The History of Urbanization and the Future of Cities [TED Animation]
More than half the people in the world live in urban areas. By mid-century this figure will increase to 70%. But just 100 years ago only 20% of us lived in cities. How have we transitioned from nomadic hunters and gatherers who move from place to place in search of food to hip city slickers?
About 10,000 years ago, our ancestors learned the process of selective breeding and early agricultural techniques. For the first time, people could raise food instead of constantly searching for it, which led to the establishment of the first villages and the concept of a society. These villages needed to relocate every several years because of soil degradation and other land conditions. It wasn’t until the advent of techniques like irrigation and soil tilling 5,000 some years ago that humans could establish more permanent locations to inhabit.
As food surpluses starting to grow, fewer people had to farm and more people had time to take on other kinds of work. This spurred trade, which in turn gave birth to the concept of the city we know and love today where goods, ideas, and other services can be freely exchanged. And as trade flourished, so too did the technologies created to facilitate them like carts, ships, roads, and ports.
Do you think modern-day metropolises like New York and Rome are congested? Well, in 2000 B.C. some cities had twice the population densities of Shanghai and Calcutta today! One major reason for this was that functional transportation systems weren’t widely available, let alone clean water sources, meaning everything needed to be located in close proximity to each other. Additionally, land had to be defended with walls against rogue attacks, which further limited city sizes.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the concept of a city truly took off, where technology could be rolled out on a massive scale enabling key infrastructure like road networks, police and fire departments, sanitation, electricity distribution, and modern architecture.
What will the future of our cities look like? Right now there are over 7 billion people in the world, with that number likely to reach as high as 10 billion. Much of this growth is expected to occur in the urban areas of the world’s poorest countries.
1) Develop ways to provide adequate food, sanitation, and education for everyone
2) Make sure that growth doesn’t damage the environment, which provides the resources we need to survive. One way we could preserve the environment is to look to the skies and start producing food via vertical farms on skyscrapers and rooftop gardens. And of course, we should also find ways to produce power from renewable energy systems.
In the future, you can expect to see more multi-resident homes along with even smaller cities more focused on self-sustaining production.
The future of our cities no longer reflects just a single industry but rather an increasingly changing, diverse, and connected world.
Do you prefer to live in an urban city or more rural area?