We Need Bigger Cities, But We Also Need Unique Cities

“If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” asks architect Vishaan Chakrabarti.

BY EILLIE ANZILOTTI  3 MINUTE READ

 

Think of the pedestrian bridges of Venice, or the steep, tiled streets of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Or the winding back alleys of Hong Kong, and the intricate apartment buildings of Paris.

And then, think about a modern downtown. Charlotte, North Carolina, the planned business district of Konza Techno City in Kenya, Shanghai. They all look the same.

That, says architect and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti at TED 2018 in Vancouver, is a major problem. “There’s a creeping sameness besieging our planet,” he says. And this matters, he adds, because more and more people around the world–hundreds of thousands every day–are moving into urban areas every day. By 2050, around 70% of the world’s residents will live in cities.

This, he says, is a necessary development against climate change–dense dwellings well-served by mass transit are the most sustainable ways to live, and must be done well to continue to convince people away from sprawling suburban developments. But our homogenous cities are beginning to fail their residents. “Are they condemned to live in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better?” Chakrabarti asks.

His answer is yes, but first, we have to understand how are our cities homogenized over the last century. Mass-production of materials like concrete, steel, asphalt, and drywall, he says, equipped architects with building features that “we deploy in mind-numbing quantities across the planet,” he says. Developers, armed with this materials, “want to build bigger and bigger” to house as many people as possible to recuperate the cost of building, and that has brought about “the dull thud of the same apartment building being built in every city across the world,” Chakrabarti says. Not only is this trend homogenizing design, but it’s homogenizing societies, and fostering the affordability crises gripping our cities.

Chakrabarti is all for housing as many people as possible, and creating safe and accessible environments for urban residents. His issue is with the lack of creativity and local sensitivity with which we have gone about providing for these things.

We need, he says, to go back to building “cities of difference.” And that starts with injecting into the global, the local. While in the past, designers, architects, and planners have leaned on mass production and homogeneity to do their jobs, Chakrabarti suggests they look to food as inspiration to free themselves from this way of thinking. “Look at the way that craft beer has taken on corporate beer,” he says. He then asks the audience how many of them still eat Wonder Bread. Very few do. “If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” he asks.

Instead, Chakrabarti suggests that designers and architects build cities “that respond to local communities, climates, cultures, and construction methods.” Some are already doing so: Balkrishna Doshi, who won the Pritzker Prize this year for his work on affordable housing in India, creates beautiful, culturally specific dwellings that invoke a sense of place while effectively housing thousands.

And Chakrabarti’s team at PAU is developing a 21st-century urban center for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Instead of leaning on generic buildings, Chakrabarti’s team is creating a catalog of colorful edifices–homes, shops, theaters–designed with local material, that work together in concert and create a diverse, culturally sensitive and unique city center.

“We’re searching for a new model for growing cities that could shape-shift in response to local needs and building materials,” Chakrabarti says.

By going back to designing urban areas with cultural sensitivity and difference in mind, “we can disincentive sprawl and protect nature, and build cities that are high-tech but respond to the cultural needs of its peoples,” he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company’s Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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Mayors Are Demanding a Better Infrastructure Deal

Members of the National League of Cities are meeting in D.C. this week to make their case for more federal funding.
It’s no secret that America’s crumbling roads and bridges and chronically struggling transit systems need help: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take $2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure into an “adequate” state of repair. That dire situation has been a recurring theme of President Donald Trump’s never-ending infrastructure week.
But the proposal the White House finally released last month to address the problem has drawn criticism from city leaders for shifting the funding burden onto the backs of state and local governments. At the National League of Cities’ annual conference this week, mayors and city council members declared rebuilding infrastructure as their number-one priority in the year to come. And they’re determined to negotiate better terms on Trump’s infrastructure deal.“
A good plan is not a good plan unless there’s money connected with it,” said NLC executive director Clarence Anthony at a press conference Monday morning. While the White House proposal, “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” is often billed as a “$1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan,” many critics have noted that this figure is misleading at best. Instead of direct federal funding, Trump’s proposal requires cities to prove they can shoulder up to 80 percent of the bills for federally funded infrastructure projects themselves. That sum would then be matched by a federally sourced 20 percent. In all, only about $200 billion of that $1.5 trillion would come from the feds.
City leaders are now in D.C. to lobby lawmakers for a better deal. “We are asking our partners—because we do recognize you as partners—in the federal government to rebuild with us as we rebuild our cities,” said NLC vice-president Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana.
On Monday, delegates met with DJ Gribbin, the special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy; on Wednesday, they’ll talk with House and Senate leaders, particularly key members of the infrastructure committees. And on Thursday, they’ll go straight to the White House to make their case. “At minimum, we’re asking for an equal partnership of 50 percent funding from the federal level to local governments,” said Anthony.“
The 80-20 split is off the table,” added Los Angeles city council member Joe Buscaino. “An equal partner is an equal partner.”
Mark Stodola, mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the president of the NLC, outlined four critical infrastructure areas: water, transportation, broadband internet, and workforce development. “We’ve got to make sure we provide a sustainable investment,” said Stodola. “We’ve got to address not only the existing infrastructure backlog, but also long-term funding streams that are necessary to maintain this infrastructure.”
The statistics are daunting: More than 6,000 bridges are structurally deficient, and 41 percent are over 40 years old; access to broadband internet, meanwhile, is lacking for 78 million people, due to connectivity issues or prohibitive cost. Cleveland city council member Matt Zone also emphasized the importance of climate resiliency in rebuilding: 2017 was already the most expensive year for natural disasters in history, due to extreme events like hurricanes Maria and Harvey, costing $306 billion in damages. “We’ve got to invest in durable infrastructure, not just infrastructure—infrastructure that doesn’t need to be continuously rebuilt when every storm happens,” Zone said.
Instead, the White House is going in the opposite direction, proposing $275 billion in cuts to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key player in post-storm emergency response, and $30 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which funds affordable housing and allows cities to use discretionary funds for infrastructure resilience projects.
And it’s not just that local budgets don’t feel like inflating their infrastructure contributions. A lot of them can’t: In 47 states, preemption measures curb cities’ ability to raise their own revenue to meet infrastructure needs; in 22 states, cities can’t use sales tax hikes to fund infrastructure.
The NLC presser also touted some of the creative funding fixes cities have employed recently, such as L.A.’s Measure M, which raises transit funding via a sales tax increase (and which was recently cited approvingly by an unnamed Trump staffer). Other cities have turned to public-private partnerships: Virginia’s high occupancy toll lanes on the Beltway got a funding boost from a private firm; and New York and New Jersey are reconstructing the Goethals Bridge with the help of an Australian bank.
Smaller communities—the ones that need a federal assist the most—have also raised cash by selling off public utilities like water systems, but studies show that residents often end up getting charged more for the same product. “Our ability to pay doesn’t change the need for that infrastructure,” said Gary’s Freeman-Wilson, “but it certainly determines our ability as local elected officials to deliver.”
Bipartisan aspirations on immigration and health care reform have been dashed before, and leveling funding to 50/50 is an ambitious target. But at Monday’s press conference, Stodola expressed confidence that the NLC’s negotiations in the coming days will bring results.
“It seems like Congress has got their feet in concrete, and they need to take them out,” said Little Rock Mayor Stodola. “So we’re going to break that rock. We’re going to knock them out of that concrete, and by golly we’re going to take it to them on the Hill.”
About the Author
Sarah Holder
Sarah Holder

Sarah Holder is an editorial fellow at CityLab.

 

Our Infrastructure Inefficiency

 

From President Trump’s Camp David retreat with cabinet officials and congressional leaders at the beginning of this year, word emerged that the president and his advisers are divided on the best policy for infrastructure. Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, presented a detailed plan to make $200 billion in federal investments in order to unleash $1 trillion of total infrastructure investment through public–private partnerships, a plan that has now been leaked to the media. The president himself, meanwhile, reportedly prefers a more straightforward national building program.

Any discussion of infrastructure spending needs to recognize the stark reality of the American cost disease. As explained in a December New York Times report on the New York subway, when the United States builds infrastructure, it often costs more than any similar industrialized country would consider spending. New York City brings the cost disease to its highest fever, but even cities that excel at cost containment by American standards would have their numbers thrown out on their ear in many other countries. Liberals sometimes wave away cost concerns by reemphasizing the need for any particular project, and conservatives sometimes blithely presume that any project is wasted money. But all parties involved must recognize and address the cost disease, which drastically reduces the amount of infrastructure Americans can get out of any particular budget figure. Building a tunnel six times more expensive than one in France means that you get one-sixth the tunnel that you should. As transit researcher Alon Levy has shown, the American cost disease is real, and the situation is dire.

While the entire basis of these cost overruns is still not known, it is clear that American labor costs significantly contribute to project-cost inflation. Prevailing-wage standards, set under the Davis-Bacon Act, are a frequent target of the ire of conservatives, who charge that the requirements empower unions to run up prices and drain the public purse. These prevailing wages certainly inflate costs, and repeal or reform of Davis-Bacon would help the taxpayer receive a fair value for his investment. However, competitor nations such as France and Spain cannot be said to possess weak unions or ungenerous labor laws, and those nations still manage to build infrastructure for a fraction of American per-mile costs. Davis-Bacon repeal is no silver bullet, and further reforms will be needed.

As Jarrett Walker explains in his book Human Transit, operation costs in industrialized countries are dominated by labor. Simply put, people are expensive in rich countries, and hiring workers requires paying significant wages and benefits. Thus, one of the most effective ways to exercise fiscal prudence is to ensure that human personnel are not wasted in their transit work. Unfortunately, wasting person-hours seems to be American transit’s most consistent accomplishment. Subway trains that should be able to be run by computer often must be managed by one or two drivers, and tunnel-digging machines that the French operate with fewer than ten people are managed by more than two dozen well-compensated Americans.

Capital costs, meanwhile, are also inflated by “buy American” procurement rules attached to federal infrastructure financing. When local governments take advantage of federal grants or loans to expand their infrastructure, they are required to buy at least 60 percent of rolling-stock components, such as rail cars and buses, from American manufacturers. (Current law requires that level to rise to 70 percent by 2020.) Manufactured goods, on the other hand, must be 100 percent American in materials and manufacture. While well-intentioned in their concern for American manufacturing, such policies can further inflate the cost of infrastructure. For example, according to the American Action Forum, Americans pay 34 percent more for their metro cars than the global average. Even with such policies in place, contracts often go to the most competitive global firms, which then set up separate manufacturing facilities in the United States. The profits are passed back to the foreign headquarters, while taxpayers pay the price for not being able to access the normal industry supply chains.

For the American taxpayer to receive assurance that his money is being spent wisely, any major infrastructure investments should be accompanied by actions to treat the cost disease. Already, the governors of New York and New Jersey are expressing indignation that the Trump administration has renounced an Obama-administration plan to fund half the ballooning cost of their new tunnel-building program. They would do well to turn that indignation toward their own transit authorities for wasting historic amounts of money. The 50 percent of the projected cost that the governors were already willing for their states to pay should be beyond sufficient to complete the entire project, and then the concerned states would not have to go through federal procurement channels at all.

Furthermore, when the national government picks up significant portions of the tab, it often incentivizes projects that should never have been undertaken at all. In 2010, self-described “recovering engineer” Charles Marohn pointed to a project in Staples, Minn., that cost $9.8 million to build an overpass above a railroad in order to connect two state roads and ease the congestion that came from waiting for train cars to pass. Staples has a population of 3,000. The federal government offered it $8.8 million for the project, and the state of Minnesota chipped in for the other $1 million. While the good people of Staples might enjoy their uncongested cross-town connection, Marohn wryly predicted that if they “were asked to simply pay 10 percent of the cost, . . . this project would not be happening.” Most federally supported projects are not so heavily subsidized, but a more customary 80 percent federal match was enough for the Louisiana city of Shreveport to attempt the decidedly retro project of bulldozing a working-class, mostly black neighborhood to build an urban highway connector through the city in the name of economic development.

The good news is that even as Washington continues to argue over the best way to make infrastructure investments, private actors are already emerging to offer innovative means of transportation. Whether with cars, trains, or the humble bicycle, new companies are stepping up to unleash American mobility, and each innovation holds the potential to reshape demand for other infrastructure components as people adjust their living and travel patterns.

Virginia’s McAlester’s Field Guide to American Houses conveys this recurring effect in a few pages as it details the development of American neighborhoods. Towns and cities were first built to be accessed most regularly on foot, meaning that homes, workplaces, and shops necessarily intermingled, all built on relatively narrow plots of land. The advent of horse-pulled streetcars stretched out development along a commuting pattern that opened up land for neighborhoods of residential rowhouses. The electric streetcar created spokes of development, populated by detached houses, emanating out from city centers. Because the neighborhoods still had to be navigated on foot after residents disembarked from the streetcar, though, homes in these early suburbs were built on relatively narrow lots. The automobile filled in the land between the streetcar spokes and eventually pushed out to fields opened up by freshly paved highways, allowing direct access to ranch houses and split-levels built on much wider lots.

We may now be approaching a similar point of transformative change through the explosion of private transportation services. The most well-known newcomers to the transportation scene are ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. By enabling people to turn their personal cars into de facto taxis, the services upended the long-standing taxicab-medallion cartel system and tapped an explosive reserve of unmet consumer demand for point-to-point mobility. Uber and Lyft are also among the most active investors in what is widely projected to be the next phase of the automobile’s development: the autonomous vehicle.

Cars are far from the only mode of transportation undergoing significant innovations, however. In Florida, the “Brightline,” the first private passenger-rail project to be constructed in the United States in a century, is taking paying customers. The privately funded, financed, built, and operated line connects West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, with stations in Miami and Orlando set to follow over the next few years. And Texas Central recently passed its first major federal environmental review on its way to constructing the first true high-speed-rail system on the American continent. Texas Central will connect Houston and Dallas, the fourth- and fifth-largest metro areas in the country, and it will run without state subsidies.

Creativity is also bubbling up in the bicycle world, as many American urban centers have seen bikeshare programs emerge. The market appears to have decided that the time is ripe for such systems to make money. Companies such as Ofo, Mobike, and Limebike are surging into city centers and finding huge numbers of customers. Seattle, for instance, had just wound down its failed city-run bikeshare program when three dockless bikeshare companies filled the void, building the second-largest city bikeshare fleet in the country without spending a single public dime. In China, such dockless bicycle companies, which offer cheap and easy last-mile connections, have dried up the ridesharing services’ market in short-range trips and driven demand back into transit.

To commit enormous federal funds right now while the forms of American mobility are so rapidly shifting, then, would be to bet one’s stack of chips while one’s hand is still being dealt. Instead of rushing to build new roads and highways based on past habits, we should turn our focus to rescuing and reinforcing the investments we have already made. The “crumbling” bridges and roads that President Trump decries will not crumble any less because a new bypass is being built on the other side of town, and maintenance liabilities are already outstripping many communities’ capacity.

Instead of starting another highway-building program, the United States would do well to focus on maintenance, to devolve planning and funding decisions to localities, and to ensure that the playing field is level enough to accommodate whichever road the future of transportation goes down.

– Mr. Coppage is a visiting senior fellow at the R Street Institute, where he studies conservative urbanism and the built environment.

Urban Mobility: Data Driven Decision-Making and Solutions

Who Owns Urban Mobility Data?

Policymakers need it; private transportation companies have it. Here’s one way to broker a solution.

   DAVID ZIPPER

 

How, exactly, should policymakers respond to the rapid rise of new private mobility services such as ride-hailing, dockless shared bicycles, and microtransit? As I argued here several months ago, in order to answer that question city leaders will need accurate and detailed information about all urban trips—however the traveler chose to get from one place to another. And that information needs to come in part from the private mobility companies that are moving a growing share of people within our cities.

In 2017, these services had a tumultuous year. Apocalyptic images of discarded dockless bikes in China left American officials that are experimenting with this model for bikesharing scrambling to ensure their cities avoid the same fate. Meanwhile, Uber’s admission that it paid a $100,000 ransom to hackers who stole 57 million user accounts damaged that company’s credibility as a protector of passenger privacy. And a widely shared study from researchers at University of California-Davis refuted several optimistic hypotheses about ride-hailing’s societal benefits: It found that companies like Uber and Lyft are spurring urban congestion, siphoning public transit riders, and failing to entice many people to give up their cars. Not coincidentally, transit agencies like Washington, D.C.’s WMATA are now launching their own investigations to see if declining ridership can be traced to the emergence of ride-hailing.

Beyond these broad issues, there are a number of specific questions that can’t be answered without access to trip information from Uber, Lyft, Limebike, and the like. For example, without such data it’s hard for policymakers—or the general public—to decide if it’s a good idea to convert a parking meter to a ride-hailing drop-off point, or to ensure pedestrians aren’t obstructed by heaps of dockless bikeshare bikes on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, new mobility services have generally refused to let the public sector see inside their data vaults.

But the tide is turning, especially as the line between public and private forms of urban transportation blurs. American transit agencies are partnering with ride-hailing companies to offer late-night service, move people to bus or rail stations (“first mile/last mile” solutions), and manage paratransit for riders with limited mobility. Ride-hailing companies are in an awkward position if they refuse to share data with governments that subsidize them. “If I’m paying you to move a passenger, the data for that passenger isn’t yours,” I heard a Texas transit official say recently to a ride-hailing executive. “It’s mine.” The executive had no response.

When will policymakers finally be able to access the data they need to manage streets and sidewalks in the public interest, and how will they get it? The most likely solution is via a data exchange that anonymizes rider data and gives public experts (and perhaps academic and private ones too) the ability to answer policy questions.

This idea is starting to catch on. The World Bank’s OpenTraffic project, founded in 2016, initially developed ways to aggregate traffic information derived from commercial fleets. A handful of private companies like Grab and Easy Taxi pledged their support when OpenTraffic launched. This fall, the project become part of SharedStreets, a collaboration between the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the World Resources Institute, and the OECD’s International Transport Forum to pilot new ways of collecting and sharing a variety of public and private transport data. Kevin Webb, the founder of SharedStreets, envisions a future where both cities and private companies can utilize SharedStreets to solve questions on topics like street safety, curb use, and congestion.

That’s a laudable goal, but Shared Streets will have to solve several challenges in order to become a go-to resource. For example, it’s hard to provide a complete picture of urban mobility unless the heavyweights like Uber, Lyft, Didi Chuxing, Ofo, and Mobike participate; so far none of them has signed on. There is also the question of how tech behemoths like Google and Apple—collectors of massive datasets about individuals’ movement—can be involved. Perhaps they can be sources of reliable revenue that SharedStreets will need in order to scale (at present the initiative is being incubated with philanthropic support).

Finally, there is the critical question of privacy. Although Uber’s hacking scandal has dinged ride-hailing’s credibility as a protector of passenger data, new mobility services do have a point when they push back against handing over rider information to the government. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some customers will balk at the prospect of public agencies accessing their personal ride histories. Webb says that SharedStreets will handle those concerns by collecting aggregated data that is rich enough to allow for deep analysis while still hiding information about individual rides. New mobility service companies could further protect their passengers by converting trip data into so-called “synthetic populations” of artificial data modeled after trips that people actually took.

However the new mobility service data arrives—almost certainly aggregated, and potentially artificially modeled—there will need to be a way to ensure it is accurate. After all, companies like Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in the questions policymakers pose about their impact on city streets. Data validation—especially for modeled data—is crucial for such an exchange to be trusted.

Bosch: The Smart City Of The Future Has Arrived

Conducting connected pilots in 14 urban centers worldwide

       

 

While much of CES is focused on the smart home, Bosch is looking beyond our abodes to the mega metropolises that house them.

Leveraging its IoT, AI, software and sensor smarts – the building blocks of smart cities – the Germany-based business is already working to cure many of the ills that plague large urban areas, including traffic, pollution, high energy consumption and crime.

In a CES Media Day presentation on Monday, Bosch Group management board member Dr. Stefan Hartung and Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch North America, cited 14 current “Beacon” projects in metroplexes worldwide, where “The smart city of the future is already here,” Hartung said.

Among the pilots: A connected-parking program, being tested this year in 20 U.S. cities, in which specially-equipped cars automatically report available parking spaces to the Cloud as they pass, helping to reduce traffic, fuel consumption, pollution and time spent hunting for a spot.

The company is also outfitting 5,000 streetlights in San Leandro, Calif., to only illumine when needed, which is expected to save the municipality $8 million over 15 years.

On the product front, Bosch has developed a shoebox-sized micro-climate monitoring unit called Climo that urban managers can use for traffic control. A winner of a CES 2018 Innovation Award, the device is one-tenth the cost and one-hundredth the size of standard monitors, Mansuetti said.

The executives also touted a telematic eCall plug, which fits into a car’s cigarette lighter and can monitor and report the driver’s performance, and emit an emergency alert signal if needed. The device can help calm parents of young drivers and reward safe motorists with discounted insurance rates.

To help make smart cities a reality, Bosch has deployed 4,000 IoT engineers and is operating three AI research centers, in Germany, India and Silicon Valley. Why the urgency? According to Hartung, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in mega cities by 2050, while Mansuetti pointed to the big business that smart city has become: 19 percent annual growth and a projected 800 million Euros in expenditures by 2020.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DATA

Miami’s New Vision as a Global City seeks to expand Economic Opportunity

The Miami Urban Future Initiative is a joint initiative with FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and CCG sponsored in part by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,  which will lead new research and mapping on economic, occupational, creative and technological assets in Miami, in partnership with renowned experts, to provide necessary data, evidence and strategy to grow a more inclusive, creative economy for a 21st century global Miami. Miami has reached a crossroads. Its economy – historically based on tourism, hospitality, transportation, and real-estate development – has deepened, diversified, and become more creative and idea-based, as banking, media, arts, education, and new technology-based industries have assumed a larger role. The region now finds itself at a critical inflection point.

While growing, Miami’s creative class — those who make a living by using their minds in arts & design, science, technology, law, & medical industries or academia, media, management, & finance — only make up 25% of the workforce, a much smaller share than regions like Washington, D.C. (44.6%),  Chicago or& L.A. (31.5% each). Miami also suffers from challenges arising from a rapidly growing urban center. This Initiative will develop additional research about Miami’s creative economy and divides, while working across the business, civic, and academic communities to shape a constructive, future-oriented dialogue.

Through this Initiative, they hope to provide the thought leadership and awareness required to guide Miami’s evolution as a global city through data-driven research and assessments of the key trends shaping the region, disseminate this information and inform the broad strategic vision for the region’s private and public stakeholders through ongoing local convenings and briefs and bring global thought-leaders and practitioners to bear on thinking about the region’s future through high-level events and convenings on issues important to Miami and global cities.

More than two decades ago, Alejandro Portes, now at the University of Miami, and Alex Stepick of FIU dubbed Miami as a “city on the edge,” with many assets and many challenges. The region’s transformation, they added, was a story of “change without a blueprint.” Miami has seen one of its greatest growth waves since that time, benefiting from the strategic action of visionary stakeholders, groups, universities and colleges, and mayors since. It is now time to renew the region’s commitment to a regional strategy and to engage a broad region-wide conversation about a more inclusive prosperity that takes into account the mounting realities and challenges that face the region today. The time to act is now: if it misses this opportunity, the region risks losing the economic advantages it has achieved.

To this end, FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts and Creative Class Group (CCG) created the FIU-Miami Creative City Initiative, an ongoing collaboration to better understand the forces that are shaping the future of Miami. Their aim is to build upon the strong foundation created by the region’s political, business, academic, and civic leadership and organizations over the past several decades to help identify the key things Miami can do to position itself as a more innovative, creative, inclusive, and prosperous global city and region.

Miami Urban Future Initiative Research Report: Miami Ranks 6th Among Large U.S. Metros on the New Urban Crisis Index

Miami’s rankings on the various equity metrics include:

  • Income Inequality. Miami ranks second among large U.S. metros in terms of income inequality.
  • Wealth Segregation. Miami ranks tenth among large U.S. metros according to its segregation of the wealthy, a measure of the residential segregation of households with incomes of $200,000 or more.
  • Overall Segregation. Miami ranks sixteenth among large U.S. metros on the Segregation Inequality Index, a combined measure of economic segregation and both wage and income inequality.
  • Housing Unaffordability. Miami ranks among the twenty least-affordable metros in the world in terms of its “median multiple,” or ratio of median housing prices to median household income.
  • Concentrated Poverty. 14 percent of Greater Miami households and one in five families with children lived below the poverty line.
  • Middle Class Decline. In Miami, the middle-class share of population declined from 51 percent in 2000 to 48.5 percent in 2014.

How big is too big for a city?

Urban Population

Up to the Industrial Revolution people all over the world lived mainly in the countryside. In 1800, only 3 % of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1900 only 12 cities had more than 1 million people.

Today, about half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. There are over 400 cities with more than a million people. In developed countries, up to 70 % or more live in larger cities, whereas in poorer countries this rate is below 40 %.

During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century cities grew fast, especially in Europe and North America, because new industries were created there and people found many jobs . Later on cities grew more slowly because they became overcrowded and diseases could spread faster. Today death rates in cites are low because they have better doctors and more hospitals.

In industrialized countries the growth of cities has stopped. New York and London grew very quickly during the 1800s and early 1900s, but since then their growth has slowed down.

African and Asian cities like Lagos, Bombay or Calcutta are growing rapidly and this will probably continue during the next years. About 40 cities around the world have a population of over 5 million . They are called megacities . 80% of them are in poorer countries.

People go to the cities for many reasons. The table shows you what pulls them to the cities and what pushes them away from the countryside.

Pull factors

  • more and better jobs
  • better hospitals and health care
  • better living standards
  • cities are social and financial centres
  • better education—schools and universities

Push factors

  • too many people in the countryside
  • low income
  • not enough raw materials (water, wood etc..)
  • the quality of farming land is getting worse

Can a city become too big?

The number of megacities has been increasing so rapidly in the last few decades that many are experiencing serious growing pains.

There are now some three dozen megacities in the world, each sprawling areas home to more than 10 million people. Bigger cities come with obvious advantages, the increase in people, interactions and infrastructures create more opportunities and efficiencies. But massive population growth has also led to more pollution, spiralling rent, and crumbling infrastructure.

These problems, according to theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, increase alongside population growth. “The bigger you are the more you get per capita. So the bigger you are, the more Aids cases there are, the more higher wages, the more crime there is, the more patents are produced and so forth. All in a systematic, predictable way.”

West says all the super-sized cities around the world seem to share this concept of super-linear scaling. “In order to sustain growth,” he says, “you need to continuously innovate and you need to do it at a faster and faster rate. So that the time between major innovations gets shorter and shorter, and the pace of life has to necessarily get faster and faster to sustain that growth.”

While they may share the same principles, the reasons driving them are very different. Each are under different pressures as they struggle to support increasing numbers. Here are five cautionary tales from megacities, that together paint a fuller picture of the consequences of the spiralling urban population.

  • CAIRO – CONGESTION
  • LONDON – HOUSE PRICES
  • MUMBAI – TRANSPORT
  • JAKARTA – SEA LEVEL
  • SHANGHAI – AIR POLLUTION

By 2030, the United Nations predicts that there will be 41 megacities total with a population of 10 million or more.

Despite the ominous numbers, Geoffrey West has some good news. “If we make it through this critical next 30 years,” says West, “one of the things that will happen, we believe, although it’s very controversial, is that the population overall will stabilize.

“Somewhere towards the three-quarter point of the century we will see an effective slowing really, kind of stabilization of the global population,” he says. “At some stage, associated with that, we might see a stabilization of the migration to cities.” Time will tell if he is correct.

Shanghai to cap population at 25 million to battle ‘big city disease’

SHANGHAI — China’s financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage “big city disease”, the cabinet has said.

The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai’s masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved.

“By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometers,” it said.

State media has defined “big city disease” as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care.

Shanghai shows off its beauty as China's financial hub

A Chinese police officer directs traffic on a busy road in Shanghai, China, on Sept. 27, 2016. Yu shenli / Imaginechina via AP

Many of China’s biggest cities also face surging house prices, stirring fears of a property bubble.

Shanghai, which sits on China’s eastern coast, had a permanent population of 24.15 million at the end of 2015, the official Xinhua news agency said last year.

The city has also said it would intensify efforts to protect the environment and historic site as part of its master plan.

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