Population is Moving to Bigger, Poorer, and Warmer Cities

ACORN International Citizen Wealth Financial Justice International Organizing
Delhi, from The Hindu
Delhi, from The Hindu

Kiln     United Nations population estimates for the next five to fifteen years make it clear that in this period of rapid urbanization and increasing inequality by 2030 we will see huge population centers dominated by larger cities with poorer populations in warmer settings.   By 2030 more than one-third of the population will live in cities with more than a million people.

The poor will not only “always be with us,” but they will be everywhere in huge numbers.  Of the top 30 cities the UN figures estimates that only six of them will be in countries they classify as “high income:”   Tokyo, New York, Osaka, Los Angeles, Paris, and London.  Of that group, only Tokyo will be in the top ten cities in population.  I looked at the list of megalopolises with interest because ACORN International works in almost one-third of these cities directly or through our partners:  Delhi #2, Mexico City #4, Mumbai #6, Buenos Aires #13, Manila #18, London #27, Jakarta #28, Seoul #29, and Lima #30.   We’re not up to the task, and I doubt anyone is.

The UN director of the study made a number of observations:

“Many countries are urbanizing at lower levels of development” than in the past, said John R. Wilmoth, the director of the population division of the United Nations. As people leave the countryside because of decreasing need for agricultural workers, he said, the important question will be whether cities have an industrial economy that can provide jobs and an infrastructure that can allow the new residents to live in acceptable conditions.   He said that it was easier and less expensive to provide such services as housing, health care, education, electricity and clean water to urban residents than to a similar number of people living in rural areas. But, noting the slums surrounding some cities in poor countries, he added that it was much more difficult to accomplish that after those slums grow.  “It is much better if the planning takes place before they arrive,” he said. “Hopefully, this report is something of a wake-up call.”

Some of Wilmoth’s questions are easy to answer.

Do these burgeoning cities “have an industrial economy that can provide jobs and an infrastructure…to allow the new residents to live in acceptable conditions?”  Heck, no!

He didn’t ask it directly, but do many of these cities have a planning or financial structure to prepare for this growth before it arrives?  Absolutely and categorically not!

Most of these cities are unable to handle their current lower income populations and are homes already to some of the largest mega-slums in the world.   Wilmoth is certainly correct that on a per unit basis it would be cheaper to provide “housing, health care, education, electricity and clean water to urban residents,” but he can walk with me or any of ACORN’s organizers where we work in most of these cities and find that they don’t need a “wake-up call,” they need to answer all of the phones that have been ringing off the hook for years already from millions who lack all of the items on that list.

2030 is about 5 minutes from now.  Ready or not, people are coming.  And, these cities aren’t ready, and it’s going to take a lot of pushing and shoving to get them ready, and god knows what it might take to make them able.  What a wild world waiting for us!