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Megacities And The Built Environment

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For the first time in human history, the population in cities exceeds the population in rural area in the world in 2007. According to United Nation, population in urban area will achieve 60% by 2030. Due to the rapid migration of population, many cities in the world have transformed into megacities. The definition of megacities is cities that have a population over ten million (Gunjar,2005). For most countries in the world, cities are the major economic contribution to their countries. Cities are able to generate wealth to the countries by manufacturing products that have a global value (Saier, 2006). On the other hand, most of the megacities in the world are plaguing with environmental problems. Studies conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), show that around 20 cities in the world possesses at least one pollutant that exceeded the allowable limits. Despite of the health and environmental concern, most of the megacities do not develop in a sustainable way. Due to the economy, political and social constraints, the potential for megacities to contribute to sustainability is not realistic.

Most of the megacities in the world face with transportation problem. Transportation is not only the largest contribution of greenhouse gas, but also the major factor of air pollution in megacities (Molina, 2004). In "Journal of Urban Technology", George Bugliarello suggests that to reduce the traffic congestion, cities can introduce intelligent transportation system that is cheap and effective. However, for most of the developing nations, they may not afford to the technology that can help improve their infrastructure. Limited funding is one of the major constraints. Successful infrastructure may help to support economic growth, but the allocation is mainly affected by limited funding and technology (Tobias, 2003). Megacities such as Lagos, Dhaka and Jakarta which are having traffic problems, the Gross National Income per capita in 2008 for the countries are trapped under the lower income category. The statistics signifies that these developing countries are not able to allocate their limited funding into sustainable development. Development such as construction of subway or railway will give significant improvement in reducing traffic congestion; however, they normally cost billion of dollar which is not affordable for most of the developing nations. For them, getting rich is always more important than getting clean.

Among the megacities, Tokyo gains the most international prestige in their transportation system. Tokyo is the largest megacities in the world, with a total of 33 million of citizens occupied in 13100km­­­­2 land. Most of their population uses the public transportations daily, thus reduces dramatically the number of vehicles on the roads. However, the wealth owned by Japan helps Tokyo to maintain their public amenities well. The annual GNI per capita is $38210, relatively much higher than most developing nations. Thus, by comparison, Tokyo has greater capability to maintain and upgrade their transportation system. Most of the developing nations do not have such great prosperity owned by Japan. Besides improving transportation system, they still have to allocate their limited funding to other sectors such as medical services, education or job opportunity. Hence, most megacities do not have much potential in contributing to sustainability due to the tight budget. Beforehand, they need to boost their economy so that they have adequate funding to support sustainability development.

For many megacities in the world, dealing with transportation system is not an easy task. Besides budget, city planning in many megacities is poor because of the weak administrative bodies. For instance, in Instanbule, the city has different administrative body with the same responsibility. Due to the confusion of the power of administrative bodies, no holistic city planning can be implemented (Siemens). In many cases, developing infrastructure requires the coordination of local and national or provincial authorities. However, the local government may decline the help from provincial or national government as they deem the aid as subversion of local anatomy (Asian Development Bank). Thus, municipalities become an obstacle for many of the megacities to develop. In Jakarta, funding of infrastructure is very limited causing severe traffic congestion in Jakarta's traffic. The former Jakarta governor, Sutiyoso explained in "101 East- Megacities", that the central government of Indonesia does not provide any funding to support the growth of public transport in Jakarta. City planner is an essential key success of transportation system in a megacity. Nevertheless, the successful example is incredibly rare. The coordination between local government and national government is very hard to achieve.

Furthermore, managing infrastructure properly is often too complex. In "Megacities: Sustainability, Transport and Economic Development", Justin Charles Tobias describes that many countries around the world suffer from complexity of managing infrastructure, including wealthy nations. He explains that part of the challenge is the difficulty to estimate the proper amount of funding that is needed to allocate in the project. The authorities have to make sure that the amount of money that they invest into the project must able to cope with the peak demand of the services (Tobias, 2003). Tobias adds that maintenance cost is another challenge for most of the developing nations. In Latin America, every dollar that they save from maintenance will cost them about three to four dollar of premature rebuilding cost (World Bank,1994). Consequently, most megacities still do not afford to construct and maintain infrastructure, since most of them located in the developing nations. Budget and administrative body are the challenging issue for developing nations to cope with, before they manage to make contribution in sustainability.

Apart from that, the general behavior of the society may influence the sustainability in a city. The growth of megacities will very likely perpetuate the culture of consumerism among the citizens. As the citizens' wealth increases, income corresponds directly with consumerism (Sadowski,1998). Consumerism may help to boost the economy, but it also means that more energy is consumed to produce more goods. In the book entitled "Sustainable Energy Consumption and Society: Personal, Technological, or Social Change?", Goldblatt and David L. describes that consumerism is deeply-seated in most of the developed nations such as United States and Canada for many decades. However, consumerism is also gradually spreading to developing or less developed nations, due to urbanization in these nations. Because of the increasing consumerism culture, more energy is expected to be utilized to produce more products. At the same time, since the environmental cost and social cost of fuel is externalized, the energy consumed is largely ignored (Goldblatt et.al, 2005). Thus, consumerism is very likely to cause large energy consumption when more megacities emerge in the future.

Consumerism culture is also applied to the phenomenon where the population of cities consumes more food. With the massive growth of population in megacities, more food is imported into the cities to sustain the hungry citizens. According to estimation, for urban US citizens, majority of food products travel over one thousand miles before reach to the US consumer (Saier, 2006). This phenomenon emphasizes that the population of cities is highly dependent on the resources out of the cities. When the population of the cities becomes denser, sustainable development becomes harder to achieve. They rely not only on the nearby resources, but also resources that far off the regions (Heinken, 1997). The main reason is cities are not able to produce their food locally. They have to import most of the food productions from the rural area far from the cities. On the contrary, rural population is less dependent on the imported food, as they are able to grow their food locally (Saier et.al, 2006). Thus, supplying food to the citizens takes more ecological footprints. In the same way, supporting the population of cities is less sustainable since more energy is consumed.

Moreover, consumerism gives rise to high volume of solid waste being disposed every day in most of the megacities. In most of the less-developed countries, around 20-50% of waste remains uncollected (Sadowski, 1998). The number is expected to grow each year corresponding to the population grow. In addition, most of the megacities do not have systematic plan for managing waste. Therefore, the most typical and easiest way to manage the waste is by dumping into dump site. It is the most economic method, but also the least sustainable way to manage solid waste. Open dumping is very problematic as it severely pollutes the water resources. Not only that, dumping without recycling or reusing the waste drastically shortens the life cycle of waste. However, in many cases, the rapid growth of waste in megacities overwhelms what can be handled by the authorities. Hence, landfill problem will continue for a period of time before any drastic action is taken.

Apart from solid waste, consumerism also leads to massive exploitation of land. When a city grows, the demand of land will increase to occupy more citizens as well as to allow the development of infrastructure. However, the exploitation of land is not only restricted to local land. According to Saier, the high consumption in US accounts for about one quarter of land use. Besides, the wealth of citizens is somehow corresponding to the amount of meat consumption (Saier). Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the growth of cities will increase the demand of land, either locally or internationally. Deforestation activities will expand when the demand of land from megacities increase. Thus, from the rate of growth of megacities in the world, sustainable development is almost impossible to achieve. In the future decade, more lands will be needed to satisfy the demand of many fast growing megacities in the world.

To solve the consumerism in megacities, the mindset and lifestyle of citizens warrant huge changes. Citizens are needed to educate with the sustainable ways of living to enhance the sustainability development (Bugliarello, 2008). and However, the solution seems unrealistic. Goldblatt and David L. explain that the high consumption lifestyle started by the Western has been imitated by the developed and less developed world. Due to the advertisement from television, internet and communication media, they help to promote high level of lifestyle which stimulates the consumerism mindset. Besides, the emergence of shopping malls in megacities increases the accessibility of citizens to products. The trend is gradually accelerating in most of the megacities where their citizens possess higher purchasing power. Added by Goldblatt and David L. in their book, if the world population follows what US consume of non-renewable resources, the world will consume seven times resources as large as presently (Honkasalo, 1998). If consumerism continues, our planet will possible not able to sustain human being in the future.

On the other hand, Slums are another huge challenge for most of the megacities in the world. The number of slums in the globe is surprisingly huge, especially in less-developed countries. In Mumbai, almost half of the population are slums who living in squatter cities (Steward Brand). Despite of the growing number of slums in the globe, Steward Brand considers the phenomenon as good news. In one of his google's talk, "City Planet", he argues that squatter cities are "green". Even though they are crowded, they use minimal materials and cost of building (Steward Brand). Nevertheless, Steward seems to oversee the consequences of overcrowded slums. Most of slums in megacities like Mumbai or Jakarta live in unsanitary condition. They live without clean water, food and they are threatened by the severe pollution. Thus, slums are vulnerable to diseases due to the almost inhuman living condition. In 1990s, the slums in Lima, Peru suffered from cholera outbreak, which is commonly related to hygiene problem among the slums (Divya). Though slums may seem to use very less resources, Steward Brand's perspective about how slums can encourage "greener" environment are prone to unethical and inhumane. Sustainability should be implemented to lead to better life of present generation and the survival for the future generation. (Dordrecht Springer-Verlag New York Inc) Sustainability also requires the present quality of human life be sustained and improved (Tobias,2003). Everyone in the society deserves the equal standard of living, including the slums. Consequently, the suggestion from Steward Brand to promote more slums should be objected, as it is likely to deprive the human rights.

Besides, in Steward Brand's talk, his idea of city life promotes "safer and exciting life" for the slums is fallacious and unconvincing. Studies that conducted in rural and urban area show that crimes rate in cities are constantly higher than rural area (Glasear,1999). Unemployment, poverty and income inequality which are the norm in cities are prone to more crime rates. With the growing size of cities, crime rates are tend to increase (Weatherburn,2001). Crimes such as pickpocket, murder, rape and robbery are much common in cities than urban area. In addition, cities are troubled with pollutions, where slums are the major victims of pollutions. Therefore, cities life is more likely to threaten the safety and the health of people. As explain by Tobias, sustainability development of cities should also improve with the present life of citizens.

The new emergence of megacities is an unavoidable trend for many decades to come. By 2015, there will be a total of 22 megacities in the world (United Nation,2003). To conclude, megacities do not have potential to contribute to sustainability. Due to the rapid growth rate, most of the megacities in the world are not well managed by the authorities. They heavily pollute the environment, from the traffic congestion and landfills. Citizens including slums who inhabit in the cities are most likely the victims of pollution. Due to limited funding, most of the megacities are not able to invest better infrastructure in their nations. In addition, the complexity of the administrative bodies system delays and complicates the development in some megacities. In term of social aspects, the growth of megacities will encourage consumerism culture in the cities. Consumerism gives rise of more energy consumption together with more production of waste. It can be expected that the trend will continue for a period of time until the problem in megacities are solved.


World Bank (1994). World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development. New York; Oxford University Press

United Nation(2003). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision.

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