March 11, 2011

Live In A Crowded City? Plan On More Neighbors Soon!

With 70 percent of the world's population expected to live within the confines of large cities by the year 2050, urban planners have already begun to consider the strains on infrastructure and the environment.

This presents a major challenge to city planners, developers and mayors who gathered this week at March© International des Professionnels d'Immobilier (MIPIM), the world's leading annual real estate event, to better plan for the future of urban areas, AFP is reporting.

"The future of the world lies in cities," London's mayor Boris Johnson told a packed auditorium at the opening day of MIPIM Monday. The largest cities are already crowded but are set to grow even larger.

Adapting a famous statement made by India's Mahatma Gandhi that the future of India lay in its 70,000 villages, Johnson told the meeting's participants, "We have to keep putting the village back into the city because that is fundamentally what human beings want and aspire to."

The London mayor was one of many leaders taking part in a "mayor's think-tank" at the Cannes meeting, who are working together to consider urban development initiatives in the hopes of improving the quality of life for city-living denizens. "Cities are where people live longer, have better education outcomes, are more productive," Johnson noted, adding that cities are also where people emit less polluting carbon dioxide per capita.

Citigroup recently published in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper a forecast that mega-cities expected to have the fastest growing economies by the middle of the next decade include London, Chicago, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Moscow.

"There is a massive explosion of urbanism and this will have a major impact on communities, businesses, economies, and, specifically, our environment," Robert Peto, president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), told AFP.

Fourteen percent of the world's population lived in cities at the turn of the 20th century. By 1950 this had risen to 30 percent and recently, approximately half of the planet's population live in urban areas. Peto cites that there are more than 400 cities with a population over a million, 19 of which have over 10 million inhabitants.

The next 40 years will see the highest rates of growth in cities of emerging countries such as China, India, Asia, Latin America and Africa, all of which are seeing population expand exponentially, Tony Lloyd-Jones, Reader in International Planning and Sustainable Development at the University of Westminster in London, told AFP.

Sustainable development, transport and energy use will be the most areas where leaders will need to focus the most energy on. "Obviously, with the price of oil going up, the pressure is on to conserve fuel and energy," Lloyd-Jones emphasized. "This means that cities need to become more efficient in terms of transport infrastructure and investment in public transport is one of the keys to achieving that," he added.

London, host city for 2012 Olympic Games, is one city already taking steps in this direction, which is building new river crossings ahead of the event. The city of Melbourne also plans to create denser residential areas along transport corridors, increasing the use of solar power and recycling more onsite.

The city of Curitiba, Brazil, has a highly successful program begun 20 years ago to expand the metropolis along very fast bus routes that could also inspire other countries, Lloyd-Jones suggested.

Between 18 and 20 million people each year leaving the Chinese countryside for cities, an urban explosion having a large impact in China, putting great strains on existing accommodation and infrastructure.

Chongqing, the biggest city in the western China with 32 million population, is exhibiting at MIPIM for the first time to meet potential foreign partners to help fund a massive redevelopment program with plans to double the surface area of the city by 2020.

Montreal, Canada's second largest city is already implementing a plan called "Montreal 2025", with numerous large-scale projects including the creation of a new science and technology quarter and a huge entertainment district. The goal is to attract more new residents to the island city, which already boasts 3.9 million inhabitants and attracts 18.8 million visitors every year.

"People want to come back and live in the city center, which is where it all happens, offers a safe real estate investment where they can feel secure," Richard Deschamps, head of Montreal's 2025 grand plan, told AFP.


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