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This City is Our Future

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If you wish to understand the future you need to understand the city, for the human future is an overwhelmingly urban future. The city may have always been synonymous with civilization, but the rise of urban humanity has been something that has almost all occurred after the onset of the industrial revolution. In 1800 a mere 3 percent of humanity lived in cities of over one million people. By 2050, 75  percent of humanity will be urbanized. India alone might have 6 cities with a population of over 10 million.

The trend towards megacities is one into which humanity as we speak is accelerating in a process we do not fully understand let alone control. As the counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen writes in his Out of the Mountains:

 To put it another way, these data show that the world’s cities are about to be swamped by a human tide that will force them to absorb- in just one generation- the same population growth that occurred in all of human history up to 1960. And virtually all of this growth will happen in the world’s poorest areas- a recipe for conflict, for crises in health, education and in governance, and for food water and energy scarcity.  (29)

Kilcullen sees 4 trends including urbanization that he thinks are reshaping human geography all of which can be traced to processes that began in the industrial revolution: the aforementioned urbanization and growth of megacities, population growth, littoralization and connectedness.

In terms of population growth: The world’s population has exploded going from 750 million in 1750 to a projected  9.1 – 9.3 billion by 2050. The rate of population growth is thankfully slowing, but barring some incredible catastrophe, the earth seems destined to gain the equivalent of another China and India all within the space of a generation. Almost all of this growth will occur in poor and underdeveloped countries already stumbling under the pressures of the populations they have.

One aspect of population growth Kilcullen doesn’t really discuss is the aging of the human population. This is normally understood in terms of the failure of advanced societies in Japan, South Korea in Europe to reach replacement levels so that the number of elderly are growing faster than the youth to support them, a phenomenon that is also happening in China as a consequence of their draconian one child policy. Yet, the developing world, simply because of the sheer numbers and increased longevity will face its own elderly crisis as well as tens of millions move into age-related conditions of dependency. As I have said in the past, gaining a “longevity dividend” is not a project for spoiled Westerners alone, but is primarily a development issue.

Another trend Kilcullen explores is littoralization, the concentration of human populations near the sea. A fact that was surprising to a landlubber such as myself, Kilcullen points out that in 2012 80% of human beings lived within 60 miles of the ocean. (30) A number that is increasing as the interiors of the continents are hollowed out of human inhabitants.

Kilcullen doesn’t discuss climate change much but the kinds of population dislocations that might be caused by moderate not to mention severe sea level rise would be catastrophic should certain scenarios for climate change play out. This goes well beyond islands or wealthy enclaves such as Miami, New Orleans or Manhattan. Places such as these and Denmark may have the money to engineer defenses against the rising sea, but what of a poor country such as Bangladesh? There, almost 200 million people might find themselves in flight from the relentless forward movement of the oceans. To where will they flee?

It is not merely the displacement of tens of millions of people, or more, living in low-lying coastal areas. Much of the world’s staple crop of rice is produced in deltas which would be destroyed by the inundation of the salt-water seas.

The last and most optimistic of Kilcullen’s trends is growing connectedness. He quotes the journalist John Pollack:

Cell-phone penetration in the developing world reached 79 percent in 2011. Cisco estimates that by 2015 more people in sub-saharan Africa,  South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East will have Internet access than electricity at home.

What makes this less optimistic is the fact as Pollack continues:

Across much of the world, this new information power sits uncomfortably upon layers of corrupt and inefficient government.  (231)

One might have thought that the communications revolution had made geography irrelevant or “flat” in Thomas Friedman’s famous term. Instead, the world has become“spiky” with the concentration of people, capital, and innovation in cities spread across the globe and interconnected with one another. The need for concentration as a necessary condition for communication is felt by the very rich and the very poor alike, both of whom collect together in cities. Companies running sophisticated trading algorithms have reshaped the very landscape to get closer to the heart of the Internet and gain a speed advantage over competitors so small they can not be perceived by human beings.

Likewise, the very poor flood to the world’s cities, because they can gain access to networks of markets and capital, but more recently, because only there do they have access to electricity that allows them to connect with one another or the larger world, especially in terms of their ethnic diaspora or larger civilizational community, through mobile devices and satellite TV. And there are more of these poor struggling to survive in our 21st century world than we thought, 400 million more of them according to a recent report.

For the urban poor and disenfranchised of the cities what the new connectivity can translate into is what Audrey Kurth Croninn has called the new levee en mass.  The first levee en mass was that of the French Revolution where the population was mobilized for both military and revolutionary action by new short length publications written by revolutionary writers such as Robespierre, Saint-Just or the blood thirsty Marat. In the new levee en mass, crowds capable of overthrowing governments- witness, Tunisia, Egypt and Ukraine can be mobilized by bloggers, amateur videographers, or just a kind of swarm intelligence emerging on the basis of some failure of the ruling classes.

Even quite effective armies, such as ISIS now sweeping in from Syria and taking over swaths of Iraq can be pulled seemingly out of thin air. The mobilizing capacity that was once the possession of the state or long-standing revolutionary groups has, under modern conditions of connectedness, become democratized even if the money behind them can ultimately be traced to states.

The movement of the great mass of human beings into cities portends the movement of war into cities, and this is the underlying subject of Kilcullen’s book, the changing face of war in an urban world. Given that the vast majority of countries in which urbanization is taking place will be incapable of fielding advanced armies the kinds of conflicts likely to be encountered there Kilcullen thinks will be guerilla wars whether pitting one segment of society off against another or drawing in Western armies.

The headless, swarm tactics of guerrilla war, which as the author Lawrence H. Keeley reminded us is in some sense a more evolved, “natural” and ultimately more effective form of warfare than the clashing professional armies of advanced states, its roots stretching back into human prehistory and the ancient practices of both hunting and tribal warfare, are given a potent boost by local communication technologies such as traditional radio communication and mesh networks. The crowd or small military group able to be tied together by an electronic web that turns them into something more like an immune system than a modern centrally directed army.

​ Attempting to avoid the high casualties so often experienced when advanced armies try to fight guerrilla wars, those capable of doing so are likely to turn to increasingly sophisticated remote and robotic weapons to fight these conflicts for them. Kilcullen is troubled by this development, not the least, because it seems to relocate the risk of war onto the civilian population of whatever country is wielding them, the communities in which remote warriors live or where their weapons themselves designed and built, arguably legitimate targets of a remote enemy a community might not even be aware it is fighting. Perhaps the real key is to try to prevent conflicts that might end with our military engagement in the first place.

Cities likely to experience epidemic crime, civil war or revolutionary upheaval are also those that have in Kilcullen’s terms gone “feral”, meaning the order usually imposed by the urban landscape no longer operates due to failures of governance. Into such a vacuum criminal networks often emerge which exchanges the imposition of some semblance of order for the control of illicit trade. All of these things: civil war, revolution, and international crime represent pull factors for Western military engagement whether in the name of international stability, humanitarian concerns or for more nefarious ends most of which are centered on resource extraction. The question is how can one prevent cities from going feral in the first place, avoiding the deep discontent and social breakdown that leads to civil war, revolution or the rise of criminal cartels all of which might end with the military intervention of advanced countries?

The solution lies in thinking of the city as a type of organism with “inflows” such as water, food, resources, manufactured products and capital and “outflows”, especially waste. There is also the issue of order as a kind of homeostasis. A city such as Beijing or Shanghai with their polluted skies is a sick organism as is the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh with its polluted waters or a city with a sky-high homicide rate such as Guatemala City or Sao Paulo. The beautiful thing about the new technologically driven capacity for mass mobilization is that it forces governments to take notice of the people’s problems or figuratively (and sometimes literally lose their heads). The problem is once things have gone badly enough to inspire mass riots the condition is likely systemic and extremely difficult to solve, and that the kinds of protests the Internet and mobile have inspired, at least so far, have been effective at toppling governments, but unable to either found or serve as governments themselves.

At least one answer to the problems of urban geography that could potentially allow cities to avoid instability is “Big-Data” or so-called “smart cities” where the a city is minutely monitored in real time for problems which then initiate quick responses by city authorities. There are several problems here, the first being the costs of such systems, but that might be the least insurmountable one, the biggest being the sheer data load.

As Kilcullen puts it in the context of military intelligence, but which could just as well be stated as the problem of city administrators, international NGOs and aid agencies.

The capacity to intercept, tag, track and locate specific cell phone and Internet users from a drone already exists, but distinguishing signal from noise in a densely connected, heavily trafficked piece of digital space is a daunting challenge. (238)

Kilcullen’s answer to the incomplete picture provided by the view from above, from big data, is to combine this data with the partial but deep view of the city by its inhabitants on the ground. In its essence a city is the stories and connections of those that live in them. Think of the deep, if necessarily narrow perspective of a major city merchant or even a well connected drug dealer. Add this to the stories of those working in social and medical services, police officers, big employers. socialites etc and one starts to get an idea of the biography of a city. Add to that the big picture of flows and connections and one starts to understand the city for what it is, a complex type of non-biological organism that serves as a stage for human stories.

Kilcullen has multiple examples of where knowledge of the big picture from experts has successfully aligned with grassroots organization to save societies on the brink of destruction an alignment he calls “co-design”. He cites the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace where grassroots organizer Leymah Gbowee leveraged the expertise of Western NGOs to stop the civil war in Liberia. CeaseFire Chicago uses a big-picture model of crime literally based on epidemiology and combines that with community level interventions to stop violent crime before it occurs.

Another group Kilcullen discusses is Crisis Mappers which offers citizens everywhere in the world access to the big picture, what the organization describes as “the largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policy makers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection between humanitarian crises, technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis mapping.” (253)

On almost all of this I find Kilcullen to be spot on. The problem is that he fails to tackle the really systemic issue which is inequality. What is necessary to save any city, as Kilcullen acknowledges, is a sense of shared community. What I would call a sense of shared past and future. Insofar as the very wealthy in any society or city are connected to and largely identify with their wealthy fellow elites abroad rather than their poor neighbors, a city and a society is doomed, for only the wealthy have the wherewithal to support the kinds of social investments that make a city livable for its middle classes let alone its poor.

The very globalization that has created the opportunity for the rich in once poor countries to rise, and which connects the global poor to their fellow sufferers both in the same country and more amazingly across the world has cleft the connection between poor and rich in the same society. It is these global connections between classes which gives the current situation a revolutionary aspect, which as Marx long ago predicted, is global in scope.

The danger is that the very wealthy classes use the new high tech tools for monitoring citizens into a way to avoid systemic change, either by using their ability to intimately monitor so-called “revolutionaries” and short-circuit legitimate protest or by addressing the public’s concern in only the most superficial of ways.

The long term solution to the new era of urban mankind is giving people who live in cities the tools, including increasing sophisticated tools of data gathering and simulation, to control their own fates to find ways to connect revolutionary movements to progressive forces in societies where cities are not failing, and their tools for dealing with all the social and environmental problems cities face, and above all, to convince the wealthy to support such efforts, both in their own locality as well as on a global scale. For, the attempt at total control of a complex entity like a city through the tools of the security state, like the paper flat Utopian cities of state worshipers of days past, is to attempt building a castle in the thin armed sky.


23 Comments on "This City is Our Future"

  1. meld on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 5:00 am 

    Nice linear projection. Those always work out so accurately don’t they. Someone didn’t read his Toynbee or Oswald Spengler in Uni now did he.

  2. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 6:04 am 

    They had some good descriptions of the many ills facing mega cities. In decent these mega cities will be death traps. The ist issues will come from food insecurity and liquid fuel issues. Then the systematic issues from failed complexity of the global economic system. All mega cities are heavily invested in globalism. These cities have to be because they are the pinnacle of a “delocalized local”. The level of complexity even in a third world mega city is far too high to manage so vital large systems will suffer rapid entropic decay. These technoprogressives offer the usual remedies which rely on never ending growth, technological development, and energy intensity. If you lack these three variables there is no positive transformation of the social condition only collapse. All the wrong kind of growth is occurring in the mega cities. It is clear small dispersed agricultural settlements with smallish urban areas for light manufacturing, trade centers, and command/control will be the future if we can reboot at all. There will be a salvage of the techno progress of the 20th/21st centuries but this will decay quickly for lack of necessary investment in complexity. With population overshoot and resource depletion we cannot maintain food growth nor complexity dynamics required for mega cities. The big question is how these mega urban areas unravel and the damage done to the surrounding areas many of which could be fertile sources of a reboot to lower population densities and sustainability. It will likely be ugly and destructive with different dynamics in different areas.

  3. Makati1 on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 6:42 am 

    I love science fiction stories, but this one has most of them beat for unbelievability. Cities are a product of energy, lots of energy. Cities of old were surrounded by all they needed in the way of food and water, but even they were not places you would want to live today. And today’s cities are decaying from the edges in. Their habitability is declining along with the availability of cheap energy. They are still building high rise condo towers but the new owners will never make the last payments on them and a thousand years will see their crumbling and reclamation by nature, like the lost cities of the Maya and Aztecs.

  4. Beery on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 8:50 am 

    “Cities of old were surrounded by all they needed in the way of food and water, but even they were not places you would want to live today.”

    Yet they survived for thousands of years, probably because living in them was just as good or better than living outside of them, depending on one’s priorities.

    I just love how some folks (who probably live in rural areas) seem to think that a rural utopia awaits when our society collapses.

  5. Beery on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:01 am 

    The population of London in 1850 was around 3 million. A glance at historical population statistics shows quite clearly that the idea that post-crash mega cities will be death traps is a load of complete nonsense.

  6. Davey on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:20 am 

    Beer, you have veered off course. You tell me how your mega cities in a short time are going to manage and adapt to a paradigm of food insecurity and liquid fuel disruptions. Further, Beer, as this likely crisis intensifies to food shortages and energy shortages what then for mega cities? What will happen is social breakdown, hunger, and migration out of these death traps. London was an extraordinary example of 19th century urbanism in a time of adequate resources for growth.

  7. Survival Acres on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:47 am 

    “If you wish to understand the future you need to understand the city, for the human future is an overwhelmingly urban future.”

    What a ridiculous and uninformed statement. The entire premesis of this article is based on a gross misunderstanding of reality.

    Cities are disgusting. Cities produce nothing. Cities rely upon everything produced elsewhere.

    No city produces any raw materials. No city grows it’s own food in sufficient quantities. No city produces it’s own fuel. A CONSTANT stream of trucks and trains pump trillions of tons of supplies into the city – day and night. The list is virtually endless.

    Cities are ENTIRELY dependent upon outside inputs (even the water that flows into them). Climate collapse ensures that these places are death traps.

    To make cities happen, the RURAL areas will have to remain populated (workers, suppliers, raw resources, you get the idea).

    Without these inputs – and the workers that make this all happen – the cities will die – and so would everyone else within them.

    Personally, I dislike cities as the crumbling edifices of human stupidy that they actually are.

    The human species functions quite well in small tribes (less then 50 people as anthropological studies have shown), but in larger numbers, conflicts arise. The artificial construct of cities destroyed the natural social and population limitations the species evolved under, which led directly to over-population. Advocating “cities” is the same thing as saying “defy nature”.

    You can only spit in the eye of resource limits for so long before it bites you in the ass.

    Resource competition within cities is also another huge issue ignored by the author. As global food, energy, water and raw materials diminish (it’s a finite world, remember), cities will become death traps of competition for survival.

    Cities have never been safe. Cities breed corruption because endless opportunities to prey upon their populations arise. More people = more opportunity. It also means less freedom as regulation and “protective” measures are enacted. There is far less freedom in a city then there is anywhere else – and this will greatly worsen as they become even more crowded and “managed”.

    “Cities likely to experience epidemic crime, civil war or revolutionary upheaval” – already happening globally. Why does the author completely fail to understand this? Cities breed this activity.

    Cities are a blight on the planet – and humanity. The breed corruption, competition, endless growth and support nothing but more greed and resource demands by their very existence.

    There will indeed be major wars in cities – it’s like stacking cordwood as high as you can go and refusing to believe that a horrific fire will occur. Of course it will happen. You can’t pile people together like this and ever expect anything else.

  8. Beery on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:54 am 

    They will manage and adapt in the same way they did prior to the discovery of oil. Sure, social breakdown will occur, but why on Earth do you seem to think that people will flood to the countryside when that has no precedent in human history. Will the rivers dry up? Of course not! Will people stop transporting goods altogether simply because they can no longer transport them globally? Of course not!

    I’m not suggesting that the article has any validity – cities will not be a utopia either, but the idea that cities will be a death trap while other areas will be just fine is the ludicrous fantasy of rural devotees.

  9. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 11:01 am 

    Beer, you are correct by me that everywhere will be ugly. I agree with you urbanism will not disappear. My point is mega/complex/energy intensive urbanism will soon be history. Cities will have to shrink by a huge factor. Cities of future should have more like 100K population with a handful of 1MIL. My research indicates metro areas with 6-12MIL have no future. I am not alone on this thinking.

  10. J-Gav on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 11:18 am 

    If there’s a coherent take-away from this hodge-podge of an article, for me it somehow got lost in the sauce …

  11. GregT on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 11:19 am 

    As can even be seen from space, cities are like cancerous tumours to the Earth. Growing black patches, belching toxic pollutants, while devouring everything natural around them.

    The human species has become a pathogen to the Earth. We weren’t intelligent enough to realize the importance of our host. She is now very sick, and will soon no longer be able to support our vast numbers. It is likely that she may need to take a very long rest, before she can support much life again, at all.

  12. J-Gav on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 11:36 am 

    Beery & Davy – Thanks for adding the nuances. Survival Acres is generalizing too much. There are cities and cities. A city of 20,000 surrounded by a productive rural area is definitely not in the same situation as a megapole with vast slums next to a rising sea and unable to pay for its crumbling infrastructure.

    There will be a kaleidoscope of potential effects and reactions once TSHTF, so to say that ALL rural situations will automatically be better than ANY urban situation is, IMHO, unjustifiable.

  13. edboyle on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 11:50 am 

    Elevators make density possible over like 5 stories. Also pumping water up and waste water down. Huge water projects in early 19th century London avoided cholera and was model for modern European and then US cities. I think of documentaries on TV about pipes under NYC being installed 10 m wide. WE could easily spread out population to rural areas to a certain extent or have people living relatively densely in 4 story buildings with lots of farmland about and lot of walkable towns and middle to small sized cities. IF NYC and metro area supplied its own food from surrounding area in 1900 then this could be repeated but population has to fall back to 25% of current levels perhaps through attrition or starvation or war.

    Big 3rd world cities are just big villages with little in way of highly technical big city infrastructure. Density should increase towards center with really big cities until only a business district in center exists and a highly complex transport and communications and water/sanitations exists. Is this possible in 3rd world without investment.? If not then it is just a big slum stretching a hundred miles like LA stretches but just a thickly populated village. I ahve not been to Lagos or Calcutta however , comments anyone? Without food imports form somewhere and clean water population increase must stop. Hygiene, medical, groundwater is critical. Think of water tables under India and China. The villages cannot feed themselves without diesel generators pumping water to their fields and USA, etc. send grain on ships using bunker oil and grain is made using diesel tractors. Future seems local but cities under a million in perfect geographic harbor or river areas with moderate climates, good soils must exist (Chicago, NYC, London).

    On avoiding rebellion or causing it and feral cities I think of Iraq and Ukraine. Just put a society under massive strain with war and/or economic dysfunction for a quarter century, mass emigration,etc. and it is just waiting for a spark to start a civil war.

  14. Survival Acres on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 12:06 pm 

    “The population of London in 1850 was around 3 million. A glance at historical population statistics shows quite clearly that the idea that post-crash mega cities will be death traps is a load of complete nonsense.”

    Not nonsense at all. It’s a logical projection that has ample historical precedent. Cities collapse, again and again and again.

    What do you suppose the highly dependent people of the cities will actually eat as climate destroys food crops on a global scale? Or when energy declines / runs out?

    Each other?

    You cannot compare the past as “proof” of the present, not anymore and definitely not on this scale. This is a very common error that is simply wrong, because it assumes a correlation that no longer applies.

    The present is a dystopian society that is HEAVILY dependent upon MASSIVE inputs for DAILY survival for BILLIONS of people (who all live in cities). Except we do not call any of this activity “survival”, it’s BAU and considered “normal” and how millions billions manage to exist and stay alive today, but it is anything but normal and has virtually no corresponding historical precedent on this scale and scope, and ESPECIALLY with environment collapse occuring globally.

    What we are doing with our cities is actually an abberation, enabled by cheap energy and it should be obvious what happens when any component of the system breaks down. But when multiple components break down (energy, environment, climate, water)?

    All this “city stuff” stops when energy runs out – or resources disappear, or climate because so disruptive that food production declines. Or war begins (here) or for any number of reasons now facing humanity (of which there are dozens).

    “Yet they survived for thousands of years, probably because living in them was just as good or better than living outside of them, depending on one’s priorities.”

    Not true. A few cities have survived for hundreds of year (relative to the total number worldwide), and even fewer survived “thousands of years”. However, most collapsed and were rebuilt – again and again.

    “A glance at historical population statistics shows quite clearly that the idea that post-crash mega cities will be death traps is a load of complete nonsense.”

    Read some history. Suggest you go read Joseph Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies” for ample evidence that civilization (and the cities they contain) have collapsed repeatedly.

    Civilization has collapsed repeatedly, with a #1 reason being (local) environmental collapse. But now we are all dealing with this on a global scale – compounded by energy dependency (and forthcoming shortages).

    From the book (and my article):

    There are some historical and factual reasons that societies collapse, a question (and the answers) which should concern everyone. Regrettably, the United States is exhibiting all of these characteristics, thus making its future survival in serious doubt:

    a) failing to anticipate a problem before it arrives;
    b) reasoning by false analogy that there either is no problem, or it’s not serious;
    c) failing to remember historical events;
    d) distant management;
    e) failing to perceive the problem(s) when they actually arrive;
    f) failing to understand the “creeping normalcy”;
    g) failing to understand the common interest;
    h) conflict of interest;
    i) self absorption;
    j) advanced technology;
    k) religous values.

    “but why on Earth do you seem to think that people will flood to the countryside when that has no precedent in human history.”

    That is exactly what happens when civilizations collapse. Since all the inputs which kept cities alive stopped (for whatever reason) – the surviving population LEFT. The evidence of this fact is found all over the world in abandoned cities and ruins.

    You’re introducing a lot of conjecture (and circular reasoning) which does not fit either history or logic. You may find the city the “best place to be” no matter what you perceive the future to be, but history and common sense indicate otherwise.

  15. J-Gav on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 3:00 pm 

    Survival – Again – You’re talking mega-cities and, to that extent, I agree there will be major upheaval in most if not all of them. But those are not the only kinds of cities that exist – thus my note on ‘nuances.’

  16. Harquebus on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 4:57 pm 

    Cities will decay. They are just too energy dependent to survive let alone grow and prosper. Populations will be forced to move to where the food is.
    Rural serfdom here we come.

  17. Survival Acres on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 5:07 pm 

    Cities of just a few thousand people collapsed – repeatedly around the world. Tainter’s book and many others depict that any city, of any size, is vulnerable and can only last as long as resources are imported (even if just from the surrounding countryside).

    There were large cities encompassing hundreds of thousands of people that collapsed, but they were far fewer in number (comparatively speaking) and were not the only ones we know collapsed. The majority are considered very small by today’s standards and would not even meet today’s definition of “city”.

    You also erred here: “so to say that ALL rural situations will automatically be better than ANY urban situation is, IMHO, unjustifiable.”

    I never said that. Rural wasn’t even mentioned yet (by me).

    All cities, by virtue of their dependencies (all things they require to exist and support their populations) rely upon rural areas, imported products, food, energy, water, materials, virtually everything. These materials are all produced outside of the city (except a tiny portion which is not relevant to determine their “survivability” (viability as cities).

    Look around (if you are in a city). Among all the roads, glass, steel, buildings, metal, stores, houses – and endless litany of “stuff” – was actually produced there? What about the gigantic supermarkets filled with food? Or the diverted waterways to supply water? Cities produced next to nothing, all the raw resources required for their existence came from someplace else. Yet they house a population that is 100% dependent on these constant inputs. Interrupt that – for whatever reason – and you will instantly have gigantic problems.

    If that doesn’t describe a future death trap (if everything collapses), then you’re not making the right connections.

    On rural: If cities collapse – what does that mean for the rural areas? Much of what they require for their own survival will disappear (a lot of manufacturing for instance, but not all). But the raw resources will remain, such as land, forest, field, water, topsoil, minerals and so forth – making them far more adaptable for survival (if possible) then cities (of ANY size) which imported every single one of these elements for their survival.

    Rural areas will be deeply impacted, and by no means unharmed, but less so then cities, because what they still require is still available – it’s just going to be significantly harder to obtain it – and even impossible in many rural locations (which are just as dependent upon imports as any city).

    The argument is not “city .vs. rural” which some are trying to do. The argument is cities as a viable future in a declining world. That is what the author was more then suggesting and he’s dead wrong. He is only right if there is no collapse of any real significance – and virtually ALL of the data that I have seen and published (as have many, many others) indicates that the collapse will be near-total leading to extinction.

    Because of their near-total dependency, and the enormous amounts of energy to even marginally sustain, cities will decline in size and viability (during collapse and most certainly after). They can only grow (and exist) when there is abundance (such as the last few thousand years), but this paradigm is rapidly shifting as the environment collapses.

    You should know that all of civilization is about food – it’s why we created civilization, so that we could more easily sustain ourselves. But now we are deep into overshoot and resource depletion and the basic issue of food (and heat and energy and water and so forth) rears its ugly head to everyone, but even more so to the city dweller who remains completely dependent upon all of these things being literally (physically) “brought” to him/her, enabling their daily survival. While this is considered “normal” today it is not – it is in fact an aberration (a failed human experiment) – an attempt to defy natural limits of the planet which are now going to be experienced by all humans living on the Earth.

    Cities are not even remotely sustainable and it is extremely likely they never will be – even in a perfect, non-collapsing world. Those that live in cities need to grasp these basic concepts because they are elemental to the future scenario now unfolding.

  18. Makati1 on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 8:44 pm 

    Any building will not be inhabited when it is over 6 stories high. There will be no electric to pump water or get rid of sewage. Nor to run elevators and even stairwells are not lighted from the outside.

    Anyone who believes that cities are going to be inhabitable is in deep denial or just not thinking the whole system through.
    Have you been to a sewage disposal plant?
    How about a water treatment plant?
    How does the water get to the top of your office building?
    How does the sewage get to the river where it is dumped?
    How many trucks/trains come into the city each night to keep those stores full?
    Where do they come from?
    What stores have natural light to let you ‘shop’ without electric?
    How about hospitals or even your dentist?
    Do you know how to deliver a baby?
    Fix a broken arm?
    Remove a bullet? (They will be common)
    Will there be anyone who does know and has the materials to do it?
    The list is endless.

    No, cities of more than a few hundred are a joke after the SHTF. They may survive the first months but they will fade away as their support fades.

  19. Patrick on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 8:57 pm 

    The human species functions quite well in small tribes (less then 50 people as anthropological studies have shown), but in larger numbers, conflicts arise.

    Survival Acres on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:47 am

    I agree. Could you give us some links to such anthropological studies? thanks 🙂

  20. Bandits on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:02 pm 

    What the hell is the populous in cities going to do for a living. Are they going to have jobs like 19th century London. Giant steel works, gas works, ship building, bank tellers, clerks, printers, smiths of all types, masons………the biggest jobs in the cities will be body collecting. THERE WILL BE NO WORK. The jobs of old are gone, the skills to do them are gone. The jobs available will be crime and crime fighting.

    We are not going to have BAU lite. It’s all or nothing now. Consumerism and the service industry supports cities all over the world. McDonalds, hotels, air ports, taxis, city maintenance, fuel stations, financiers, Wall Street will all be gone. Cities will be mined for scrap. People will move to where there are jobs or the perception of jobs appear to be. The Easter Islanders couldn’t wait until the trees re-grew the same as the world will not be able to wait until the energy-economic crisis resolves into something expected to be better.

    The hole humanity has dug has been too deep to escape for over sixty years. There was a point of no return. It doesn’t matter any more if we stop digging. There most depressing fact is, over the years there have been so many people of influence claiming all is well, that there is no AGW, no population overshoot, no environmental degradation, no economic crisis, smoking is not harmful, immunisation IS harmful, CFC’s are not harmful, wales are not endangered, the seas are not rising, oil will never run out, nuclear energy is safe, sugar doesn’t make you fat……….

  21. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 22nd Jun 2014 9:28 pm 

    Bandit, great one “Bau lite” ice cold no doubt! Yea, you got it. When the wheels of our car culture are turning in vain upside-down in the ditch our mega cities will have little that will function properly until they depopulate. Since the degree of depopulation needed is so large one can little fathom the transition. There will have to be mass graves. Without cars I don’t think the mega cities anywhere will have much migration because where do you go and how do you get there. People just are not prepared to travel the distances necessary and to where? So many people will just choose to stay home and eke out an existence and many will just die at home. Most likely this transition will not be a sudden apocalypse but a dispersed and serial crisis depending on many variables. We could see rolling population crisis where one failed state ignites another. We may find areas that maintain stability but others that crack. Yet, once the failures start all of the global system will crash. It is the nature of the global system with it interconnectivity. Those regions that can quickly transition to a local or regional economy will survive. We can feel confident without adequate liquid fuels and adequate food the mega cities will fall apart rapidly. There are currently 21 mega cities of which Asia has half. So we know where half the pain is coming from. These mega cities constitute 300MIL so there are many smaller cities that will have to negotiate transition also. Many smaller cities are in mega city regions so the 300MIL is deceiving. We should be discussing the population’s corridors so to speak.

  22. Survival Acres on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 10:05 am 

    Patrick – I can’t point you to anything specific right now. I’ve read this a number of times in anthropological works.

    You might want to read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” for a good understanding of our history.

    The study of civilizations, their rise and fall, what happened and why is pretty interesting (to me), because it depicts all the things we’re still doing wrong.

    There’s been 40,000 generations (or something like that) before us and what we have today is totally unlike anything that has ever existed before.

    It can’t last. It won’t last. It defies logic, common sense, natural limits and breeds massive levels of injustice and abuse.

    What I found nearly ‘offensive’ about the article above is the notion that cities will be our salvation.

    They are our curse and always have been.

  23. jedrider on Mon, 23rd Jun 2014 6:31 pm 

    Nice commentary discussion. Detroit comes to mind. Cities will be abandoned as necessary.

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