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Urban transition : the future's history

Grierson, David (2008) Urban transition : the future's history. In: Chronocity. Cities, Design & Sustainability, 5 (1st). Alinea International, Firenze, 31 - 38. ISBN 9788860553461

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Abstract

The world is in the midst of a massive urban transition, which is unprecedented in its scale and celerity. Throughout our history cities have been significant “engines of economic and social development”. However this has been achieved largely at the cost of unprecedented environmental damage. Cities are the principal destroyers of earth's ecosystems and the greatest threat to our survival. They now have a global hinterland from which they draw their resources and they use up to three-quarters of the global consumption of fossil fuels. They generate the majority of greenhouse gases and account for the majority of the world's pollution. The present form of post-industrial information-based global economy coupled with a propensity in advanced societies for suburban flight, will determine the course of early twenty-first century urban development, first in the developed world, and later world wide. Human history is awash with predictions of the city's demise and yet it has survived. Despite all the problems and challenges of urban life, they continuously manage to re-invent themselves. If the rhetoric about handing on a decent living environment to future generations is to have any meaning whatsoever cities will need to transform themselves yet again. In many ways we have been here before. The socialist realist tradition in literature and critical urban observations from the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century described cities that were too big, too congested, too polluted, too devoted to private gain, and too little concerned with the public welfare, especially of the poorest citizens. Today, as we are confronted by a much broader crisis, which is demanding amongst other things that we adopt a new way of thinking about our cities, we are beginning to see that the poverty of previous urban living conditions was an integral part of a much larger cultural transformation and that for development to be sustained and be equitable we need our twenty first century cities to be engines of social and environmental progress.