This is part 2 of a 6-part series covering “Cities in the Year 2000”, a kids’ book on cities published in 1985. Here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. I suggest reading on a desktop, as the screenshots of the pages should be large enough to read (hopefully).
“Cities have changed more in the last 200 years than in the previous 5000. The first cities in Mesopotamia were tiny, with populations of 2000 or less… cities changed little until the Industrial Revolution”.
Although the name isn’t quite as famous, the “Agricultural Revolution” which increased farming yields was also very important. Less labour was needed on farms, which freed up people to move to cities. There they could combine their skills with the newly invented machines to produce goods faster than ever before. As with cities, the world’s population grew faster in the last 200 years than it ever had before, and likewise for the world economy.
Not that the growth of cities during the Industrial Revolution was all sunshine and rainbows:
“At first there were no laws governing living and working conditions. People lived in filthy overcrowded rooms. There was little clean water and no sewers. Then the inventions of the Industrial Revolution began to transform the cities in another way… many of the things we take for granted today – light bulbs, trains, the motor car – did not exist before the 19th century”.
To that, of course, we could add the Internet, and good ol’ sanitation should always be remembered too:
“Crowded, dirty and unhealthy conditions at the centre made people move out. New, faster trains and buses allowed them to create suburbs where the air was fresh and there were trees and gardens. Old country villages were swallowed up by the spreading suburbs”.
“New inventions continue. Skyscrapers have been vital to modern cities where space is scarce. But they could not have been built before the discovery of new building materials, or before elevators (lifts), air conditioning and methods of ventilation had been invented. The latest phase of the Industrial Revolution is in computers and this will have a big effect on our lives by 2000”.
That’s a pretty good summary of what skyscrapers need to succeed, and the book is quite right that computers were starting to have a big impact by 2000… and beyond…
“Many European and American cities grew frantically during the Industrial Revolution. Today, most of the old industrial cities have slowed down or stopped growing, and cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America have taken over as the front runners”.
This is still broadly true – cities in ‘developing’ countries tend to be growing much faster, and it’s a real mixed bag in the ‘developed’ countries. The top-tier global cities like London, Paris, New York or LA continue to grow, but many cities have had flat populations or even shrunk.
You may have noticed by this point that there’s been very little discussion of China. That’s presumably because China was such an unknown quantity in 1985, and in the very early days of economic reforms. According to the World Bank, China’s urbanisation began in earnest in the 1980s – with the population going from 19% urban in 1980 to 58% today. Given that China is the world’s most populous country, this has been probably the largest mass migration in human history.
This “old cities” page focuses on the negative aspects of old cities – e.g. the ‘hollowing out’ of old inner city areas, once used for industrial purposes and then becoming de facto slums. On a smaller scale, we went through our own version of this in Auckland:
There are plenty of examples of that “hollowing out” in the US and elsewhere:
“The Bronx in New York is an inner city area which has been left to decay. Houses are burned down and crime and vandalism are common. The city will have to spend very large sums of money to make this area a good place to live again”.
Of course, New York (and Auckland, and many other world cities) have been through the worst of it and come out the other side – the 70s and 80s were perhaps the worst times for cities, and many have had a renaissance since then. The inner city areas are desirable again. However, in a country the size of the US, there are plenty of cities which have not recovered, or have declined further – Detroit probably the best known example.
Although NZ hasn’t had an ‘inner city decline’/ suburban ‘white flight’ issue like the cities mentioned in this book – or at least, we’re largely through the issues we have had – we do have a number of towns and cities which have a flat or falling population overall, and many of these are struggling with similar problems.