deaths of 400,000 people every year. Pollution is similarly deadly in India. Communicable diseases—such as cholera, AIDS, malaria, dengue—may be especially easy to pass on in the slums of big cities. And any increase in extreme weather (storms, floods and the like) and a rise in the level of the sea will affect those living on the coast in particular: note that many new mega cities are on or near a coast.
How then to balance the benefits of urbanisation against the costs? In our debate we need to get some things clear. Can the problems of fast-growing mega cities be tackled in the short term, or is it better to wait until everyone gets richer? Is it the job of national, local or city governments, or of residents, or even private companies to try? Is restricting the growth of cities a smart response? Is it even possible, at least in democracies where freedom of movement is not restricted? And whose quality of life should we care about: those inside the city walls only, or those left behind on the farms and villages? If slum dwellers—for all the filth—are wealthier and healthier than villagers, whose job is it to keep them out?
James says we should do something to improve quality of life:
He suggests that sprawling and bloated cities, mega cities with their slums, will be unable to give humans the best quality of life—a term that he helpfully offers to define as a life with “complex and rich relationships between people”. But he also concedes that it is easier to wish for restrictions on the size of cities than to achieve them. To make the case for restricting cities, however, we need to think about how restrictions might work. Some cities try to limit the increase of traffic, some limit building. In some countries alternative developments—new towns and cities built elsewhere, capitals that are shifted—are set up to draw people away from the mega cities. Are such attempts worthwhile?
He argues that cities bring great benefits to humans, and as for problems, it is far from clear how the growth of cities can be restricted. He calls instead for “well-managed” cities. I would encourage some explanation of what this could mean—might a well-managed city be precisely one in which unchecked growth is prevented? If authorities have the means to manage cities, could they not stop growth in the first place?
What do you think? James makes strong points but I would still be with Vaidya. I don’t think we can limit growth of cities and urbanisation is inevitable. Better to plan for it then run away from it.