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Our Urban Planet

“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”

Sometime in 2008 our planet passed a major milestone. At that time, for the first time in our history, there were more people living in cities than in non-urbanized areas.

Sometime around Halloween of last year, our planet passed another milestone—adding its seven billionth person. This means that more than 3.5 billion humans are now crowded into the world’s urban areas.

As Scientific American pointed out in its September 2011 issue dedicated to cities, these milestones aren’t nearly as significant as the trend: “In the 20th century cities grew more than 10-fold, from 250 million people to 2.8 billion. In the coming decades, the U.N. predicts, the number of people living in cities will continue to rise. By 2050 the world population is expected to surpass nine billion and urban dwellers to surpass six billion. Two in three people born in the next 30 years will live in cities.”

Cities are amazing things. They may grow, but they rarely die; often they outlast the empires or nations that gave birth to them.[i] Although we believe them to spring purely from human intent and design, they follow rules of nature that we are only beginning to understand.[ii] They take us to unprecedented heights of culture and learning, but they may be driving us insane.[iii] They may help save the planet[iv]… or destroy it.[v]

One thing is certain: We must “green” our cities, both for the long-term health of our planet and, more immediately, for our own individual health. The first problem is that poorly-designed cities are making us fatter.[vi] The second problem is that, as many cities are currently designed, they deprive us of much-needed contact with nature. To address these problems, we must invite nature into our cities, harmonize with it, and design with it rather than against it. Then we must maximize human contact with urban nature by encouraging walking and biking along corridors that incorporate healthy native waterways, vegetation, and wildlife.

Here are just a few of the exciting possibilities for greening our cities… I encourage you to enter the following words in your favorite search engine for more details: biomimicry, green roofs, green walls, mixed-use development, rain gardens, urban farming, urban resilience, vertical farming, walkable cities, wildlife corridors.

The best cities do not try to separate humans from nature. Likewise, the best cities do not try to separate humans from humans, based on artificial class or race distinctions. Diversification leads to exchange of ideas and innovation; homogeneity leads only to stagnation.

“What is the city but the people?”
William Shakespeare, Coriolanus

Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at