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It's an (Urban) Jungle Out There

If you have paid any attention to the mainstream media over the past decade, you have surely noticed its fixation on the rapid economic growth that has taken place in much of the developing world. Understandably so: economic progress in these countries — as well as the consequent social, cultural, political, and, yes, even environmental dislocations that follow — is a fundamental driver of the disorienting changes taking place in the world today.

Yet lying just below the service of this coverage is an important, yet often unappreciated, theme: the rise of a new kind of city.

One of the FT’s special reports this summer does a good job of capturing and explaining this trend. Rapid urbanization has been a central pillar of the economic growth taking place in countries like India and China. Yet from Karachi to São Paulo, this development brings with it serious challenges.

Increasingly dense populations demand affordable housing, efficient transportation, working infrastructure, and some sort of social safety net. Meanwhile, people of different classes, ethnic groups, and religions live in ever closer quarters, creating an incubator for rich new forms of culture, as well as bitter sectarian strife.  The ultra-rich and the shockingly poor live cheek by jowl, and the mass media gives the pooa chnce to see every lascivious detail of the luxury and privilege the rich enjoy. The problems the US has seen in its inner cities — gangs, drugs, social demoralization — are repeating themselves elsewhere.

The result is a dynamic and combustible situation involving the majority of the world’s population. Megacities will be the source of some of the greatest opportunities and the most devilish challenges across the developing world in the coming decades.

At Via Meadia, we’ll be following these megacities; for better or worse, much of the future is being made in cities like Karachi, Saõ Paulo, Chongqing, Lagos, Mumbai and Jakarta.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Although, at 1.75 million, Curitiba (Brazil) not a megacity, it is large city which works very well, and could be a model for larger ones. One of several reasons it works so well it a well-thought-out, and free, public transportation systems.
    “In 2010 Curitiba was awarded the Globe Sustainable City Award which was set up to recognize cities and municipalities which excel in sustainable urban development around the world.[6] According to the American magazine Reader’s Digest, Curitiba is the best place to live in Brazil.”

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