Urbanisation is creating a growing headache for policy makers around the world as they fight a losing battle against the rapid growth of slums.
While most of our ancestors were hunters, and then farmers, modern man is mostly an urban beast with the tipping point reached in 2007 when, for the first time in history, over half of the world’s population were living in urban areas.
The UN Population Division estimates in its World Urbanization Prospects report that a further 500 million people will be urbanised in the next five years. That is an awful lot of people that need to be supplied with well organised housing and infrastructure.
“Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century,” according to John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division.
“Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda.”
That is due in large measure to the fact that urbanisation is occurring most rapidly in countries with government systems least capable of managing it appropriately.
Much of the urban growth is taking place, and will continue to occur, in countries of the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa, which have notably poor governance and few resources to invest in planning.
According to the World Bank, India, along with China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United States, will lead the world's urban population surge by 2050.
The UN report notes that in 1990, there were ten “mega-cities”, which were home to 153 million people. By 2014, this had grown to 28 mega-cities worldwide.
Of these mega-cities, 16 are located in Asia, four in Latin America, three each in Africa and Europe, and two in North America. By 2030, the number of world mega cities is projected to balloon to 41.
This incredibly rapid growth can cause severe ecological, economic and social problems.
According to the International Federation of Surveyors, over 70% of the growth currently takes place outside the formal planning process and 30% of urban populations in developing countries are living in slums or “informal” settlements.
This occurs where slum housing is illegally built upon vacant state-owned or private land. In sub-Saharan Africa, an extraordinary 90% of new urban settlements are classified as slums.
These slums are usually built in the least desirable locations which are frequently hazardous sites in high-risk locations. The federation says that even in developed countries unplanned or informal urban development is a major issue.
Problems to be Managed In Megacities
Administrations in large cities are often confronted with a multitude of key problems, like high urban densities, transport, traffic congestion, lack of adequate energy supply, unplanned development and lack of basic services, illegal construction, poor natural hazards management in overpopulated areas, crime, water, soil and air pollution.
How to fix the problem
At their core the problems associated with urbanisation are ones of poverty and poor planning and governance.
According to the UN:“Successful sustainable urbanization requires competent, responsive and accountable governments charged with the management of cities and urban expansion, as well appropriate use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for more efficient service delivery.”
Unfortunately, that kind of government is in short supply anywhere in the world, let alone the third world.
Many cities with large slums around them report that in practical terms, they have little control over population growth because the people flocking to their city are coming from rural areas they do not administer so any solution must come from a regional or national level.
Internally, these cities suffer from a lack of centralised control, with unclear and overlapping responsibilities amongst internal and external agencies, with a multitude of agencies holding information on housing and infrastructure that is not accessible to one another.
Often different councils control development in different parts of a large city. Even if city planning is centrally coordinated, city administrations often have little control over the implementation which is handled by local authorities.
Political differences can also create tensions in the implementation of these planning policies.
To succeed, what is required is the opposite: centralised control over both planning and enforcement with excellent internal communication between utilities.
That doesn't seem to be working so, for an optimistic view of the rise of slums, check out this TED talk on why they are a good thing!http://www.ted.com/talks/stewart_brand_on_squatter_cities?language=en