From the beginning of time, there have been certain milestones that have changed human life as we know it – ranging from the discovery of fire, agriculture, and the wheel that allowed ancient era Neanderthals to turn from hunter-gatherers and nomads into someone who could grow their food and travel. Such inventions allowed humans to settle down and form settlements, which later became civilizations.
The concept of cities came during the Neolithic era where random pockets of settlements had come up with numerous houses arranged in a seemingly orderly manner. With the growth of different civilizations and innovations within the society, cities have gained a character of being self-reliant – residents collectively contribute to society, each having a varied skill set, and trade within the city allows new techniques and technologies to arise for the betterment of humankind. A major turning point, however, was the Industrial Revolution, which gave the world the concepts of rural and urban. Technological advancements and world-class facilities became the beacon of urbanization and people started to move towards these ‘urban cities’. People started to move to cities for everything ranging from livelihoods to better facilities and higher ambitions. This trend only became more popular with the advent of communication and information technology – bringing with it, globalization.
By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to be around 9.8 billion, out of which 6.7 billion would be living in urban spaces. While the origin of cities was rather organic, the establishment of the modern cities (cities of the 20th century) has been quite structured, with a strong administration in place. With countless development and master plans, cities of today have been defined with various private and civic buildings, infrastructure and institutions that manage the society, and tangibles and intangibles that are in play which allow the city to function smoothly and attract more and more people.
Generally speaking, a larger population is much more difficult to cater to, in terms of availability of resources and quality of life. The effects of that have been seen in the recent past on a global level – unsustainable practices and recursive exploitation of available amenities has led to pollution of all landforms and spheres of the ecosystem (land, water, air), climate change, and a decrease in food and energy resources just to mention a few – at a global level! This indicates that population growth levels vary when looked at a narrower level, and hence they are much higher in cities. Another phenomenon that happens in cities is migration, which can be linked to personal and social factors.
As more and more people start living in cities, the adverse impacts of rising population density can be divided into – a lack of urban services for all and social-behavioral consequences. An increased number of cars are seen on the streets and not only cause traffic congestion but also reduce the public life that could otherwise exist on the roads, due to lack of space and safety concerns.
Public institutional structures including basic rights like education and health, but also governmental and recreational become too filled and crammed. As city centers become more and more crowded change the ambiance of those areas such that their essence is lost. This also has social implications; people are more stressed and unsatisfied.
Another aspect is that cities have a certain class of people that maintain a strict lifestyle – life is not as simple as it is in smaller towns and villages. While the city benefits economically, people try to earn more to be able to afford luxury items and services, which again leads to blind ambition in fellow citizens, leading to higher stress and anxiety levels. This can also give a rise to conflicts, as the cut-throat competition increases between all the residents in terms of earning their livelihoods and resources. With the levels of tensions rising, the value and quality of community living have significantly lowered in cities, and more and more people feel alienated.
In the long term, atmospheric changes, and the lack of food and land resources will be more visible. While concepts like green buildings, vertical gardening, and urban densification have been rising in reaction to the effects of urbanization, the question is about how successful they can be, and to what extent? Green buildings and vertical gardening is a very new concept and while it is much more organic and decreases transportation costs of food resources, it is economically taxing and requires advanced technological systems. And while urban densification and in-fill of urban spaces can effectively utilize land spaces, will they still ensure the quality of life that one can get, or is supposed to get for optimum physical and mental health?
A higher population in cities is usually seen as an asset and living in cities is viewed as glamorous, But as the population rises, migration of the cities continues, it is rapidly becoming a concerning matter. To what extent can we retain the charm of these cities?