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Living with the Global City
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Fall 1999
Living with the Global City
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The social problems created by rapid urbanization are especially severe in developing countries, where shortages of housing, sanitation, water and other basic infrastructure have, in many cases, reached crisis proportions. "We are moving toward the precipice, not away from it," Mohammed Amin, an unemployed resident of the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, recently complained to a reporter from the Washington Post. "The politicians promised us drinking water so we would vote for them, but ? we still have to walk two hours to fetch water." In many, if not most, developing countries — where 99 percent of the natural increase in the world's population is now taking place — there seem to be no immediate prospects for halting or reversing these trends.

Given the limited economic assets of these countries, they are usually endowed with only one or two cities that have the infrastructure, workforce skills and entrepreneurial density needed to compete successfully on a global level. Often favored by national policies that seek to promote rapid modernization, these cities attract leading national and international companies, as well as thousands of job-hungry migrants from the countryside. The net result is that most developing nations seem to be trapped in a continuing cycle of megalocephalic urban growth, a problem that is all the more severe given the pervasive poverty in these cities.

In larger city-regions in both the developed and developing world, urban sprawl has created a situation where jobs are often located far from affordable housing and where new edge cities are springing up at great distances from downtown cores. Inadequate transportation systems, especially in low-income countries, then cause traffic to slow to a crawl, eroding the quality of life, polluting the air and hampering economic growth. In Manila, where the current average speed of street traffic is less than eight miles per hour, direct and indirect economic losses due to congestion have been estimated at $3.78 billion annually. In São Paulo, congestion has impeded bus operations to the point where walking is preferable for large numbers of people, inducing bus lines to increase their fares to make up for the lost passenger traffic. For the 2 million residents of the Chinese city of Lanzhou, considered the world's most polluted urban center, simply breathing the air is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes each day. In Delhi, more than 8,000 people are reported to die each year from pollution-related illnesses.

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