and why we should all do something about it
“Cities are where the future happens first”. Robert Muggah
Seen from above, our cities could easily be exchanged for swarming anthills: a frantic, extraordinary interaction and complexity, inexplicably governed by a natural mysterious order.
As urban dwellers, we have a lot in common with ants. We feel the same inexplicable attraction towards crowded areas, and we accept that slow proceeding in rows on the highways, that stumbling on one another on the streets, that crashing against each other on buses and in metros, like inevitable dimensions of our life. Intensive interaction is our thing. Many studies prove it is one the most challenging sides of our working and personal life, and yet the energy, ideas and opportunities that result from our getting together explain the supreme law of attraction for urbanites!
As the urban specialist Muggah explains in his famous Ted Talk, “cities are the most interesting and dynamic experiment in social engineering we humans have ever come up with. They’re creative, dynamic, democratic, sexy.” Futurists and science fiction writers had long ago projected the world would have been made of very few megalopolises. Radical urbanization is and will be the trend in the next years. Every single week, 3 million people move to cities. By 2050, 66% of the world’s inhabitants will be urban.
Unlike ants, unfortunately, with our daily actions we do not only contribute to a noble and natural cosmic order. Our cities are to be blamed for 75% of the overall energy consumption and they emit 80% of our greenhouse gases. We massively produce visual, acoustic and physical pollution, which has been proven to poison our environment and our health. Pollution indeed, even more than sun, accelerates our physical and mental aging and turns the beauty of living in big communities into a severe challenge.
What’s worse, it seems pollution can also spike our stress levels. In a recent study, the stress hormones cortisol, cortisone, epinephrine and norepinephrine rose with dirtier air, as did levels of blood sugar, pointing to a link between toxic everyday air and stress and metabolism.
And it is not only the pollution we consciously perceive that has a harmful impact: we are also exposed to ground level ozone. This odourless substance, which is not emitted directly into the air, is created in the presence of the sunlight by chemical reactions due to motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapor and chemical solvents.
Are we then doomed to fall into this helpless spiral? Of course not. There are many cities investing in renewables and in advanced public transportations to reduce the footprint of the growing population, as well as in projects meant to solve at the same time health and social issues. Curious about these clever solutions? Stay tuned and we’ll tell you more in the months to come.