We give space in the following pages to an idea anchored in the wisdom of the past and the vast literature on administrative decentralization. We take into account some scientific and technological advances, tempering the grandeur and visions of utopia with the realization that the world’s finite resources cannot keep pace with human activity and population growth. Like the spaces Calvino allows within the inferno, we try to give legitimacy and room for the development of small trends and innovative concepts in response to the problems of urbanization. In the end, we hope to offer a new model of development, a hybrid approach that combines the best of rural and urban attributes to create “a village in a city, a city in a village.” Metaphorically, this model will encourage us to look beyond cities and rethink our urban centers as we design the cities of tomorrow. It will suggest subduing the inferno and diffusing pressures within megacities by bringing, as it were, the countryside in.
The world population, which reached 6.1 billion in mid-2000, is expected to increase to 8.1 billion by 2030 (United Nations, 2001). Projections show that almost all of this growth will be concentrated in urban areas of the less developed world. Rural-to-urban migration and the transformation of rural settlements into cities are expected to be key contributors to this trend. Although an increasing share of the world population lives in urban areas, the percentage of people living in very large urban agglomerations—called megacities—is still small. In 2000, 4.3 percent lived in cities of 10 million or more; by 2015, the number is expected to rise to 5.2 percent. Cities of 5 to 10 million inhabitants, which currently account for 2.6 percent of world population, will hold about 3.5 percent by 2015. By comparison, the number of people living in smaller cities, although increasing at a slower pace, is considerably larger. In 2000, 28.5 percent of the world population was living in cities of one million or less; by 2015, cities of this size will account for 30.6 percent of total population.
Cities, which account for just 2 percent of the world’s surface, use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources. For instance, they produce roughly 78 percent of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement; 76 percent of industrial wood is used in urban areas. Some 60 percent of the planet’s water tapped for human use goes to cities in one form or another (O’Meara, 1999).
Cities account for a majority of the world’s wealth and provide more than 50 percent of the world’s employment. If population growth remains on its current trajectory, the global workforce will swell from about 3 billion today to nearly 4.5 billion by 2050 (World Resources Institute, 2000). In a desperate search for jobs, higher income, and more options, people will continue to be drawn to cities.
However, many urban environments are inhospitable and create incentives for people to move away and escape city life. Congestion, health risks related to pollution, ungovernability, and social chaos are common problems in some of the world’s largest cities. According to the World Resources Institute (1996), at least 220 million people in cities of the developing world lack clean drinking water;