Earth Day – Green Cities

22 Apr 2014

22nd April 2014. Earth Day has chosen to tackle a crucial theme for the 2014 year, one which deals with the immediate life and health of our planet. Here we must look to cities, metropolises, and megalopolises, by which we tend to judge human progress. Despite this litmus test of advancement, these are prime areas for profound socioeconomic inequalities. It is only within the last few decades that urbanization as a phenomenon has been a topic of interest for our planet. At the middle of the 19th century, 90% of the Earth’s surface was rural; at the middle of the 21st century, 70% will be subject to urbanization. In the same period of time, the world’s population will have gone from around 1.3 billion to 9 billion inhabitants. Already now, almost half of the world’s population lives in cities and almost one billion people are stuck living in ghettos or areas of extreme blight. They are known as slums in India and Pakistan, favelas in Brazil, villas miserias (misery city) in Argentina, poblaciones callampas (mushroom towns) in Chile, umjondolo in South Africa, shammasa in the Sudan, and iskwaters in the Philippines. Despite their varying names, these bidonvilles lead back to the very same practices of exclusion. If the general pattern of urban transition is the same everywhere, its time timeline and its impact highlight great disparities between one area and the next. In fact, if in developed countries the processes of economic development, technological progress, and urbanization are historically inseparable, the expansion of cities doesn’t reflect a virtuous dynamic in the countries of the Global South. Historically, for as long as the urbanization phenomenon remains, a factor of socioeconomic progress, many countries in the Global South clash against each other due to the limits imposed. In Subsaharan Africa and in a few Asian countries, the request for employment far outweighs the physical capacity. While the megalopolises continue to attract a labor force that once worked in agriculture, they no longer have the ability to absorb these transplants by the natural growth of the city’s population. And so, as migrants of rural areas are drawn to the cities in the hopes of escaping poverty, they are met with similar problems, and, consequently, the inability to release themselves from their afflictions. In Africa and Latin America, the cities themselves contribute to the maintenance of the socioeconomic mechanisms that favor and further inequality. The city requires energy, water, waste disposal, food, raw materials, and methods of transport. Today these topics are much discussed, just as we speak of the need for large investments and to guarantee the citizenry adequate conditions of life. But the discussion doesn’t end there, and it needs to continue to take into consideration the problems of a city as well as its virtues. On the “food front”, we as Slow Food can cite a few promising examples. Even in a large metropolis producers and consumers can found trustworthy and just relationships, like in Mozambique with the Maputo Earth Market. The cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels boast programs like Disco Soupe and Schnippel Disco; to sensitize a city on a theme like food waste is of utmost importance, especially if done creatively, as with the Slow Food Youth Network. In Cuba, the organopónico Vivero Alamar and the numerous other urban gardens throughout the world are just a few interesting iterations of the way in which a city can come back into contact with its own food and the production thereof, all the while exercising virtuosity and sustainability. None of these constitutes a simple solution to the problems of a hunger-ridden city. However, the union of all these initiatives can point us in the right direction: a course where rapport is drawn between the countryside and the margins of the city, a journey that speaks of transformation in the logistics of distribution, consumption, production, and the pursuance of a more parsimonious use of resources. Let’s make the future of our cities greener, and let’s start now. Data taken from Virginie Raisson, “2033 : Atlas des Futurs du Monde”, Laffont 2010.

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