Costs of Urbanisation
A person in the suburbs occupies much more land than a person in the city centre. Suburbs make public transport less convenient, forcing people into their cars. Cities are often divided into areas of greater wealth and more jobs and areas of lower incomes and fewer jobs. The current design of cities alienates humans from nature.
Suburbs destroy useful agricultural land. Much of suburban Los Angeles was once productive farmland. The Central Valley farmers had good soil, sun and water. Under pressure from housing developers to sell, these farms became the urban sprawl that now characterises Los Angeles.
Economic forces often determine the future of the land. Local councils facilitate the conversion of farms to suburbs because they want to create jobs and stimulate the economy and to get money back in taxes. But the cost of development does not often pay in terms of money returned in taxes. It just results in a constant spiralling growth.
With the rise of supermarkets and out-of-town shopping malls, local greengrocers and butchers are fast disappearing. Closing at the rate of 10% per year in most Western countries, grocers and butchers face extinction in about five years. For example, in the city of Perth, Western Australia there were only 300 butcher shops in 2005 compared with 900 in 1988.
At present we have a truce with the microbes but if a city’s infrastructure gets overloaded then the balance can tip back to favour the microbe and we will return to an era of infectious disease. The cholera epidemics that hit India and some Latin American cities in the 1990s killed thousands of people and hospitalised hundreds of thousands more. This occurred over a few months, demonstrating how quickly a disease can move when it finds a foothold in crowded slums.
Large cities are breeding grounds for new microbes and antibiotic-resistant strains of old microbes. Over half of the urban poor in the developing world are permanently weakened because they carry one or more parasites. Respiratory infections, asthma and migraines appear to be more common in cities.
The AIDS virus has infected at least 50 million people and become an epidemic in cities throughout the world. As well as having its own deadly impact, AIDS fosters the spread of other diseases such as tuberculosis by weakening the immune system of its host and enabling the tuberculosis bacteria to gain a foothold. All too often this results in the death of the person with AIDS.
Other urban problems include the increased privatisation of public space, poor planning and standards of design, and a general lowering of the quality of life. When areas of urban land become available there is an opportunity to correct these problems.