One of the most ominous trends in a world replete with ominous trends is the accelerating growth of urban populations. In part, this is directly due to the population explosion — people are being born at a faster rate than they are dying. But population growth also contributes indirectly. For instance, as the total world population skyrockets, more and more pressure develops to mechanize farming, and farm workers displaced by tractors and combines go to seek their fortunes in the city. And, of course, many people just prefer to live in cities.
The results of the “population explosion” in cities are getting increasing publicity. Tokyo Bay is frantically being filled with garbage in order to obtain land for expansion of a city already so crowded that there is a two-year wait for middle class apartments. Calcutta today has hundreds of thousands of people living homeless in its streets; yet it seems inevitable that Calcutta’s population will increase to 12 million by 1990, if the city grows only as fast as the rest of India. In the underdeveloped countries, cities increased in size by 55 percent in the decade 1950-1960. When the data for 1960-1970 are available, urban growth for that decade can be expected to have been even more spectacular. The inability of those countries to care for their burgeoning urban populations is easily seen in the spectacular slums associated with them. Less visible are the high rates of unemployment and social unrest that follow such rapid urbanization.
The developed countries, with an overall rate of urban growth less than half that of the poor nations, have also faced increasingly serious problems in their cities. These have been especially intense in the United States, where the urban population has more than doubled in the last half century, and the proportion of urban dwellers has changed from less than half of the population to nearly three-fourths. The problems of American cities, such as the degeneration of city centers and uncontrolled growth and development at the periphery, have been the topic of an enormous volume of literature. The cities themselves have been the target of numerous, often unsuccessful programs of rehabilitation.
Projection of even the mid-range future of urban areas presents well nigh insuperable problems. We can be reasonably sure of some things, however. For instance, the current pattern of urban population growth won’t continue much past the turn of the century. Demographer Kingsley Davis has projected those growth trends, with startling results. If the post-1950 rates of urban growth continue to 1984, half of the human race will be living in cities. By 2023
But the results of such projections, while instructive, are also preposterous. We know things won’t work out that way as far as the numbers living in cities are concerned. Moreover, we are completely ignorant of future trends in urban living conditions. We must leave these to our imaginations — or better yet to the talented imaginations of writers like Harry Harrison.