Are 21st Century Mega-Cities Sustainable?
edited: Thursday, January 17, 2008
By Franz L Kessler
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2008
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Do mega-cities have a future, I wonder.
This question came to my mind when looking from my hotel room on a hotel’s 16th floor down on the concrete jungles of modern Kuala Lumpur. In fact, my view showed me two things:
- The older parts of the colonial city, with a plenty of green and a maximum of four stories in the leisurely arranged buildings;
- The modern concrete skyline, with little or devoid of vegetation.
A long time ago, during the times of the Roman Empire, there was a ruling "interdicere acqua et igni," which means
the prohibition of using either water or fire. In other words, nobody can live without using water (drinking, washing, sanitary needs)and fire (its modern equivalents being LNG, LPG, electricity for cooking, and heating)
Kuala Lumpur isn’t really a big city yet. It’s still a relatively pleasant place, compared to dry dusty places such as Los Angeles or Karachi.
Fact is, that the much smaller cities of the past, perhaps until the 19th century, provided most of the required supplies: forests (belonging to, and surrounding) the cities provided the urban citizens with firewood, timber, clean water and fresh air. Agricultural areas within or outside of the city walls, and gardens, catered for fresh food.
This isn’t any longer the case for most contemporaneous mega-cities.
- Drinking water is piped-in from far away, and piped-out and often disposed as raw sewage;
- All food (mostly frozen, or packed in plastic) is imported from somewhere else;
- Electricity is brought in by mighty power-grids from far-away; energy consumption heats up the surrounding air and leads to mostly hot, itchy, dusty and unpleasant/unhealthy micro-climates;
- Little or none of the C02 generated in town sees recycling, as gardens and parks fall prey to concrete and asphalt;
- Massive amounts of waste are discarded in landfills, or sunk in the ocean; little or none being recycled in the city areas (India may be a lone exception).
Regarding essential supplies, the modern mega-city creates nothing, it only consumes. Modern mega-cities are totally dependent on surrounding rural areas, whilst these are being ruthlessly exploited for development, aquifers, as the mega-cities expand.
Is this sustainable? The answer is: no. Mega-cities are mega-parasites that absorb vast amounts of the essential ingredients of life: clean air, clean water, food, and energy. When the hinterlands finally degrade, so will the mega-cities. It hasn’t happened yet, but sooner or later, it will.
How to cope with the highly artificial mega-city life culture, in many ways remote and perhaps insane? Just look at sex & crime statistics. This being another pocket of questions that run through my head.
© 2008 by Franz L Kessler