Can the growing trend towards an Urbanised Globe be Sustainable? The ticking time-bomb of Developing World slums | Urbanization | Sustainability

Name: Student Number: Seminar Group: Date of Module: Date of Submission


Edward Byrne 0434964 7, Blanche Cameron February 2010, B3 12th of April 2010

Can the growing trend towards an Urbanised Globe be Sustainable? The ticking time-bomb of Developing World slums
Introduction: This essay has been inspired by Chani Leahong’s “Healthy Cities” lecture and Chris Scott’s paper, “Urbanisation and health within the UK”, both from the B3 module in February 2010 (Scott 2007) & (Leahong 2010). In both discussions the roadmap towards a sustainable urban environment is tackled. Scott reveals the facets of the subject and Leahong seeks solutions predominantly through a better understanding and realisation of ‘Integrated Infrastructure Masterplanning’ and coordination. The prevailing image is of sustainable architecture designed and implemented in a “sustainable urban context” (Barthon & Tsourou 2000). The structural reconfiguration that is proposed demands huge financial, intellectual and material resources and as such the prospective changes required for such a proposal is daunting. With this in mind I wanted to draw attention in a broad sense to the currents state of affairs across the globe and see how realistic such changes are. These changes are gearing us towards a sustainable urban context but what is a sustainable urban context? The trend of an urbanising globe is readily accepted within the modus operandi of future sustainable development, probably borne out of necessity; however I'd like to look into this trend and see if it is in fact reasonable to expect it to be sustainable. The dominant discourse eulogises the perceived benefits of the urban environment (UNPF 2007, NSS 2002), where access to centralised services, infrastructure, health care, education, employment opportunities and professional services provides for a greater affluence than would be the case in a rural setting. This perception has perhaps fuelled a mass migration of rural inhabitants towards urban centres. However is urbanisation an index of development or stress? Context: Currently the Earth’s population is roughly 6.82 billion and is projected to reach 9,000,000,000 people by 2050 (UNPD/DESA 2009). First Wave Up to now the increases in population have developed in “urbanisation waves”, the first wave was experienced in Europe and saw an explosion of population from circa 180 million to 400 million during the 19th Century, corresponding with the Industrial and Agrarian Revolutions. This wave continued through to about 1950 before the rate of growth slowed down and at that stage it had extended into North America thereby establishing what is now considered the “developed world” (See Appendix 1). The developed world population stands at 1.23 billion or 18% of the global population (UNPF 2007). Second Wave The second wave involves the “developing world” (See Appendix 1), is happening at a rate unseen previously and is expected to continue until right into the second half of this century. The rate of growth in urban areas is twice that seen in rural areas (UNPF 2007).
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Developed countries are characterised by their urbanised population, constituting 75 % of their overall population in 2009. Developing countries have a smaller proportion of urban population ranging from 29 to 45% of their overall population - but catching up (UNPF 2007). See fig. 1.

Fig 1 Source: United Nations Population Fund (2007), The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth, available from

‘Urban Population is growing faster than world population as a whole.’ ‘Two out of three urban dwellers live in developing regions...’ (UNPF 1996) Boundaries: While the overall trend of growth is accepted the fundamental issue of growth in urban areas will be of primary interest here. We will lightly touch on the social impacts of rural migration to urban centres in order to underline the nature of urban centres and their ecological footprint. The focus will be on the environmental impacts of a global urban populous, whether urban growth on the current scale is sustainable. The analysis of cities in this respect will be narrowed to their per capita impact or ecological footprint. We began by evaluating the drivers of rural-urban migration throughout history and in the developing world to understand the trend. We will progress by considering the ecological footprint of cities in general and how they interact in a globalised world. The feasibility and possibility of creating sustainable cities will be discussed and then we will finish by measuring the conclusions for further research and discussion.
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Discussion: Growth: Urban growth can be broken into three classifications; migration, natural increase and reclassification of rural areas as urban. The bulk of urban growth constitutes migration from rural areas (UNPF 2007). This rural – urban migration can be characterised by factors representing a drive to “pull” or “push” populations into urban centres. Chinese cities until recently were largely self-sufficient for foodstuff, relying on surrounding farm belts for food as was the case for medieval city states in Europe (circular metabolism). Modern cities are exemplified by their “linear” arrangement & metabolism, where modern transport, communications and globalisation extend their boundaries and disconnect them from their locality (Girardet 2008 & Pelsmakers 2005). Push The push towards urban centres could be generated by the deterioration of rural areas by the infrastructure required to maintain fundamentally unsustainable cities. Water quality deterioration will undoubtedly occur in a rural area where the nearby city requires the rural watershed to be polluted by fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides so that the rural landscape can provide the quantities of food needed for the urban population. Rural migration could be seen as an indicator of a wider problem with urban centres (Lipton 1980, UNPF 2001 & Diamond 2005). The motivation to move to urban centres is firmly established by disparity in size between family sizes and farm sizes. In Rwanda for example, the average sized farm-holding fell from 0.09 to 0.07 acres between 1988 and 1993. This dwindling parcel of land was expected to feed families of perhaps 5 people and in reality could only supply 77% of their calorie intake (Diamond 2005 & UNPF 1996). This scenario is replicated elsewhere in the developing world. The rural migrants arriving into urban centres are generally poor and consequently poverty is increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in rural areas (Watkins/Oxfam 1995 & UNPF 2007). Unfortunately cities in the developing world currently experiencing growth are located on areas that are negatively affected by climate change now and increasingly so in the future (See fig 2. & Appendix 5). They often occupy valuable fertile agricultural land. A worry must be that most Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB) have been developed with urban sprawl, car journeys and the economics of infrastructure in mind rather than the environmental capacity of the surrounding land itself. (C. Ding (1999), Barredo & Demicheli (2003) and Sjoberg, 0.(1992)). This may have other unintended consequences (Refer to Appendix 5).

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Fig. 2, Large Cities in Relation to Current Climate-related Hazards Source: de Sherbenin, A., A. Schiller, and A. Pulsipher. Forthcoming. "The Vulnerability of Global Cities to Climate Hazards." Environment and Urbanization. (Available on UNPF 2007, page 60 & 61)
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Pull Urban centres are undoubtedly the drivers of economic growth. Rural migrants look to “the lights” for a future where there may be none at home. The United Nations recognises that the traditional pull has been eroded by the strengthening push as described above (UNPF 2007). The prosperity experienced in urban centres does not frequently translate into prosperity for rural migrants or much of the urban poor. The new arrivals more often than not will be contained in slums on the outskirts of the official city limits with little or no access to power, clean water, education, heath services and crucially they will generally not be able to gain meaningful formal employment (UNPF 1996 & UNPF 2001). Stemming Growth Asia (incl.: China & India) accounts for two thirds of the annual urban population growth and as such most Asian countries have tried to implement population control measures to some degree. These measures have included limits on childbirth, incentivising rural living and simple restriction of admission to urban areas with limited or no success (UNPF 1996). While it must be appreciated that the overall trend is hard to reverse, the implications for an urbanized world will need to be understood. Urban Footprint: Global City Cities as the drivers of economic growth are well understood. They are also well understood as the drivers of environmental degradation. Developed World cities import their needs from increasingly distant lands, affecting environments way beyond their national boundaries In a limited way the Ecological Footprint, sustainability indicator illustrates this superbly (See figs. 3 below). The Developed World has already established its urban footprint in the developing world, exporting the side-effects of exploitation such as deforestation, erosion & salination of soils, desertification, pollution, reduction of bio-diversity and human health (Girardet 2008 & Wackernagel et al 2000).

Figure 3 Source: Mathis Wackernagel, Nicky Chambers & Craig Simmons (2000), Sharing Natures Interest; Ecological Footprints as an Indicator of Sustainability, page 137

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Global Impact What will happen if the developing world brings its cities up to speed in a globalised world? There are a range of measures for sustainability in this instance we will use the Ecological Footprint Method. In terms of modern developed countries the average footprint for the developed world is 4 hectares per capita. This means that the Developed World requires 4.92 billion hectares of land to supply its material needs. There is 10.2 billion hectares of what is currently considered usable land providing bio-capacity; woodland, arable land & pasture land (including urban areas). This means that 18% of the people require 48% of the usable land right now (Wackernagel et al 2000, WRI 1999 & UNPF 2007). If developing countries were to urbanise today in 2010 and reach a similar per capita impact, they would require 22.36 billion hectares or twice the available land without factoring in the demands of the Developed World. If one were to project the needs of a world of 9 billion people, 75% of them urbanised in 2050, based on current developed world consumption levels we would need 36 billion hectares which needless to say is three times the available usable land which does not discount the land that would be consumed by urban areas. Even allowing for sustainable productive architecture, the urban context does not seem to be sustainable. Unless the per-capita ecological footprint is reduced, the trend of urbanising the developing world seems bleak. When analysed by systems experts, overshoot and collapse has been a consistent outcome on all modelled runs for current trends of development (Meadows et al 2005)-refer to appendix 4. The possibility is further exacerbated by the knowledge that the per capita consumption of developing countries might rise well beyond the average of 4 hectares when the urban poor are being catered for. At the moment they are a salient force unconnected to formal city infrastructure. Should a formalisation occur it will require new housing, new roads, new water connection and treatment, new sewage treatment and new services and other elements unnamed. Sustainable Cities The utilisation of the urban environment for food production and water collection would go some way towards alleviating urban impacts. However the urban context remains the vital cog in the wheel of sustainability. At present China is developing nearly 100 cities of over 1 million people up until 2020 which should consist of up to 30% of their population at that stage (World Bank 2010). According to Herbert Girardet (2008) China’s political leaders have taken a proactive approach to this programme of city building. This he points out is exemplified by the “Dongtan Eco-City” among others. He also notes the example of Aromar Revi and Sanjay Prakash who are undertaking the ecological redesign of the city of Panjim in Goa, India. The hope would be that the developed world seeks to re-order its own cities in a move matching that of China’s in scale. Building infrastructure that further weakens the sustainability of cities must be stopped. Cities such as Riyadh where desalination plants consume vast amounts of energy and Los Angeles where water is transported enormous distances, must seek to balance their impacts in imaginative ways (Girardet 2008 & Diamond 2005). One method would be Ecological Footprinting used in tandem with per capita quotas as used in the methodology of “Environmental Space” as suggested by Wackernagel (et al 2000).

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Global Sustainable Cities Some efforts must be made to measure the impact of future urban development when set against the global context. Strides have been made in this direction with the implementation of carbon credits trying to internalise the externalities of environmental degradation however the sustainability of the economic drivers of global commerce (cities) needs to be measured first. Before investment in urban development and the agricultural development contingent on urban centres one needs to measure the sustainability of this investment. If cities are to be seen as the engines of human development they need to be made more energy and resource efficient. They represent an opportunity to centralise the vast changes and reductions of per capita impact needed. Theoretically the city gives advantageous access to services and infrastructure to its inhabitants and in line with this it also grants access to those people when trying to enact the behavioural changes demanded by our current dilemma. Conclusion: While the current outlook for an urbanised globe may be bleak the opportunities afforded to us through cities is huge. They are drivers of climate change and resource depletion but they need not lead to overshoot and collapse. Notwithstanding the record peaks of growth urbanisation has seen recently, the rate of urbanisation in the second wave of urban transition is actually slowing down (UNPF 2007). See fig 4. In developed countries the rate of urbanisation is reversing in some instances and a new format for living is emerging where communication technology allows for a more flexible way of life. If this trend were to be extrapolated onto developing countries one might see a similar pattern emerge (UNP 1996).
Average Annual Rate of Change of the Urban Population, by Region, 1950-2030

Figure 4 Source: United Nations (2006), World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision, Table A.6. New York: Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations. (Available on UNPF 2007 page 8)

Key to any changes could be; in chronological order: • A disentanglement of unequal global resource trade allowing Developing World countries to “find their feet”. • A corresponding reduction of the Ecological Footprint of the Developed World. • An appropriation of Developing World resource for Developing World populations. • The re-location of Developing World Urban Poor into Ring or Peri-urban Sustainable Cities
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Limitations: The social and financial costs of actions proposed by this essay have not been weighed up. The feasibility of these actions would demand huge intellectual attention. Of special consideration would be the economic models upon which cities are currently founded and whether change can realistically be leveraged within this framework. Implications for the Orthodoxy: The use of policies that try to engineer a reverse or slow down in urban population growth has been met with mixed results. Conversely the current propensity to encourage urban population growth through policy should be approached with caution (DoEHLG 2008).
Further Research & Opportunities:

Having built up an understanding of urbanisation and the demands it places on the global environment, this author would find the development of a practical and globally implemented ‘sustainability assessment model’ prescient. In architectural practice this assessment could form part of the design process and be used to allow the local authority planner to determine the fundamental sustainability of the proposed development. It is recognised that there are existing models, however on initial inspection their boundaries seem variously limiting and further research of these pre-existing systems would be of great benefit. Word Count: 2274

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Appendix 1: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision is used as basis for comparisons. Definition of Regions Developed World More developed regions: They comprise all regions of Europe plus Northern America, Australia/New Zealand and Japan (see definition of regions). Developing World Less developed regions: They comprise all regions of Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), Latin America and the Caribbean plus Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (see definition of regions). Least developed countries: The group of least developed countries, as defined by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolutions (59/209, 59/210 and 60/33) in 2007, comprises 49 countries, of which 33 are in Africa, 10 in Asia, 1 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 in Oceania. The group includes 49 countries - Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen and Zambia. These countries are also included in the less developed regions. Appendix 2: Poverty in Developing Countries United Nations Population Fund (1996), The State of World Population 1996: Changing Places: Population, Development & Urban Future, available from [accessed 7th of April 2010] ‘According to national studies up to half the population of several cities in some of the worlds poorest countries are living below official poverty lines. Even this may be an underestimate... do not usually take into account the higher cost of living in the cities.’ ‘Cities draw immigrants with the promise of higher living standards, but the wealth produced in cities does not necessarily translate into prosperity for all.’ ‘...the poor in both urban and rural areas are seriously underserved. The richest 20 percent of populations have access to the best available sources (of power)...’ ‘...improvement in water and sanitation is frequently overestimated in official statistics, however, particularly for the urban poor.’ ‘In Rio de Janeiro...the number of health professionals per capita in the periphery was one third that of the centre.’ United Nations Population Fund (2007), The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth, available from [accessed 7th of April 2010] ‘In the case of Brazil, it has been estimated that 69 per cent of migrants to urban areas and of rural people reclassified as urban (between 1999 and 2004) can be categorized as “poor”.’
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Appendix 3: Policy Drivers United Nations Population Fund (2007), The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth, available from [accessed 7th of April 2010] ‘Indian policymakers hope to further retard urban growth by implementing the National Rural Employment Scheme enacted in 2005. Through it, the Government assumes the responsibility for providing a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment in every financial year for every rural household with an adult member willing to do unskilled manual work.’ In China, ‘Policymakers have understandably been much concerned with the speed and magnitude of urban growth...slower growth would theoretically give them more flexibility to deal with urban problems. Generally, they attempt to slow growth by restricting incoming migration…’ ‘In addition, successful rural development may actually generate more rural-urban migration. Conversely, urban growth is a powerful stimulus to food production, especially by small farmers. Access to flourishing urban markets contributes both to the reduction of rural poverty and to urban food security.’ - The nature of the rural development described here is not expanded upon. Often the agricultural development initiated serves for export to Developed Countries which necessitates mechanised farming over larger farm-holdings. Closer to home, in Ireland, the policy is to prevent rural development where feasible. This has been met with a warning from the E.U. where the rights of movement of the individual were underlined (DoEHLG 2008). Appendix 4: Measuring Impact The IPAT model posited by Ehrlich and Holdren (1971 & 72) is described thus; Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology or Impact=Population x Consumption The impact of urbanising a developing world rural inhabitant is a product of their increased access to services per person, goods per person...etc. (affluence), their access to electrical power...etc. (electricity) and their increasing population. The trend for urban transition within the current consumption framework leads to an increase in per capita impact (Pachauri & Jiang 2008 and Cai & Jiang 2008). The calculation made at ‘World Impact’ are derived from the list of nations considered Developed Countries from the United Nations Population Fund, ‘The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth’ report. These nations are cross referenced with the list produced in Table 7.2, page 122-123 of Sharing Natures Interest, Ecological Footprints, (Wackernagel et al 2000), illustrating the ecological footprint of nations. An average is taken from 24 nations shared across both lists. This measurement of hectares per capita is imposed onto the population statistics available on the UNPF 2007 report. With reference to Limits to Growth, The 30 Year Up-date, the ramifications for this development are suggested in Scenario 1, figure 4-11 as prepared by Meadows et al (2005). There is an overshoot and collapse event in the middle of this century. The suggestions for change in the conclusion exclude population controls however in Scenario 8, Figure 7-2 where the ‘world seeks stable population and stable industrial output per person from 2002’, the signs are of a recoverable dip (overshoot and oscillation) in population at the end of this century. The true sustainability of these runs can only be revealed if extended into the following centuries (Meadows et al 2005).
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Appendix 5: Impacts United Nations Population Fund (2007), The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth, available from [accessed 7th of April 2010] ‘Rapid urban growth, combined with the potent impacts of climate variability and climate change, will probably have severe consequences for environmental health in the tropics (causing, for example, heat stress and the build-up of tropospheric ozone), which can affect the urban economy (for example, yield of labour and economic activities) and social organization. In a vicious circle, climate change will increase energy demand for air conditioning in urban areas and contribute to the urban heat island effect through heat pollution. Heat pollution, smog and ground-level ozone are not just urban phenomena; they also affect surrounding rural areas, reducing agricultural yields, increasing health.’

World Urbanisation 2009
Source: United Nations Population Fund (2007), The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential for Urban Growth, available from [accessed 7th of April 2010]

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Source: Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. [accessed on 11th of April 2010]

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service [accessed on 11th of April 2010]
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Source: UNEP Grid Arendal

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