In 2008, human beings became a predominantly urban species. By
2050, based on current trajectories, more than 70 percent of the projected
9.25 billion people on earth will live in urban environments.
Globally, we are not designing these urban areas; rather, they are
being developed helter-skelter on the hillsides, in the drainage ditches,
and on the dumps of existing cities. Currently, an estimated one billion
people live in slums and barrios, cardboard and plastic cities
that are unplanned, unmanaged, and unsustainable. Slums are defined
as living areas that do not have one of the following four critical
services: potable drinking water, sanitary waste disposal (liquid and
solid), durable housing, and improved living spaces. The UNWUF recommends
the following steps to address the immediate and impending
crisis in urban systems (UN, 2009):
Prioritize urban policy
Decentralization of urban planning functions
Urban planning function within municipalities
Urban research and data
: The process of designing urban ecosystems
is evolving rapidly, and must be informed by local research
and data relevant to the challenges of that municipality.
: Urban leaders around the world need common
resources and frameworks to use for assessing their community
: Urban planning
should not be separate from other decision making in urban
systems, but rather should dictate criteria for all decisions to
ensure that urban systems function in a sustainable manner.
: While global and
national policies and legislation are necessary for empowering
urban ecological design, decisions on urban planning issues should
be made as close as possible to those affected by them.
: Implementing urban planning will require
national legislation to respond to rapidly expanding urban crises.
Colonial-era policies that currently dominate urban planning are not
adequate for this challenge.
: Develop formal commitments from governments
to adhere to basic principles of social and environmental
justice and sustainability. Global standards for an urban policy that
responds to the local tensions between urban and rural needs must
be developed, adopted, and implemented.
Global challenges for urban resources will include energy (and thus
greenhouse gas emissions), water resources, housing, and transportation.
These challenges are not dissimilar to those in the developed
world, but are more extreme (Figure 14-5). The largest growth in
urban demand will be in developing countries, especially those in Asia
(not including Japan) and Africa. The urban population of 3.3 billion
reside predominantly in smaller towns and villages—55 percent live
in towns of less than 500,000 people (UN, 2010). Urban sprawl is
resulting in the merging of previously separated urban areas, and creating
even more discord between traditional governance structures and
pressures for common criteria for managing urban systems. The ecological
engineering opportunities in these dynamic situations are significant.
Expanding cities have economic and social pressures that can be
addressed using ecosystem services design, and can reduce infrastructure
costs as well. The UNWUF platform does not currently address
ecosystem services, but the opportunities for informing and enhancing
urban design with ecological engineering principles are clear.