The 21st century case for a new type of urbanism

Let’s do some inductive thinking: like Albert Einstein did when he considered many seemingly unrelated points and said, “What’s going on here?” What is that part of?”

Still reeling from competing seismic forces – Covid-19, climate change, global economic collapse, mass unemployment, displaced labor (temporary, most likely), social unrest and grim cyber threats – we have many dots to connect, as well as the responsibility of arriving at the right answers when we ask, “What is this part of?” »

Out of that proverbial box

The problem, however, is that we easily let conclusions arrive when we’re tired of thinking. We suffer from mental fatigue, stop thinking and give in. We draw “conclusions” like vaccination for herd immunity, emission reductions, back-up checks (absolutely the right thing, but not a conclusion), etc.

None of these are “what’s going on here,” which evokes a useful lesson: if you think you’re thinking outside the box, look around; you might just be in a bigger box.

What’s really going on here

A giant phenomenon is urbanization. Yet, apart from the UN, the World Economic Forum, the OECD and the major universities, who is paying attention?

One expert who does is Professor Ester Fuchs, who at Columbia University in New York City is director of the urban and social policy program and professor of international and public affairs and political science. Professor Fuchs, in a telephone interview, pointed out that the most obvious characteristic of an urbanizing population – density – is, contrary to popular belief, not a problem, but is very much part of the promise of a better society. “The difference between 20th and 21st century urban planning,” says Professor Fuchs, “is the realization that the old model of economic development depended on doing things that would destroy this planet.” The challenge moving forward, she says, is “to identify the tools that cities need to manufacture and keep them economically viable and ecologically sustainable at the same time.” This is 21st century thinking.

Consider that in 1960, 70% of the American population – 125 million out of 170 million – lived in urban areas. Today, 82.5% of Americans – 271 million out of 330 million – do so. In fact, the number of Americans living in urban areas today is about to surpass our total population of just 20 years ago.

The trend is not as simple as it seems. In the half-decade between 2015 and 2020, the US population grew by 11.78 million, while urban growth reached 13.40 million, effectively draining the non-urban population of 1.62 million. Urban populations are not just growing organically; there is also a migration going on.

And the trend is not new. The most recent five-year period in which the national growth rate exceeded the urban growth rate was 1985-1990. It’s a 30-year trend and it won’t change in most of our lifetimes. We’ll be 85% urbanized by 2025, 90% urbanized by 2050. After that, we won’t be able to sustain sufficient agricultural production or domestic resource management to run a country, so that’s probably all.

But that’s not the conclusion. If we allow density to be the last step in the urbanization thinking process, we will miss out on collaboration, diversity, scale and collective innovation – all of which are the result of talent. aggregated.

Same story, different places

Globally it is no different, although at different regional rates. Nevertheless, in 2008, for the first time in history, half of the world’s population lived in urban areas and by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population (6.5 to 7.0 billion people) will be city dwellers.

For clarity, let’s define the term. An urban area is a human settlement characterized by high population density, strong infrastructure of a built (rather than natural) environment, and a complex web of social functions such as transportation, sewage, health care, commerce , shared cultural and leisure offers, education centers, job diversity, etc. All urban areas began at certain defined points in history, but have since been transformed through growth, expansion, conurbation and mergers. Therefore, if you moved from the city to what was the suburbs 20 years ago, you probably now live in an ever-expanding urban area. So we see that not only are many people moving to urban areas; urban areas run parallel. An urban area is no longer the city as such.

For example, New Jersey has no city of 300,000 and only four cities in the US top 300, but it is the most densely populated state. Additionally, two-thirds of New Jersey’s 8.8 million people live in the northeast quadrant of the state, making it a large urban area.

Where will we live and work? Think urban.

After a year of social distancing, to conclude that we are now a virtual society is a gross mistake in both logical and creative thinking. Understanding 21st century urban trends is key to our career and life decisions.

Quite different from 20th century thinking, indeed.