The rise of Homo urbanus

Scientists these days are speaking more and more comfortably about the rise of a new geologic age known as the “anthropocene” — that is, the age of humans.

Our world is increasingly shaped by our activities, from the way we spread our houses, to the pollution that pours from our cars and factories, to the massive reach of agriculture and commercial timber.

A second, parallel trend is also emerging at shockingly fast speed:  the rise of Homo urbanicus.

In 2007, for the first time in human history, more of our species lived in cities than in rural, agricultural communities.  And the emergence of this new city-focused culture is accelerating.

In today’s New York Times, Lydia Polgreen writes the following:

After decades of being primarily a nation of farmers, India’s countryside is emptying out, as millions leave their stagnant villages and flock to the cities.

How fast is this massive migration?  By 2030, more than 570 million Indians will live in cities — that’s nearly twice the entire population of the United Staets.

A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2030, 70 percent of India’s jobs would be created in cities, and about 590 million Indians would live in them. To provide enough housing and commercial space, it said, India must build the equivalent of the city of Chicago every year.

The truth is that we don’t yet know what this transition means.

The United States has been a predominately urban society for a handful of decades and the social and economic fault lines of the shift are still being felt.

In the developing world, urbanization is likely to be far rockier.  This photographic tour of the world’s most polluted cities, produced by Forbes, reveals a new kind of urban hell that is emerging, especially in Africa.

But the simple truth is that in the decades to come experts agree that most economic growth, innovation, and improvements in the standard of living will be taking place in cities.

Bill McKibben and others have pointed out that our world is changing dramatically.

Thanks to climate change and other human impacts, this isn’t any longer the planet where our ancient ancestors evolved and developed our civilization.

But we are changing, too.  The fast majority of us — or, if not us, then our children — are leaving behind ways of life, customs, small towns and landscapes that defined us for tens of thousands of years.

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4 Responses to “The rise of Homo urbanus”

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  1. Paul says:

    Brian, I see so much talk of the suburbanization of America. Which is it? Are we spreading out, or are we bunching up?

    In a recent article you wrote on Saranca Lake you were talking about how even a small town like that we see folks moving to the “burbs”. I am confused about what the real trends are?

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  2. EB says:

    Paul,

    The data seems to suggest it’s both.

    http://www.newgeography.com/content/00868-exurban-growth-greater-central-growth-census-bureau

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  3. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It seems to me that human culture has been primarily urban for a very long time. Perhaps a thousand years or more ago the urban centers were hardly larger than a small town is now but those were the places where rapid advancement in science, technology and the arts could take place and then spread to the rural areas.

    The Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Atomic Age, Computer Age…all products of urbanization.

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    Just one comment on the urban vs. suburban vs. rural.
    Cities have always held the power. Remember Rome?
    The Internet might soften the power of cities some but to the extent it does, it will result from the suburban and rural regions being urbanized by the Internet.
    Even so, the center or centers of power will continue to be the larger urban areas in each country for the simple reason of there being more social, intellectual and cultural energy when it is concentrated rather than when it is spread out.
    In a word, the power of cities is in their synergy.

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