Is there a misalignment between what we want from cities and what we get?
To understand what is it that we want from cities, we need to look back to why settlements formed in first place. We needed food, shelter and safety, and social life to start with, expanding our needs to recreation, trade, work (wealth), health (away from pollution and other the effects of environmental degradation), infrastructure and independence over the centuries. Traditionally settlements addressed to the human wants locally, but with the advent of globalization, we craved variety and diversity.
Do we get these wants fulfilled in cities today? Yes we do, but obviously with a price to pay for all of them most part of which is invisible. For example, we do get amazing opportunities for work, amazing places to stay coupled with an equally amazing social life and great options of recreation within the cities. But we do pay price for them in terms of the time we spend to commute between all these wants and needs. Time and Health (commuting the polluted cities) are the visible prices we pay. But what about the invisible ones like the energy spent on the travel, which we carelessly take from our environment and ecosystem? The environmental impacts are hardly visible till the problem has gone out of hand that even Nature cannot handle given its inherent capacity to take care of itself(its carrying capacity). It might be too late to take any corrective measures.
So we do get the chance and resources to gratify our immediate whims. But what about the time when the resources are no more? Do we realize that we are digging our own grave? Yes we suddenly started realizing the graveness of the issues around the turn of this century. Cities that were the result of industrial revolution of the past two centuries now seem wrong. We are exploring the concepts of living a compact life and looking back to qualities of traditional settlements that made them self-reliant, consume less ecological footprint and in a way better sustainable than ours without any conscious effort.
It has now become our responsibility to bring our cities on to the track of sustainability. Not to let them and us consume too much to disrupt the balance of our ecosystems. A city’s way forward on a sustainable basis actually means that the city is able to evolve and maintain itself with interdependence on and from its own ecosystem and adapt to all the circumstances, without the threat of extinction (like Nature’s own process of evolution which transforms everything into something new, but without an end to this process). This capacity of endurance of the cities can only be achieved with the co existential functioning with natural ecosystems that surround and support them. We might be able to achieve this first by adapting our life styles, conserving our resources and consumption and then developing new greener technologies *.
* Calthrope,Peter. 2011. ‘Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change’. Chapter 1, (page.9)