This week has witnessed a huge gathering in Quito, Ecuador called Habitat III--the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Almost all of the world's population growth is showing up in cities and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This is due to the combination of migration out of rural areas (where jobs aren't increasing as fast as the population) and natural increase in cities (where even relatively low births in developing countries still generate an excess of births over deaths). The focus is obviously on cities in developing countries because they have the most fragile infrastructure and are increasing at the most rapid rates. The U.S. State Department's project on Secondary Cities will be on display at the meetings, emphasizing the complexity of urban life.
When I think of urban sustainability, I'm first concerned about the basics--getting a consistent supply of food and clean water to people, coupled with good sewerage and electricity--all associated with adequate housing structures and low levels of ground, water, and air pollution. But the "New Urban Agenda" of the UN goes beyond that to incorporate improvements in the quality of social and economic life in cities. Indeed, the limited coverage in the media of the event seems mainly to have focused on those urban residents who feel disenfranchised from the mainstream of urban life.
In truth, we are getting very close to the point at which urban life is mainly what human existence is all about. So, we are not just studying cities--we are really studying the evolution of human society. If cities cannot be sustained in every way, then human society is sunk.
This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.
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