Challenges For Us Today In the Urban World
The city is the gathering place where man creates and competes, works and plays. It is the web, the very matrix that interlocks man with his fellow man. Modern man and his city are almost inseparable. His successes, failures, all take shape within the city itself. It provides the source of motivation for those who wish to achieve. In the city, man has been able to maintain his individuality and still be a member of a group with which he communicates and works. It is the very base of stability and continuity for social institutions. The city though, is also the stage for political unrest when the social and economic institutions fail to catch up with the rapid pace of changes in population and scientific progress, or when they fail to respond to the aspirations of its people.
All of society appears to be in an ever increasing state of flux. People change jobs more and more often and are constantly moving from one home or apartment to another. Marriage partners are permuted and children of fractured families are "redistributed". Businesses start up, shut down, expand, contract, and relocate. Schools consolidate and children are streamed to classes. A new tract of homes goes up in place of an old cherry orchard. Life becomes like a game of "Musical Chairs".
Of the many challenges, the first and foremost is to find a way of constructing the city so that it serves as a "platform" for flexibly changing and rearranging internal structures. Our current cities do not have the flexibility to meet the needs of a fast, turbulent, growing society. The downtowns of cities try to adapt, and as a result, become an odd mix of the new and the ancient. The city is always in a state of demolition, jack-hammering, and rebuilding. Unfortunately, once a building goes up, economics dictates that it remains until it rots. If the industrial or commercial area where we work is no longer suitable, the city's inflexible construction usually forces a major uprooting.
If the decision is to relocate, the move leaves behind those who could not or would not adapt. A change to a new job in another part of the city means enduring a frustrating commute, or uprooting the family and forcing its members to find new neighbours, friends, teachers, and places to shop.
The second challenge concerns political organization. Present city administration is faced with a dilemma. It must create opportunity for its poor and renew its slums, programs which require tax money. But city politicians no longer have the backing of wealthy communities that identify with the city's hopes and aspirations. The city has its poor, its commuters who do not all pay taxes, and businesses which are only too ready to move. Essentially, the problem becomes one of political jurisdiction, for the technical and financial means to revitalize city life exist in the combined city and its surrounding sprawl, for example, in the megalopolis as a whole. The challenge is to restructure the design of the city so that the exploding pressure that drove families to the suburbs will become an implosion bringing them back to the city.
The third challenge has to do with conservation. The encroachment of creeping suburbia on the countryside has destroyed valuable farmland that may be needed one day to provide food to meet the population crisis. It has destroyed the ability of urban dwellers to have easy access to unspoiled nature. This is, in effect, a kind of destruction of man's soul. More important, vast ecological problems have been created that can only be alleviated by the effective redesign of the city to conserve land, water, energy, and waste. Cities consume enormous quantities of water, electricity, and petroleum and other fuels, but reprocess little of their waste products. A major technological challenge is to redesign the city in such a way as to make it possible to share facilities, to conserve resources, and to contribute positively to the environment and to the future.
In the end, the challenges merge into form the following objectives, which is to make our cities into convenient, simple, exciting places to live, to make them more flexible to changing needs, more compact in order to curtail sprawl, and to be less destructive of the natural environment, with the hope that population growth will be curbed before the countryside disappears.
The means exist to meet these challenges. Our technological
society is able and well equipped to prepare a better world for all our children
and the children of our children, and yet, only the most meager of technical
ideas are pursued for the benefits of the billions who will live in tomorrow's
cities. Instead, material resources and energy are dissipated negatively in
the pursuit of nationalism, war, and power.