Monday, August 29, 2011

Urbanization and its discontents

Don't freak out, but...we are overpopulating the world to a severe degree, and urbanization won't save us!

This is the view of Kingsley Davis, a pioneer of historical urban demography and world urbanization, in his 1965 Scientific America piece "The Urbanization of the Human Population." He explains that "urbanization" is a term that describes not merely the growth, in population, of cities--but a relative change between the urban and rural (read: farming) population. Thus, just because a city's population is growing does not mean that more people are migrating from the country into cities (urbanization).

Davis goes over the history of urbanization in Northwest Europe (urbanization began to support trade and economic production) and the "S-curve" theory of urbanization (urbanization starts off slow and then increases rapidly as economic incentives from prospering city industries continue to increase, and then tapers off as overcowding and the availability of automobiles and other conveniences encourages people to move into suburban areas).

Davis also addresses the misplaced anxiety of leaders in underdeveloped nations that a severe rural-urban migration is underway. While it is true that developing countries are becoming urbanized at a slightly faster rate than those of the 19th century (about 5%), the overall growth of their cities can't be predominantly explained by urbanization.

Greenberg, Seattle Post Intelligence, 1994
 Rather, absolute population growth via births and increased life expectancy in these countries is causing a steep increase in both urban AND rural populations. This puts countries between a rock and a hard place. Davis states that "If they do not substantially step up the exodous from rural areas, these areas will be swamped with underemployed farmers. If they do step up the exodous, cities will grow at a disasterous rate."

His final warning, or thesis statement, is stern: "It seems plain that the only way to stop urban crowding and to solve most of the urban problems besetting both the developed and underdeveloped nations is to reduce the overall rate of population growth...Urban planners continue to treat population growth as something to be planned for, not something to be itself planned."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Retrofitting "Trashed" Land into Benefical Community Space

Oasis appears
Decay now gives way to growth
Nature rejoices

-Louis J. Lombardo[1]

On a hot day last month, my husband and I happened upon a hidden oasis in Daegu, Korea: the Daegu Arboretum. We strolled through the park, which featured 230,000 square meters of gardens and greenhouses, including a cactus greenhouse, a bog garden, an herb garden and a picnic area. It was bustling with children and adults alike, all enjoying the space and their ability to connect more closely with nature.
Map of Daegu Arboretum. Photo by Jace Lee.
The arboretum, while a splendid refuge for city residents, also holds a deeper significance: the park is built on a large landfill that was in operation from 1986-1990. It was converted into civic space by city government. This project, which opened in 2002, is part of a growing trend in cities across the world.

You don’t have to go far from Daegu to see other successful landfill retrofits. Once known for its flowers and as a site to grow vegetables, the small island of Najido in the Han River near Seoul became a landfill site in the 1970s. As the repository for the trash coming from a growing city, the site quickly expanded into a mountain of trash said to be 34 times the size of the Pyramids of Giza. After the landfill was closed in 1993, the City of Seoul installed 100 methane gas extraction wells to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help power the city. The 2002 World Cup brought renewed interest in redesigning Najido into an eco-friendly island. 2.8 million Square meters of former landfill were transformed into five differently themed parks. Today, the successful World Cup Park sees 9.8 million visitors a year.