An Answer In Glass And Steel

31 Jan

When I was recently reading Robert Kunzig’s The City Solution, originally published for National Geographic, I was struck by an unexpected solution to a suspected problem. As a Vermonter born and raised, I was brought up to respect the environment and avoid urbanization, the latter being what my father called a “concrete hell.” Yet, Kunzig proposes a solution that would never have crossed my mind from one such as my background; The process of urbanization might not just be beneficial, but just might save us all. Sounds contradictory to my brain, but the author is great at addressing this conflict.

At the beginning of the piece, Kunzig sets up a great little primer to fill those in on a briefest of histories on urbanization in the last century. Then, he immediately dismissed those claims. “We are no longer primitives,” he seems to say, “those days are long behind us.” Instead, he makes a compelling statement instead, that the future of our race’s survival lies in the cities.

Moving on to support his point, he immediately utilizes a variety of sources to back up his audacious claim. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser espouses how metropolises create a system where individuals are interconnected than ever before. Ecological activists Stewart Brand and David Owen both claim that not only do cities consume less resources and take up less land, they also lead to lower emissions worldwide. A lesser article would be happy to rest its laurels on a few experts, but Kunzig strives farther to answer how cities will save us.

A common criticism of cities lies in the poor building management that results in the infamous sprawl. However, Kunzig notes that by no way needs to be the norm. Pointing at Seoul in South Korea, he demonstrates that a tightly planned city could defeat those criticisms. By going dense, rather than spilling ever outward, problems of consumption and travel would be firmly tackled.

I have to admit, this article changed my mind quite a bit. Again, Vermonter born and raised, one averse to the life in the city. Yet, Kunzig makes a compelling argument on the way to save our species. Global warming, overpopulation, isolation, all are serious threats faces the race. If what it takes is a gleaming metropolis to save us, then so be it.


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