Examples of Urbanisation
Perth in Western Australia has the worst urban development of any city in Australia, and arguably, in the Western world. With a population of one and a half million, Perth is as long as Los Angeles, which has a population of about 15 million.
A sprawling city, Perth's residential suburbs continue to devour the wetland and bushland on its fringes. Many residents still use septic tanks, and waste material is seeping into wetlands and rivers. Agriculture also impacts on the land, poisoning it with pesticides and nutrients, and transforming it from forest to grassland to cropland and, finally, to saltland and desert.
Perth's central business district is a glass graveyard on weekends. Brisbane, in Queensland, on the other hand, is similar in size to Perth but far more people-orientated. There are markets, cafes and areas where buskers, jugglers and magicians perform, as well as areas for children to play and people to congregate. It has a vibrant and entertaining city centre.
In many countries in the developing world there has been a history of poor planning. Frequently, governments do not provide enough housing. The poor from rural areas are drawn into the cities with the lure of jobs, city services, education and a better way of life. Out of desperation for a place to live, they erect settlements or shantytowns. The governments look the other way and allow them to squat illegally. The police are understaffed and under-funded, and corruption is rife. The land is often made available in exchange for rates paid to the government.
When the infrastructure of a city breaks down there is chaos. In Kinshasa in the Congo (formerly Zaire), fuel supplies are unreliable and public transport is basic and unreliable. Public amenities are in a state of disrepair. Inadequate sanitation provides a pathway for the spread of infection. Electricity and water supplies are erratic. Strikes and sabotage by disgruntled soldiers and workers hamper the flow of flour, manioc and vegetables into the city. Food is in short supply and there is hunger. Antibiotics and other medicines don't reach their destination, resulting in more sickness and outbreaks of epidemics. Diseases such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis are spreading. Unemployment is at 80%. Annual hyperinflation is more than 3,000%. The black market is the dominant financial system and anything imported into the country has to be paid for in hard currency, usually dollars.
Fuelled by a massively increasing urban population, Asia's major cities have been growing at over twice the rate of cities in Europe and the USA. There are not enough trained planners, resulting in a wasteful use of land, and homogenous and characterless cities. Development has been driven by economic rather than social or environmental considerations. The result has been predictable: ugly sprawl, traffic chaos, pollution and health problems.
In New Delhi, India young homeless thieves do not know their last name or the name of the village where they were born. In Cairo, Egypt, children spend their day searching through the rubbish tips for discarded food to eat. In US cities drug-addicted mothers leave their newborn babies in garbage bins. In Karachi, Pakistan, the sewerage system has not been improved since the early 1960s. The city's water supply is insufficient and the poor are forced to drink from untreated supplies, which are contaminated with the hepatitis virus. In Tokyo, Japan, population growth has overwhelmed the ability to keep up with waste removal. In Upper Silesia, Poland, illegal dumping of toxic waste has poisoned the land and water. Ten per cent of newborn babies have birth defects ranging from missing limbs to brain damage.
However, there are signs of hope. In Mexico City, Mexico, cooperatives were set up by peasants to provide credit for people who could not afford a home. In Bangkok, Thailand, a program called Magic Eyes was set up to clean streets of rubbish by encouraging children to sing a jingle about untidiness when they saw their parents drop litter.
In Curitiba, Brazil, a 35-year old think tank, known as the IPPUC, has been the inspiration for a highly successful social and environmental program. With little money and a great deal of imagination, the government has achieved its goal of putting into practice simple, fundamental policies of good urban planning. It employed 480 architects and engineers to build pedestrian walks, parks and sturdy houses for its people. An affordable and reliable bus system has also been created. The city centre is closed to cars and special lanes have been made for buses. It is estimated that 85% of the city's commuters use public transportation and the rate of car accidents is the lowest in Brazil.
Curitiba uses its resources efficiently and taps into the energy of its community. For example, Fanta drink bottles are recycled as lamps to light up the city park; old buses are converted into mobile school rooms; and telephone poles are used to build government department offices. More than 70% of the rubbish is recycled and residents are rewarded with surplus fruit, vegetables, school notebooks - even theatre tickets - for returning their waste to the recycle centres. This has resulted in cleaner neighbourhoods and healthier people.
Money saved from the recycling schemes goes back into the community. Many initiatives include job creation and training for the poor, who comprise approximately 70% of the population. Private businesses help fund several programs. In addition to the social and environmental effects, the project has resulted in economic benefits. Its economic growth has been consistently above the state’s average.
Cities offer opportunities such as jobs, education, health care and varied diets, and act as magnets pulling in people from rural areas. Unfortunately, model cities like Curitiba contain the seeds of their own destruction, since the more attractive they become, the more they attract new immigrants and the more pressure there is on social services.