Cities of the Future (Continued)

Today’s "Mega-cities" are Overcrowded and Environmentally Stressed

Lagos, Nigeria

In 1950, with just 288,000 people, Lagos wasn’t even a speck on the map of the largest urban centers. Today, the rapidly growing city of 14 million in Africa’s most populous country is on its way to becoming the third-largest city in the world. By 2015, the Population Reference Bureau estimates Lagos will reach number three status with a population hovering somewhere around 23.2 million people.

According to John Walther, a professor of geology at Southern Methodist University, Lagos grew by 4,761 percent between 1950 and today. In comparison, New York City grew by just 5.1 percent over the same interval.

The discovery of oil in the 1950s and subsequent oil boom of the 1970s—helped by the worldwide oil crisis of that era—encouraged waves of migrants to seek their fortunes in the city. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Mega-Cities Project reports that the city grew by more than 300,000 persons per year, despite the 1981 world recession, which sent Lagos "reeling into debt and runaway inflation." According to the United Nations, Lagos is expected to continue growing by close to four percent a year.

While the city’s most affluent can afford to sequester themselves on two islands off the mainland, two-thirds of the city’s residents live at or below the poverty line in one of many slums afflicted with a slew of problems. "Unlit highways run past canyons of smoldering garbage before giving way to dirt streets weaving through 200 slums, their sewers running with raw waste," writes Amy Otchet, a UNESCO journalist.

A Lagos factory worker, interviewed by the alternative magazine NewYouth, said of living conditions for millions of poverty-stricken Lagosians: "[Workers] live in one-room apartments unfit for human beings. The impression upon entering these districts is one of entering a war zone with row upon row of crumbling houses. The walls have big cracks in them, the plaster is falling away and quite often bits of the roof have been blown away by the wind. In these one-room apartments, it is not uncommon to find a family of 10. There is no water, no proper sanitation. Sewage spills down the roads. There are no medical facilities in these districts, no hospitals or clinics."

Even middle-class people in Lagos live in very crowded accommodations. Unsanitary conditions have led to cholera outbreaks, says Environment-Nigeria, and over 50 percent of the population is infected with malaria, according to the Mega-Cities Project. One of every 20 children is believed to die before the age of five. The population density of the built-up urban areas of metropolitan Lagos is almost suffocating, at nearly 20,000 persons per square kilometer. As a result, says Environment-Nigeria, "Residents live in what are called "face-me-I-face-you" single rooms with shared kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities. In some buildings, these rooms can house as many as eight people."

As a result of the staggering growth rate, air pollution is a chronic problem in Lagos, owing in large part to the city’s surfeit of smog-producing automobiles and diesel generators. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that Lagos" central city is "daily plagued by smog shrouding the skyline." Tests have revealed high levels of air pollutants forming a perpetual noxious brew in the worst affected areas. "Studies carried out by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) show a moderate-to-high concentration of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, organic acids and hydrocarbons in the atmosphere," the EIA reports.

A rickshaw transportation system, poorly constructed and maintained roadways, frequent road flooding and auto accidents, and the lack of a subway or intra-city rail service has made Lagos legendary for its chaotic (and pollution-inducing) traffic jams. Native Lagosians typically must rise at 4 a.m. to negotiate the morning rush through the now infamous "go-slow"—a ubiquitous term referring to the ritual slog of cars vying for space on the city’s super-saturated highways.With only three bridges from mainland Lagos to Lagos Island, the commercial and business hub, congestion is chronic and unavoidable. It can take an average of two to three hours to travel just six to 12 miles. Uche Onyabadi, a journalism doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Columbia who lived in Lagos for about 10 years before coming to the U.S., says that the government tried to address the problem of bottle-necking bridge traffic in the 1980s by implementing an "Odd-and-Even" policy. On certain days of the week, Onyebadi says, only cars with license numbers starting with an odd number were permitted across the bridge. Other days were for even-numbered vehicles. "It didn’t work," Onyebadi says. "People got creative and would get two cars."

Water quality in the city doesn’t fare much better. The fresh water supply is often contaminated with human waste, as only half the population has toilets. Water-challenged citizens have a choice of buying high-priced water or stealing it from neighbor’s wells. Flooding is a major problem, as it is in Dhaka, and it is partially caused by similar problems: unplanned buildings block natural watercourses. Solid waste in Lagos is disposed of haphazardly, often in illegal dumps.

For all its crime, poverty and chaos, the city has a vibrant pulse. "Lagos is one city that has some form of magnetism that you can’t explain," Onyebadi says. "People hate to go there. They say "Oh! The traffic is terrible," but then you need a bulldozer to get them out again."

Innovation also breeds in the unlikeliest places. Unesco journalist Amy Otchet explains, "Behind the informal sector lies a powerful if not desperate spirit of initiative: Wheelbarrows are rolled out of a construction site at night to serve as rented beds at 20 cents a shot for homeless people seeking shelter under an overhang. When rain makes a market run with mud, kids wait with buckets of water to wash shoppers" feet for a few coins."

Rem Koolhaas, a well-known Dutch architect, former journalist and Harvard professor, has been taking a group of his graduate design students to Lagos for the past four years as part of an ongoing project entitled "Project on the City" in an effort to study West Africa’s urbanization patterns. Koolhaas believes that Lagos" "improvisational urbanism" may become a model for other major cities of the world.

In a report Koolhaas helped prepare after one trip to the city, he writes, "Dangerous breakdowns of order and infrastructure in Nigeria are often transformed into productive urban forms: Stalled traffic turns into an open-air market, defunct railroad bridges become pedestrian walkways." In his view, the "go-slow" is actually a prime example of the innovation and ad-hoc efficiency characterizing the city’s haphazard march to modernity. "Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos," he writes.

To address the city’s rapid growth, Thompson Ayodele, coordinator of the Institute for Public Policy Analysis in Nigeria, says that the government "has approved a new population policy that would force Nigeria’s population growth rate from between 2.

5 and three percent now to not more than two percent by the year 2015."

In 2000, the state’s Ministry of Transport established the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority to help monitor and patrol traffic jams, especially at peak hours. Since then, the major Nigerian newspaper This Day reports that "journeys within the metropolis have become less burdensome."

Additional help may soon be on the way. In 2003, Lagos was chosen by the UN to be one of seven cities to launch the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Sustainable Cities Program. The UN will work with Lagos "to manage the challenges of its mega-city status."

Mumbai (Bombay), India

The Indian coastal city of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is home to India’s vibrant film industry ("Bollywood") and probably boasts more cell phones per capita than any other city on the subcontinent. The city is responsible for generating one sixth of the gross domestic product of the entire country. But Mumbai is bursting at the seams. The first glimpse of the city, as the airplane hits the runway, is Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, home to 2.8 million people.

According to a 2004 estimate, the population of metropolitan Mumbai was approximately 17 million. Every year, the city receives more than 250,000 rural-to-urban emigrants. Mumbai could be the world’s most populous city by 2020, with 28.5 million, says the Population Institute.

"With this sizeable number of people, resources are getting increasingly scarce. Buildings are getting taller, with no care for where water and space, children’s playgrounds and parking areas will come from," says Preeti Gopalkrishnan, Communications Executive of Population First, a sustainable human development program based in Mumbai.

Half of the metropolis" population lacks running water or electricity, and the smoke from hundreds of thousands of open cooking fires joins with the sooty smoke from two-stroke auto rickshaws, belching taxis, diesel buses and coal-fired power plants in a symphony of air pollutants. Breathing Mumbai’s inversion-trapped air, experts say, is the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

According to a 2000 estimate by the Mega-Cities Project, 70 to 75 percent of women living in slums complain of general weakness and anemia, while 50 to 60 percent suffer from chronic malnutrition, recurrent gastroenteritis and helminthic [caused by parasitic worms] infections. Malnutrition and paralysis are common causes of mortality.

The water supply situation in Mumbai is critical, reports the UN, with the level of supply so much below demand that water use is restricted and reaches emergency proportions when the monsoon fails. More than two million Mumbai residents have no sanitary facilities, and much sewage is discharged untreated or partially treated into waterways. Attempts have been made to relocate industries outside the island city, but industrial pollution remains a serious problem.

In addition to this, Mumbai is also one of the noisiest cities in the world, a key factor being the considerable number of vehicles on the city’s streets. There are more than 500,000 private automobiles on Mumbai streets. Despite a substantial public transit system, congestion in the metropolitan area continues. As Business Week reports, "After years of neglect, combined with helter-skelter growth, Bombay is falling apart. Its suburban train service carries six million passengers a day, which works out to 570 per train car, nearly three times their capacity."

"Public transport in Mumbai has reached a point of almost complete gridlock," says Gordon Feller of the Urban Age Institute. "The emission standards of vehicles in the city are very bad and the local government is shy about talking about alternatives because it doesn’t know when it will implement them."

Despite the high level of poverty in the city, however, crime isn’t increasing as rapidly as one would imagine. According to the State of the World Cities Report, 2004/05, of all the world regions, developed and developing, Asia ranks lowest in almost all types of crimes. "I wouldn’t say there is rampant lawlessness; most people are going about their day-to-day life trying to scratch together a living," Feller says.

Yet daily life in Mumbai is extremely difficult. This is especially true of the city’s slum dwellers. As the BBC reports, Mumbai’s poor build unstable, flimsy huts on any available land. The city’s older slums—such as Dharavi, Byculla and Khar—have houses made of brick and mortar but lack drainage systems and toilets. Many people also live dangerously close to the railway tracks, which cut through the heart of Bombay. The Times of India regularly reports vehicles backing or barreling over children, or rows of sleeping citizens. "Bombay," wrote V.S. Naipaul in the first sentence of his India: A Million Mutinies Now, "is a crowd."

"Although the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme has been implemented to accommodate the city’s poor, most often slum-dwellers sell the houses and return to the streets," Gopalkrishnan says. "The rules have to be enforced more stringently."

The Slum Rehabilitation Scheme is one of many ventures created to improve Mumbai’s standard of living. According to Feller, several non-governmental organizations are focused on governance issues, as well as on social services. One such project is the Mega-Cities Project’s Community of Resource Organization (CORO) Pay Toilet Project.

In July 1992, CORO took over the management of government-constructed toilet facilities in congested slum areas. It proceeded to set up a partnership with its long-standing literacy program, combining community libraries with sanitary facilities. Local groups maintain the toilets on a cooperative basis, sometimes finding sponsors for the poorest areas. Community members benefit from clean facilities and adequate water, while five hundred new maintenance jobs have been created in the bargain.

The Child-to-Child Program, also initiated by the organization, is an activity-based approach to health education for children in formal and non-formal systems of education. The program identifies children as "mini-doctors" who can spread awareness among children regarding their own health. Through these activities, this information is then communicated to the rest of the community.

"Bombay is stretched to the limit," Feller says. "Citizens have a mismatch between what they were promised and what they received. And their patience is wearing thin."

Tokyo, Japan

Far from the struggle to survive that is Mumbai or the baked-in poverty of Lagos, Tokyo is the world’s largest and also one of the world’s most sophisticated cities. The capital of Japan, Tokyo is every bit the high-powered, tech-savvy city that its reputation suggests. Its residents enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living, with an average income per household of $71,600 in 1994 and an employment rate of 96.5 percent in 1997. Nearly 100 percent of the population has access to health care, and the city’s population is treated at 754 individual hospitals. The government has a well-developed plan for the welfare o

f its senior citizens. Nearly all adults in Tokyo are literate and 45 percent enroll in college.

Calling Tokyo a city would be an understatement and a misnomer. It is technically a metropolis (or to in Japanese), which means a collection of smaller political units. Twenty-three distinct city wards form the heart of Tokyo along with 26 individual cities, five towns, and eight villages. Included in this group are the islands of Izu and Ogasawara, located off the coast of the main island of Honshu. Tokyo spans 237 square miles and includes the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki. Tokyo proper has less than 15 million citizens, but the entire metropolitan area has well over 30 million.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) is adept at planning and is constantly seeking to alleviate the effects of having so many people in such a small space. While the high standard of living buffers Tokyo from many problems faced by mega-cities (like sanitation concerns and access to water and sewerage), some problems simply come with the territory.

Japan’s cultural, economic and political center is the Tokyo-Kawasaki-Yokohama region, which accounts for 23 percent of Japan’s industrial manufacturing, 52 percent of all financial accumulation and 76 percent of stock market trading. The Tokyo economy grew so fast in the 1980s that the city faced a shortage of blue-collar workers. "The gap has been filled with foreign labor and illegal immigrants, who…often create their own ethnic ghettoes," according to Junjiro Takahashi and Noriyuki Sugiura of Tokyo’s United Nations University.

The vast array of production and destruction, transactions and interactions, result in massive amounts of shipping, trading and, of course, waste. Local governments have worked hard to increase recycling and decrease waste production, but it is often community efforts that work best. Abiko City started Ecopure Abiko, the Citizens" Campaign for Reduction and Recycling of Garbage. This program helps residents collect compostable waste and deliver it to local organic farmers.

Twelve subway lines provide convenient transportation in and around Tokyo. The impressive public transportation system alleviates pressures on roads and eliminates much of the traffic and accompanying air pollution found in other major cities (nearly 90 percent of workers in Tokyo commute by rail).

Tokyo’s cars, asphalt, buildings and people cause another problem—heat. The "heat island phenomenon" has become a major problem for the city; thermal loading in the jam-packed, hectic urban centers contributes to global warming and health problems, as well as making things downright uncomfortable. The TMG has now mapped the regional thermal environment and the city is planting trees, creating more lawns, and paving streets with water-retentive asphalt.

Official regional planning began here in 1956 with the passage of the National Capital Region Development law, which was intended to limit the growth of urban Tokyo. The law failed to stop the expansion of the city, though, and was soon amended to include a "Suburban Development Area." According to a United Nations University report, "In the late 1960s, [Tokyo"s] suburban fringe already stretched as far as 25 miles from the city center." While this trend eliminated some of the downtown congestion, it magnified transportation problems dramatically by increasing the number of commuters.

Under today’s plan, the suburbs expand in and among the existing city structures while green spaces are protected. Most importantly, satellite towns are developed to accommodate new industries and economic booms. This plan is pushing Tokyo away from the single-city mode and toward a concept of "multi-core" urban zones, each of which can draw congestion and people away from the center city. The Japanese government also increased spending in outlying areas to encourage further growth and development of "micropolitan areas."

JIM MOTAVALLI is editor of E. The city profiles were co-written by Divya Abhat, Shauna Dineen, Tamsyn Jones, Rebecca.Sanborn and Kate Slomkowski.

[ 1 ] [ 2 ]