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  • Aaryan Doshi

Out with the old (city) and in with the new (city)


building-new-city-at-the-cost-of-old-city image: adobe firefly

Urban cities have perpetually been magnets for humanity. They attract visitors and tourists who want to see the wonderful museums, parks, and diversity of food offered. They attract people seeking jobs and wanting to move away from the agrarian way of life. They attract students seeking to expand their knowledge at urban universities. Many great civilizations of the past were built on the backs of cities. Cities are also a source of national pride. Nations clamor to hold the bragging rights to the tallest towers, often by adding spears. 


According to a 2018 UN report, more than half of the world's population lives in cities - an increase from one-third in the 1950s - and this is projected to increase to two-thirds of the world's population by 2050. 


However, cities, by virtue of the sheer concentration of so many people on small land footprints generating so much economic activity, also generate tremendous amounts of waste. More economic growth is directly proportional to more waste.


Instead of countering this, it is a bit amusing, even alarming, but not surprising, that we want to develop new cities. The thought process often is that everything that we did not consider or did incorrectly, we can address by "building something" new.


To me, the development of new cities perfectly epitomizes the linear economy. We want to build new cities instead of repairing what's wrong with the current cities. We want to retire our current cities instead of extending their useful life. Instead of fixing issues such as waste generation, the linear economy mindset assumes our earth has infinite land with infinite resources - we can endlessly build new cities for eternity. And what happens to the old city? Well, just like our old clothes, single-use plastic, or wastewater, we will simply let them decay and catch rust. And how long before the brand-new city starts feeling more like the city it replaced? How long before the shiny new luxurious condos are excessively expensive for the workers required to sustain and maintain the city?


The reason behind building new cities rather than addressing the problems that plague current cities is simple. It is cheaper to build a new city than repair or retrofit an existing one, just like buying a new appliance rather than repairing it. Or persuade customers to buy new shoes rather than open a repair facility. 


Without incentives, with 68% of the human population expected to move into cities, we are on an unstable path. All that land to build new roads? Build new buildings? Install new factories? Where will that land come from? New cities are built on existing farm lands or forests. We are looking at an exploding human population requiring increased food production on diminishing farmlands and even more diminishing forests.


It is possible for urban cities to compensate for the loss of agricultural land and produce food. However, if linear economy profits are prioritized over circular urban planning when we develop new cities, the new will soon feel like the old. And in a not-so-distant future, there will not be any room left for "out with the old (city) and build the new (city)"!


References:


Urbanization | Population Division. (n.d.). https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/content/urbanization-0


Sierra, S. (2024, January 18). Here’s a glimpse into Solano Co.’s proposed new city with newly-released blueprints, renderings. ABC7 San Francisco. https://abc7news.com/california-ballot-new-city-farmland-residence-solano-county/14332889/


Shepard, W. (2020, February 3). Should we build cities from scratch? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jul/10/should-we-build-cities-from-scratch


Bryce, E., & Bryce, E. (2022, August 25). A comparison of urban vs conventional farms yields surprises. Anthropocene. https://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2022/08/can-cities-grow-more-food-than-conventional-farms/



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