Showing an image of sprawled-out Mexico City,Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies, London School of Economics, told the crowd at the Innovative Metropolis conference hosted by the Brookings Institution and Washington University in St. Louis that we are now living in the era of the “endless city.” These cities are endless because they are humungous and also joining up together into megapolises, region-cities. But within the endless city, there are differences. As an example, Burdett said the average commute in Mexico City is 4 hours each way, while it’s just 11 minutes in Hong Kong. In other words, some are strained to the max and not very efficient while others work pretty well.
I found the part about Sao Paulo to truly describe a dysfunctional city. Over 1,000 people commute by helicopter in Sao Paulo, which is the same number as do in New York City and Hong Kong.
Many growing cities are chewing up their ecological functions. “Sao Paulo’s extraordinary city center has only grown outwards, pushing the poor out of the city.” The result: the edges have now been decimated, with people living in shacks right up to the city’s water reservoirs. Parks have almost all been totally consumed. The same story could be told for many other developing world cities.
The article concludes by stating, “Well-connected density is more likely to occur through tighter urban redevelopment projects than through more amorphous sprawled shapes,” and that reducing distances between where people live and where people work is paramount in a city that works well.
The problem/opportunity in many cities, especially prairie cities is that there are no natural barriers that hem the city in. Higher density is confusing for folks who can travel 10 minutes to the edge of the town and watch their dog run away for three days (you know, the old saying). The flat plains do nothing to determine the limits of a city.
The point is the importance of density can be confusing for some people. It takes bold decisions by elected officials and city administration to plot a course for urban centres long-term. It also involves educating people on what a world class city can look-like and be, and also the pit-falls that other cities have experienced. No one should have to take a helicopter to get to their office in the same city, we can at least all agree on that.