An important facet of our world that I have recently started to appreciate more is the life and infrastructure of the city. The city we live in is a novelty rarely dwelt upon, especially when things are going well. However, we all have heard stories of abandoned buildings, cities put on edge by racial tension, and wide-sweeping economic poverty yielding harm to all who call that place their home.

On Wednesdays in June and July I will be writing a series of book reviews, article summaries, and predictions on the concept of the city. I will start with a couple book reviews that are introductory to the importance of the city. This leads to a discussion on how recent wars and conflicts within the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region cause havoc on cities and how the subsequent rebuilding efforts either improved or worsened life for residents. Finally, I will cover how rebuilding efforts from current conflicts should take into account ways to better life for every resident and how the MENA region must ensure a diversity of economic actives (e.g. go beyond an oil economy) to ensure prosperity in the long term.

To get the conversation started, let’s look at an anthology on ways cities must evolve to ensure a sustainable economic, environmental, and social ethos. TED Talks are renowned for their ability to inspire and cause change for the betterment of the world. TED published an anthology in 2013 with Atlantic Cities called City 2.0. This book is vital in understanding how the status quo for cities will not suffice in the near future. Further, it has the added benefit of being entertaining (I read the entire book in one sitting while on my apartment’s roof and I still have the sunburns to prove it)!

The first thing to know about the future of the city is to know about its recent history and future in terms of the population. City 2.0 notes that “[s]ixty years ago only 3 of every 10 people on the planet lived in an urban setting. Today more than half do….” (Introduction) In such a short time period this is a massive migration towards cities. This is even more notable because 60 years ago the Earth’s population was below 3 billion and in approximately 2050 their will be 9 billion. (U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base: World Population) The vastly growing population and the increasing migration towards the city necessitates wise forecasting and preparation to ensure a flourishing future.

In TED’s City 2.0 the authors offer their great minds in service to the future viability of city life. The book starts with a discussion of the rapidly advancing city of Shanghai. A compelling notion Wu Jingyang brings in City 2.0 is the cities ability to adapt, noting that  “[i]n 1985 throngs of people crowded around lottery booths for a 1,000-yuan payout …. By 2006, lottery signboards advertising wins of 50 million yuan (about $6 million) were common — but far less appealing.”  A marvelous characteristics of cities is their ability to collectively learn. However, for a city to learn there is the necessity for individuals to gain the knowledge and have access to mediums to spread this knowledge. When considering the future, we must insure the availability of education and the free sharing of that knowledge. We have easy access to these tools now; however, freedoms have a tendency to diminish when proper attention and gratitude is forgotten.

The book transitions to discuss beneficial economic adaptations to ensure a vibrant city, that is economic prosperous and environmentally friendly. The first of these recommended transitions for cities is written by Emily Badger who discusses the notion of a “sharing economy”. This is the notion that out of environmental and economic necessity it is better for physical goods to be shared/ rented instead of being owned by everyone and only used on occasion. We have all heard of car sharing or house sharing services, these and more like it, are necessary to prevent waste of our Earth’s valuable resources and provide access to physical goods (like a car) for someone who could not otherwise access it. Next, Roman Gaus encourages the use of a city’s open spaces to provide sustainable and local food supplies through aquaponics, “a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil.” (City 2.0) [For more information on this concept you can check out http://urbanfarmers.com/company/mission/ ] The need for local and sustainable food sources will become obvious in the near future. A rapidly increasing population and uncertain transportation costs ought to encourage us to be innovative now. Innovating now is the best way we can guarantee an affordable price on fresh and healthy food supplies in our world.

We have looked at a few of the ways cities can change (with knowledge about gambling) and ways the city must prepare for change (an economy based upon shared resources and a more localized food supply). There are many other great recommendations and stories in TED’s City 2.0. To find the book on Amazon you can go to http://www.amazon.com/City-2-0-Habitat-Future-ebook/dp/B00BJ8INII/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1361551537&sr=8-2&keywords=city+2.0+ted+books or go to http://blog.ted.com/new-ted-book-the-city-2-0/ to learn more. I would highly recommend reading it (just try not to get sunburned as you enjoy the ideas). Next week I plan on doing a book review in a similar format for The Triumph of The City by Edward Glaeser.

I would love to hear any of your thoughts on ways to improve cities as a whole or ways your city is improving.

Your friend,

James

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