You are likely reading this in the city.
May 25, 2007 12:28 PM   Subscribe

This week, the world became more urban than rural for the first time in human history. Trace urban growth over the past century, or with more detail over the last 50 years, and see how the idea of the city has evolved. When you are done admiring the skylines (more from US cities) and singing the songs, reflect on the best and worst of cities: the richest by GDP and personal earnings, the worst slums, the best skylines, the worst polluted, the fastest moving, the most expensive, and the most polite (New York?). What does it all mean? Stuart Brand [video] (slideshow here) and other experts weigh in. [see also my previous post on the names of cities]
posted by blahblahblah (18 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I just read somewhere that a third of the world's urban population lives in shanty towns. So that's like a six of the world, over one billion people in favelas? Mindblowing.
posted by gubo at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2007

Wow, I've always said that New Yorkers are the most polite and friendly people in the world. It's nice to know the data backs me up.
posted by SBMike at 12:43 PM on May 25, 2007

As a totally impolite-by-MeFi-standards sidenote, I just noticed that I am only 3 favorite votes away from being favorited 1,000 times. Finally, the validation I always needed!!!
posted by blahblahblah at 12:51 PM on May 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

In recognition of how half the global population now lives in cities, last week’s issue of The Economist has a survey on urbanization. Much of it makes for fascinating reading. For instance, they allege that the Kibera slum in Nairobi exists more for reasons of corruption than of poverty. The provision of private services and the need for constant bribery make its continued existence profitable, just as the pool of cheap labour it provides plays an important economic role.

As always, they come up with some interesting statistics, as well. Vancouver is ranked as the most livable city in the world, and one is reminded that Tokyo has a larger population than all of Canada. Delhi has the world’s dirtiest air, as measured by particulates, followed by Cairo and Calcutta. More than 70% of all urban dwellers in sub-Saharran Africa live in slums. In Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda that figure is over 90%.

The United Nations envisions human population growth as a phenomenon that will eventually slow, leaving the world with a population of about eleven billion. By then, more than 60% of people will be living in cities, dependent upon agricultural productivity elsewhere to be able to sustain themselves. Hopefully, climate change and other ecological phenomena will not make that overly challenging.
posted by sindark at 12:59 PM on May 25, 2007

Since so many people now live in squalor, it is scary to think of the world population virtually doubling. On what basis does the UN figure that growth will stabilize at 11 billion? Will the quality of life decrease to the point that the shorter life spans of previous eras will recur? Will (gasp) sex go out of style?
posted by Cranberry at 1:59 PM on May 25, 2007

Great post; thanks. It reminds me why I love living in this village.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:21 PM on May 25, 2007

Will (gasp) sex go out of style?

Once smoking is banned in every major city in the world, sex is next.
posted by The World Famous at 3:25 PM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cranberry, I was going to type out something about how income raise, education and urbanization correlates with lower family sizes but I was just reading this article by Peter Warshall so I might as well quote it.
Take population growth and family planning. When I started work in Kenya in the l960s, rural women wanted to have seven or eight children. Four or five might die of disease and one or two move to cities in hope of sending back some cash, leaving one or two to keep the gardens and take care of elders. With massive perinatal medical foreign aid (both secular and religious), many Kenyan women wound up, in one generation, with seven children instead of two or three. Everyone was unprepared.

Families could not divide their small holdings among so many children. Many young boys (then girls) left for the city, found little work, and, frustrated, joined opposition political groups. They died in insurrections (and then of AIDS) rather than as infants.

To lower family size required an understanding of the complete human life cycle from birth control to teenage employment to old-age insurance. Parents needed assurance that if they had fewer children, most would live long enough to take care of them as elders. Or, they needed to believe that the government would provide pensions for them in their old age. This complex organizational transformation rests on a combined program of medical aid, birth control, old age pensions, urban/rural taxation programs, city jobs, education, cooperation from donors, and land tenure security. Few governments, let alone NGOs, have been able to organize a painless transition to family planning.
posted by Firas at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

That reminds me of this year's Reith Lecture series by Jeffrey Sachs, Bursting at the Seams (which I heard thanks to this post). One moment that struck me is that during the question and answer session after the first lecture, a woman asked Sachs something like "If you provide aid to allow more children to live, won't that just give rise to an ever-growing population causing more problems?" His response was similar to what you posted. Well worth listening to if you haven't heard them.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2007

Incidentally the view that unstoppable population growth will outstrip resource/economic capacity is philosophically known as Malthusian.
posted by Firas at 4:40 PM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Question: How is "urban" defined or operationalized here? In regard to the US and majority/minority urban population of states, I'm thinking it basically means "metropolitan." But have you ever checked metro area boundaries out? They basically take in whole counties, including some areas I'd consider rural or at least put in the "small town" category. Check out Atlanta's metro area--there are small towns and very low-density rural areas in the outlying counties, absolutely no question about it. How does the UN define urban from nation to nation? Can you imagine the disparity in reporting stats?
posted by raysmj at 5:10 PM on May 25, 2007

As a totally impolite-by-MeFi-standards sidenote, I just noticed that I am only 3 favorite votes away from being favorited 1,000 times. Finally, the validation I always needed!!! [3 favorites]

Woooohoooo! Thanks.

(Also, in answer to some of the other posts: sindark, the Economist survey is actually my second link, I thought it was quite good. raysmj: the UN has a big PDF document on the question, in short - it is as decided by the local/national census unit)
posted by blahblahblah at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2007

"You are likely reading this in the city."

I know rural is not defined as "lacking internet access", but isn't this headline a bit... duh?
posted by Eideteker at 6:22 PM on May 25, 2007


In summary, the city I live in is:-
a) the fastest paced in the world,
b) Has the fifth best skyline,
c) 46th in terms of courtesy (although, truth be told, I found their three 'courtesy tests' to be quite stupid),
d) And yet, is only 36th richest.

No wonder my flatmate wanted to move to New York even though he found it laidback. :-D
posted by the cydonian at 7:22 PM on May 25, 2007

The politeness survey was interesting, but as it carefully pointed out, very unscientific. Going to Starbucks in every city does not "standardize" in a useful way. As a former long time New Yorker (newly minted Seattlite), I can say that one thing I don't miss about NY is the sullen shopkeepers and register jockeys.

On the other hand, I totally believe the results of the door test. Seattle seems to have a blind spot where it comes to door holding, whereas doorholding etiquette is strangely important in NY. I've seen doorholding behavior here that would get you disinvited to parties back in my old haunts. In the strange world of New York etiquette, if you neglect to hold the door for someone right behind you, it's not unheard of to be cursed out. Is that polite? And there are explicitly different sets of standards for men and women, as the article notes (is that a surprise?).

And if you're talking about driving etiquette, all bets are off. That's another complete set of cultures. I'm feeling very Seinfeldian right now.
posted by Edgewise at 10:18 PM on May 25, 2007

Edgewise: whoa, that's weird, just today I had an elevator conversation with someone in my building about how surprised she was that I'd held the door for her; she'd lived in Seattle all her life and I'm new out here too (ex-DC suburbs).

I dismissed it as probably a statistical outlier, but apparently I was wrong.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:03 AM on May 26, 2007

doorholding??? how ethnocentric can you get?

Any list of "most polite" without Japanese entries is a pretty odd list. They fetishize etiquette here. Yet there is always surprise when I leap to my feet to open the nearby staffroom door for someone who has their hands full. Etiquette just means different things here.

Let me ask you this: if I left five cents change behind in one of those Starbucks, and it wasn't clear whether or not it was intentional, would the staffperson run down the street in order to offer it to you?

Yeah, thought not.
posted by dreamsign at 1:55 AM on May 28, 2007

please insert I/you agreement into that sentence, as I was too flustered to do so.
posted by dreamsign at 1:56 AM on May 28, 2007

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