Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Whole Earth Discipline: Cities and Shantytowns

My Favorite Quotes from Whole Earth Discipline

(quotes are in light colored background, my commentary is in black background and white letters)

City air makes you free, and preference for urban slums over subsistence farming:

Many of my contemporaries in the developed world regard subsistence farming as soulful and organic, but it is a poverty trap and an environmental disaster.

Civilization is what happens in cities, and the return of great Asian cities:

The trend is pretty clear. The "rise of the West" is over. The world looks the way it did a thousand years ago, when the ten largest cities were Cordoba, in Spain; Kaifeng, in China; Constantinople; Angkor, in Cambodia; Kyoto; Cairo; Baghdad; Nishapur, in Iran; Al-Hasa, in Saudi Arabia; and Patan, in India. As Swedish statistician Hans Rosling says, "The world will be normal again; it will be an Asian world, as it always was except for the last thousand years. They are working like hell to make that happen, whereas we are consuming like hell."

The Challenge of the Slums, 2003 UN-HABITAT report:

"Cities are much more successful in promoting new forms of income generation, and it is much cheaper to provide services in urban areas, that some experts have actually suggested the only realistic poverty reduction strategy is to get as many people as possible to move to the city."

Unleashing the potential for Urban Growth, UN Populations Fund 2007 report:

"Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it. ... the half of the world's population living in cities occupies only 2.8 percent of the world's land area. ... In cities, concentration and density make it easier to provide social services. Education, health, sanitation, water, electrical power -everything is so much easier and cheaper on a per capita basis. "

Kebler's Law -organism's become more metabolically efficient as they scale up :

" ...not only do cities increase their creativity with increasing size, but the relation is superlinear: when a city doubles in size, it more than doubles its rate of innovation. ... City growth creates problems, and then innovation speeds up to solve them. ... We have shown that growth driven by innovation implies, in principle, no limit to the size of a city, providing a quantitative argument against classical ideas in urban economics. ... Cities can go on growing forever. Look at the invention of the steam engine, the car, the digital revolution. What these advances all have in common is that they allowed cities to continue growing. ... the secret to creating a more environmentally sustainable society is making our cities bigger. We need more metropolises."

William Blake - "Without contraries there is no progression", Multitude of contrasts begets progress:

" could be surmised that the city is simply made up of contrasts; it is the sum of its differences. What drives a cities innovation engine, then-and thus its wealth engine-is its multitude of contrasts. The more and greater the contrasts, and the more they are marbled together, the better. The most productive city is one with many cultures, many languages, many neighborhoods, and and more kinds of urban experience available than any citizen can keep track of. In this formulation, it is the throwing together of great wealth and great poverty in the urban stew that is part of the cure for poverty. "


"Rural economies, including agricultural work are directly built upon city economies and city work. Most farming innovations, for example, are city-based. When Rome collapsed, European agriculture collapsed. "

Slums are innovation:

" Peasants who leave the land take rural skills and values to the city slums with them. Building their own shelter is what they've always done, at a miniscule fraction of the cost of city-provided housing. Collaborating with extended family and neighbors in close proximity is nothing new to them, and neither is doing without elaborate infrastructure. Those are all the abilities they need to build the most creative urban phenomenon of our time, the squatter cities-the teeming slums of the uninvited that house a billion people now, two billion soon.
squatter cities are vibrant/ Their narrow lanes are bustling markets, with food stalls, bars, cafes, hair salons, dentists, churches, schools, health clubs, and mini-shops trading in cellphones, tools, trinkets, clothes, electronic gadgets, and bootleg videos and music. This is urban life at its most intense. It is social capital at its richest...What you see up close is not a despondent populace crushed by poverty but a lot of people busy getting out of poverty as fast as they can. "

"The sad fact is that when governments and idealistic architects try to help by providing public housing, those buildings invariably turn into the worst part of the slum. The people who build the shanties take pride in them and are always working to improve them. The issues for the squatters, Neuwirth found, are location -they want to be close to work -and what the UN calls security of tenure: They need to know that their homes and community won't be suddenly bulldozed out of existence. "

" Over time, the walls get solider and higher, the materials more durable. The magic of squatter cities is that they are improved steadily and gradually, increment by increment, by the people living there. Each home is built that way, and so is the whole community. To a planner's eye, squatter cities look chaotic. To my biologist's eye, they look organic. "

" According to urban researchers, squatters are now the predominant builders of cities in the world."

" [Field researchers for 2003 UN report found: ] All slums households in Bangkok have a colour television. The average number of TV's per household is 1.6... Almost all of them have a CD player, a washing machine, and 1.5 cellphones. Half of them have a home telephone, a video player, and a motorcycle. "

" [ favelados, slum residents of Rio ] have the aspirations of the bourgeoisie, the perseverance of pioneers, and the values of patriots. "

The massive trend of migration to slums is defusing the population bomb:

" In the [subsistence farming] village, every additional child is an asset, but in the slum, every additional child is a liability, so the newly liberated women in town focus on education and opportunity -on fewer, higher quality children. That's how urbanization defused the population bomb. "

" Massive numbers of people are making massive changes. Having just experienced the first doubling of world population within a single lifetime (3.3 billion in 1962, 6.6 billion in 2007), we are discovering that it was the last doubling. Birthrates worldwide are dropping not only faster than expected, but much further. "

" The takeoff of cities is the dominant economic event of the first half of this century ... People in vast numbers are climbing the energy ladder from smoky firewood and dung cooking fires to diesel-driven generators for charging batteries, then 24/7 grid electricity. They are also climbing the food ladder -from subsistence farms to cash crops of staples like rice, corn, wheat, and soy to the high protein of meat -and doing so in a global marketplace. Environmentalists who try to talk people out of such aspirations will find the effort works about as well as trying to convince people to stay in their villages did.

Peasant life is over unless catastrophic climate change drives us back to it. "

1 comment:

The Editor said...

Regarding this quote:

" Over time, the walls get solider and higher, the materials more durable. The magic of squatter cities is that they are improved steadily and gradually, increment by increment, by the people living there. Each home is built that way, and so is the whole community. To a planner's eye, squatter cities look chaotic. To my biologist's eye, they look organic. "

When I read this, I visualized the now abandoned adobe cities of the ancestors to the Native Americans. They are not just built in an organic arrangement, but they are cheap to build and easily repaired and upgraded. In dry climates, the material is about the best material for the job. Squatter cities made from adobe-like materials would be the most adaptable cities for those working to get out of the slums. They would get out of the slums by slowly changing the city itself, just as the quote suggests, except without depending on finding better materials.

Maybe we need a building material similar to this, but more resistant to water and more insulative against extreme temperatures.

Lord Rybec