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Living Conditions in the Paracel Islands
The Paracel Islands is a group of more than 30 islands between the coastlines of Vietnam and China, also called Xisha Islands, the Hoang Sa Archipelago and West Sand Islands. The country is in the South China Sea and some have considered it a flashpoint for regional tensions in East and Southeast Asia. Along with the Spratly and Patras Islands, the maritime territory is “…at risk of becoming Asia’s Palestine…” said the outgoing Secretary-General of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With this in mind, here are 10 facts about the living conditions in the Paracel Islands.

10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Paracel Islands

  1. Fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves surround the Paracel Islands. Although no one has done a reliable estimate on the area, many believe there is a significant hydrocarbon (the chief component in petroleum and natural gas) prize in the region. The mere suspicion of the potential value the islands may have had made China anxious about its occupation.
  2. According to international law, China has sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands by discovery and occupation of said islands. While China faced Japanese aggression in 1930, however, France, as the colonial power in Vietnam, occupied some of the islands upon the argument that those islands were Vietnamese historical territories.
  3. The Japanese invaded the Vietnamese islands as an act of aggression towards China. It was not until the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and the 1952 Sino-Japanese Treaty when Japan renounced all rights to the Paracel Islands, as well as the Spratly Islands, Penghu and Taiwan to China. Because of this, the Paracel Islands are a huge source of international conflict. The People’s Republic of China has tried to keep the occupation of the islands, despite protests from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam. In 2012, the People’s Republic of China declared a city named Sansha, located on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands, that administers several island groups. The People’s Republic of China is doing everything in its power to support its territorial claims.
  4. Although no one has calculated an exact number, the People’s Republic of China invests millions in the development of the Paracel Islands. More recently, Beijing revealed a $23.5 million contract for a coastguard ship to patrol the Paracel Islands. It has also made advancements in the living conditions on Woody Island.
  5. Woody Island is the most populated of the Paracel Islands with over 1,000 habitats and scattered Chinese garrisons on the surrounding islands. Most people living on the islands are soldiers, construction workers and fishermen. With the recent construction, China has built a school for the 40 children living on the island. It also has a hospital, a postal office, a supermarket and more.
  6. There are many concerns about the militarization of the South China Sea as reports of the presence of missiles on the islands, especially Woody Island, surge. China built a military installation on Woody Island with an airfield and artificial harbor. President Xi Jinping held a private two-day drill in the Paracel Islands as a show of strength in the South China Sea.
  7. There is a limited supply of fresh water on the islands. On most of the islands that China occupies, drinking water comes in barrels with other supplies from small boats, making it as scarce as fuel. Desalination plants have activated in the South China Sea but are not available to all. Many have had to improve their ability to sustain long periods of time without supplies, including drinking water.
  8. There are plans underway to open the Paracel Islands to tourism by granting visa-free travel. The travelers will be able to stay up to 30 days on the islands. For years, tourism was scarce in the islands due to international conflicts but construction has already begun for a tourist area. There is, however, a threat for allowing tourists onto the islands.
  9. One of the biggest sources of income for the habitats in the Paracel Islands are the surrounding fishing grounds. It represents a key part of the living conditions in the Paracel Islands. If tourism opens up in the area, fishing activities will be greatly reduced. Another problem has risen against the fishing grounds: the degradation of coastal habitats. The degradation of coastal habitats has been mostly due to the military bases in construction. Luckily, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme have partnered for the Implementation of the Regional Strategic Action Programme for the South China Sea. Along with rehabilitating the coastal habitats, one of its priority issues is the management failures with respect to the linkage between fish stock and critical habitats. The coastal reefs are a considerable part of the Paracel Islands because they also act as a defense.
  10. A major concern of the Paracel Islands is typhoon season. The islands experience a series of typhoons during the summer months. This natural disaster leads to instability in the islands and the reefs are a critical part in protecting the islands from major harm.

People have given little attention to the poverty the habitants of the Paracel Islands have been facing these past years. These 10 facts about the living conditions in the Paracel Islands should illuminate the subject so the archipelago can improve over time.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Living Conditions in Luxembourg

Luxembourg is one of the richest countries in the world, but how is that reflected in the living conditions in Luxembourg? It has been acknowledged as one of the most livable places in the world, however, that wealth does not extend to everyone who lives in the country.

8 facts about living conditions in Luxembourg

  1.  There is a significant shortage of housing in the country. This is due to many factors such as an increasing population, a lack of new housing, rising housing prices, etc. To combat this, the government is encouraging construction of affordable and subsidized housing.
  2. As the most desired location to live, Luxembourg City is quite expensive. The monthly cost of a one bedroom apartment is approximately 1,397 euros. Since areas such as Luxembourg City are known for high rental costs, many people in the country go to neighboring countries such as Belgium, Germany, or France to live because they are close in proximity and offer much cheaper housing costs.
  3. 66 percent of people in Luxembourg, ages 15-64, have a paying job. This is slightly lower than the average of 68 percent for other countries in the region. Although, this percentage rate is fairly high and shows that employment opportunities exist for people of all ages in Luxembourg.
  4. The education system has a 100 percent adult literacy rate, and students must graduate with full fluency in German, French and Luxembourgish. Students register for state schools with their Social Security, and children of expats usually attend international schools, which can go up to almost €19,000 per year. University fees, however, are much less expensive.
  5. When it comes to finding a job in Luxembourg, an education and specific skills are important and often required prior to applying. While the unemployment rate is 2.4 percent, higher than the average set by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) at 1.8 percent, the wages earned are the highest rate in the OECD at $63,062 a year on average.
  6. As mentioned previously, Luxembourg has very high living costs, which is why many workers choose to live across the border. This means that workers have a tedious and sometimes complicated commute to work. Most of the workers have no choice but to deal with the commuting difficulties since they cannot afford to pay the housing and living costs in Luxembourg city.
  7. The healthcare system in Luxembourg is public, meaning that a basic version is free for everyone. Employed individuals have to pay 2.8 percent of their earnings to the healthcare system monthly. Every worker that lives in Luxembourg has to contribute to healthcare. The rates can vary based on the type of employment and the risks involved with the job. Private healthcare is also available.
  8. Employees pay towards their pension and health insurance directly via their salary, but the majority of social security and pension is paid for by the employer. Those that earn less than  €11,265 a year do not have to pay taxes, with the maximum paid being 42 percent on an income that is greater than €200,004.

Luxembourg may be a rich country, but its citizens experience hardships meeting the costs of daily living, which has forced many outside its borders.

Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in GambiaThe Gambia is a small West African country with a population of over 2 million. It is surrounded by Senegal on all sides except for a small length of shoreline, and it has the largest population density in the region. As of December 2018, after 22 years of dictatorship that ended with a bloodless coup d’etat, Gambia enjoyed its second year of freedom. While the small country is still healing, poor living conditions in the Gambia are too common, especially where economic security and healthcare are concerned.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Gambia

  1. In 2003, 34.3 percent of the country lived on less than one dollar a day. Conditions slightly improved over the past decade and in 2015, only 10.1 percent lived on less than one dollar a day.
  2. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations classifies the Gambia as a food-deficit country. This means the Gambia does not produce enough food to meet its own needs and lacks the economic power to fill the gap by importing food. According to FAO, the country only produces enough food for half of its own consumption needs and only 10 percent of the staple rice crop is produced locally.
  3. Education is compulsory in Gambia between the ages of seven and 15. However, the education system does not reach everybody. According to UNESCO, as of 2018, 72,096 children in Gambia are not attending school. In addition, adult literacy rates are low. Only 55.5 percent of men and 47.6 percent of women were found to be literate in 2015.
  4. In 2018, the infant mortality in Gambia was 60.2 deaths per 1000 live births. The rate of infant mortality was significantly higher in rural areas than in cities. This is due to the higher risk of diseases such as malaria and pneumonia in rural areas, which are among the leading causes of death in Gambian children under the age of five.
  5. The maternal mortality rate in Gambia was 706 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. According to the World Health Organization, one key factor in the distressing rate of maternal mortality was a lack of proper medical assistance at birth for many mothers. It was estimated that skilled medical personnel attended only 57 percent of births in Gambia.
  6. Another leading factor in both maternal and infant mortality is malnutrition. Research shows that malnutrition heightens the risk of mortality for both mothers and children. Studies show that lack of nutrition contributes to 45 percent of child mortality. Data from the WHO highlighted that 23.4 percent of children in Gambia suffered from stunted growth and 17.4 percent are underweight. However, while the risks are still high, malnutrition rates have shown a gradual downward trend in recent years.
  7. A major issue with the Gambian healthcare system is the shortage of doctors and other medical personnel. At least half of all public health workers in Gambia end up leaving the public sector because of low pay and difficult work. While many of these workers join the private sector, many others leave the country altogether. As a result, medical professionals in the public sector are often overworked, and medical resources are stretched dangerously thin.
  8. In 2015, Gambia had a GINI coefficient of 35.9, meaning that it has moderate inequality. The lowest 10 percent of the country holds three percent of the country’s income share, while the top 20 percent holds 43.6 percent. While there is some inequality, conditions have improved dramatically in the past two decades. The country’s GINI score decreased more than ten points since the late 1990s.
  9. The average life expectancy in Gambia is 61.4 years. Women’s life expectancy is 63.3 years while men’s is 60.6 years. These numbers are higher compared to the average life expectancy in the Western African region, which is 62 years for women and 59 for men. In addition, there has been a steady upward trend in life expectancy for both sexes over the past decade.
  10. Gambia’s goal is to eliminate all new malaria cases by 2020. In fact, malaria rates have gone steadily down in recent years.  Between 2011 and 2017, the number of new malaria cases went down by 40 percent. It is possible that Gambia may be the first country in the region to eliminate malaria.

Living conditions in Gambia improved slowly but steadily in the past few decades. The country struggled to achieve these improvements and it will most likely continue to be an uphill battle. Hopefully, by continuing to work for improvement, living conditions in Gambia will improve and the country will move away from its past of poverty and toward a brighter future.

Keira Charles
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Eritrea, a country located in the Horn of Africa, has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Isaias Afwerki, a leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) became the nation’s first president after winning the Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia. About 5,000 Eritrean citizens flee the country every month, making it the most rapidly depopulating nation in the world. A recent peace deal with Ethiopia in July 2018 gives hope that Eritrea will soon see increasing stability, reform, and growth. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Eritrea.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Eritrea

  1. Eritrea’s first and current president, Isaias Afwerki, came to power after a leadership role in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). After the EPLF defeated Ethiopian troops, Afwerki was placed at the head of a provisional government. After the vast majority of Eritreans voted in favor of independence from Ethiopia, Afwerki was elected both the president and chairman of the National Assembly, effectively giving him command of both the executive and legislature branches of government. Since his ascension to power in 1993, Afwerki has centralized power by canceling elections, closing the national press, and jailing opposition leaders.
  2. Upon finishing school, every boy and girl in the country must join the military. Their service in the military is indefinite as the expiration date is not set. This is the primary reason why people want to leave the country. The constant threat of another war with Ethiopia is used to justify indefinite servitude in the military, but the Ethiopian-Eritrean peace deal, struck in July 2018 between Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, gives hope that forced conscription in Eritrea will soon come to an end.
  3. The government only tolerates four religions: Sunni Islam, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the Evangelical Church of Eritrea and the Roman Catholic Church. Since 2002, all other religious groups must apply annually for registration with the Office of Religious Affairs. After the implementation of this rule, no other religious communities have been able to become recognized and tolerated by the Eritrean government.
  4. Literacy rates have been consistently improving. The Adult Education Program has helped more than 600,000 Eritreans learn to read and write since 2000. A large portion of Eritrea’s population is nomadic, making it a challenge to provide consistent education to children. As a result, Eritrea’s current literacy rate sits at around 87 percent for people aged 15 to 24, 64 percent for people aged 24 and older and 21 percent for people aged 65 and older.
  5. Positive progress has been made in elementary school enrollment and completion levels, with the elementary school enrollment ratio sitting at about 87 percent. Female enrollment has historically been much lower than male enrollment, but the Eritrean National Education Policy was drafted in 2003 to promote equality in male and female education.
  6. Food insecurity and malnutrition are common in the Horn of Africa, and in Eritrea, the average supply of food per capita is considerably less than the minimum requirement. Causes of food insecurity in Eritrea include meager transportation, telecommunication and water supply systems. Only one-quarter of Eritrea’s population has access to clean water. This makes the productivity of the agriculture sector dependent on rainfall, and in regions of vast arid and semi-arid lands, a drought could prove devastating for people with already limited access to food.
  7. About 66 percent of Eritreans live below the poverty line, but a $230 million long-term poverty eradication plan, drafted by the EU in 2015, is one way to support the energy sector in order to reduce poverty. Eritrea has one of the lowest access rates to electricity in the world, and supporting this sector would increase access to social services like education and health care. Supporting the energy sector would also increase economic growth in the nation by expediting the development of Eritrea’s fishing industry, as well as the implementation of irrigation systems. The implementation of irrigation systems would also help reduce food insecurity in the nation.
  8. Eritrea’s GDP has consistently grown since 1991. Eritrea’s GDP was $6.72 billion in 2018 and is expected to keep growing.
  9. The life expectancy in Eritrea is 65.09 years. This number is significantly better than that of neighboring countries Somalia, with an average life expectancy of 56.3 years, and Djibouti, with an average life expectancy of 62.5 years.
  10. Despite its political and socio-economic struggles, Eritrea has remained devoted to the expansion of health care in the nation. As a result, Eritrea’s health care system is one of the best in Africa. The nation has made significant strides in reducing neonatal and under-5 mortality, the prevalence of tuberculosis and incidences of malaria. Eritrea has been able to accomplish this by focusing on making access to health care as inclusive as possible, and sometimes, like in the case of tuberculosis treatment and prevention, completely free of charge.

Although the country is rife with political and socio-economic issues, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Eritrea highlights progress in a number of areas. Access to education, food and health care is improving, as well as economic growth of the nation. With a concerted effort by the Eritrean government to recognize and protect the human rights of its citizens, Eritrea may continue moving in a positive direction.

– Jillian Baxter

Photo: Flickr

Cocoa Farmers in Côte d’IvoireCôte d’Ivoire produces 35 percent of all cocoa, making it the largest cocoa producer in the world. A majority of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, however, live below the poverty line. Within the past couple of years, a financial crisis within the cocoa sector has worsened conditions for cocoa farmers. Improving financial inclusion and increasing yields could become ways to bring cocoa farmers out of poverty.

In 2017, the cocoa crisis left many farmers without pay for their work. George Koffi Kouame, a 50-year-old cocoa farmer, told the BBC that he had delivered 1.8 tons of cocoa and had not been paid. This is the result of plummeting cocoa prices, which led up to 80 percent of cocoa buyers to terminate their contracts with farmers.

Living Conditions

However, even without this crisis, most cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are struggling. As a condition of their poverty, many lack adequate access to education, healthcare and drinking water.

Only 43 percent of farming communities observed in a study by Barry-Callebaut, a major chocolate manufacturer, had a health facility in their village. For 54 percent of the communities, the nearest health facility was, on average, 12 kilometers away, a little over seven miles.

Additionally, 25 percent of villages did not have a primary school, with 22 percent of villages having no school at all. While 87.4 percent of villages had a primary school located within five kilometers, having a school in each village ensures that education is accessible even to the most impoverished, as they may not have the means to travel for schooling.

Finally, access to safe drinking water is also a concern for some cocoa farmers. While 32 percent obtain some of their drinking water from the national water supply and 63 percent have access to pumped water, 5 percent of farming communities do not have access to either source. This suggests that they mainly drink surface water, which is more likely to be unsanitary.

Rural Côte d’Ivoire is in desperate need of better and more abundant schools and healthcare facilities, as well as access to drinkable water in certain villages. These changes would help improve the standard of living of cocoa farmers and their families more generally, potentially aiding in efforts to raise them out of poverty.

Financial Inclusion

Cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are generally excluded from formal financial services. Rates for all residents of Côte d’Ivoire are high, with 53 percent of men and 64 percent of women lacking access to financial services.

Because of this, the crop cycle generally determines the financial lives of cocoa farmers. Cocoa farmers harvest from October to January and make their money for the year during this period. Then, from February to September, farmers must make the money they earned from this harvest last, as cocoa farming is the main source of income for most farmers.

If their money begins to run out during these months, many are forced to take informal loans with high-interest rates in order to make ends meet. Then, when the next harvest begins generating income, paying back these loans reduces their profit and makes it difficult to save money for the following year.

To improve the financial health of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and help them rise out of poverty, more financial products need to be available. Access to formal loans is incredibly important, as loans through the banking sector will have lower interest rates and be easier to repay. Many farmers would benefit from being able to get formal loans for school fees, as these are due before the harvest season has begun.

Additionally, education programs to teach farmers how to best manage their money in combination with access to savings accounts can help farmers become financially sustainable over time. Advans, an international microfinance group, has been working in Côte d’Ivoire since 2015, helping farmers set aside money for the future.

Crop Yields

Another solution, proposed by Barry-Callebaut, is to help farmers increase their crop yields, thereby increasing their income. Farmers sometimes do not use pesticides and fertilizers, decreasing their cocoa yields, partly due to low access to financial services. Improving access to financial services, as well as implementing educational programs for farmers to help them learn better agricultural practices, has the potential to significantly increase farmers’ yields over time.

Overall, improving financial inclusion and crop yields has the potential to help cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire rise out of poverty. Additionally, improving education, healthcare and drinking water access will improve their quality of life. As information about cocoa farming continues to be collected, this knowledge will hopefully be used to benefit impoverished farmers.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a landlocked country in central Asia with a long history of poverty. It is important to first identify the issues affecting poverty in the country, and then look at what is being done to address them. Here are ten facts about poverty in Turkmenistan:

10 Facts About Poverty in Turkmenistan

  1. According to the Asian Development Bank, only 15 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. This statistic shows a lack of access to not only the internet and technology, but also to disposable income and affordable energy.
  2. Also in 2015, the Turkmenistan currency was devalued by 19 percent, which was the first drop in almost seven years.  Bloomberg noted that Turkmenistan and neighboring nations would need to devalue the currency in order to keep their exports competitive.
  3. Although the definitions for appropriate living standards defer in Turkmenistan, the World Bank reports that 58 percent of the population receives cash incomes below the official national minimum wage. According to the government, however, having 50 percent of the national median income indicates unacceptable living conditions; only 1 percent of the population falls below this line.
  4. According to the World Bank, in 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $36.18 billion; in comparison, the United States’ GDP is around $18 trillion.
  5. Carbon dioxide emissions are also a good indicator of a country’s development and urbanization. With a 2014 population of 5,466,241, Turkmenistan produced 12.517 metric tons of CO2 per capita. This high level of CO2 production — compared to a relatively small population — indicates unsustainable and slow development, as well as low access to clean energy sources.
  6. There are only 26 registered refugees in Turkmenistan, but it is likely that this number is actually much higher. The United Nations Human Rights Commission once estimated 40,000 refugees in the nation but indicates that most of them have become naturalized citizens.
  7. In 2011, Transparency International named Turkmenistan as the third most corrupt country in the world; this corruption is preventing genuine change that could reduce poverty in the nation.
  8. According to the United Nations Development Program, Turkmenistan has an adult literacy rate of 99.6 percent, which is extremely high for a nation with such high poverty levels; this indicates strong education systems in the country.
  9. In 2012, Turkmenistan adopted the National Climate Change Strategy, which aimed to develop more efficient resource use, a greener economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
  10. According to the Turkmenistan government, 75 percent of the national budget was dedicated to the implementation of the National Programme (2007- 2020) on Improving Social and Living Conditions of People in 2012. This funding demonstrates at least an intention to improve the lives of Turkmenistan residents.

Based on these facts about poverty in Turkmenistan, the country has a lot of work to do. Plans need to be improved for reducing poverty, improving the standard of living and becoming more transparent as a nation. Government corruption also needs to be addressed before real change can be made.

Finally, Turkmenistan needs all the assistance it can get from organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank, as this will speed up the process of improving the lives of those in the country.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

wall-e_e-waste_dump
When you were little, you may have wondered where the souls of your deceased pets went, but have you ever wondered where defunct or discarded electronics go? After all, they have to be disposed somewhere. In the Ghanaian capital Accra is the Pearly Gate—or perhaps more appropriately the limbo—of the electronic dead.

Agbogbloshie (altogether now, come on: uh-g-bog-blo-shee), a suburb of the capital, is the world’s largest e-dumpsite. Here, many scrap dealers—mainly economic migrants from the poorest parts of Ghana—are busy toiling their days away dismantling non-figurative tons and tons of gadget remains. When their day at work is over, they return to nearby shantytown called Old Fadama whose sobriquet is—and I kid you not—“Sodom and Gomorrah.”

There are around 80,000 residents in this shantytown of around 3, 000 square feet. In order to retrieve metals and other sellable materials, children and young adults smash and burn these toxic. Operating without any safety equipment, most workers laboring in this horrendous condition die from cancer within their 20s. For many who work on the dumpsite, if they were to get injured or ill, medical care would be beyond their means, translating to s shortened life expectancy.

As for the living condition in “Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is the country’s biggest slum, they are appallingly precarious. Aside from being located adjacently to the world’s biggest e-dumpsite, the community also lacks basic sanitation such as running water, waste collection, and medical care. It is also estimated that around 49% of the inhabitants of this slum do not have any education at all.

Furthermore, due to the infamy brought with extreme impoverished, the district and its inhabitants are highly stigmatized in the Ghanaian society. Perhaps due to this attitude, this poisonous shantytown has long suffered negligence from the society at large. Despite the fact that there is pressure to relocate its inhabitants, an endeavor for which the Ghanaian government has allocated almost $13 million (in USD), this effort has been met with strong resistance from its targets. It is evident that the dwellers view the government’s effort as forced eviction rather than an attempt to improve their living standard.

The case of Old Fadama is not the only instance of extreme poverty and destitution in Accra. The People’s Dialogue on Human Settlement estimates that around 80% of the city’s residents live in slums—though with varying degrees of material inadequacy.

The situation in Agbogbloshie also raises the question of the responsibility that consumers all over the world must take with regard to their electronic consumption. Even though dumping their broken or unfashionable apparatuses in Ghana may provide the residents of Old Fadama with paltry incomes, their health and wellbeing are greatly compromised.

Where then should these electronic devices be disposed? By whom? And, perhaps, the most important questions of all in the cosmos of consumerism—what will be the cost and who will pay for it?

Peewara Sapsuwan

Photo: Trade 2 Save
Sources:
Think Africa PressThink Africa Press, The Guardian, e.tv Ghana, GhanaWeb

Future_Urban_Development
In a slew of recent press releases, the United Nations has expressed strong support for urban design with an aim to reducing urban sprawl. Over-crowding, out of control gasoline consumption for long commutes and a voracious appetite for land is responsible for some of the major problems facing humanity and the global environment; acknowledging this, Under Secretary General Joan Clos criticized the spontaneous development which many urban areas allow, instead of developing a coherent, sustainable plan.

In the recent past, urban density was directly linked to poor living conditions. Tenement housing was a social blight on every city it touched and contributed to uncounted deaths and hardship. Unceasing pavement contributes to joint degeneration, sewage systems can spread disease with unmatched efficiency when they fail, acid rain and smog conglomerate under the right geographical conditions and can become semi-permanent fixtures on the environment.

New technology and research means modern cities have the capacity to consolidate their populations in ways with no drawbacks. The potential benefits span from the ecological to the political to the social to the economic.

Ecologically, denser cities mean that the inevitable pollution which accompanies humans everywhere will be centralized and minimized–the area occupied by the city may become unusable by any other species, but the surrounding lands can be spared from needless development. Socially, a dense city which does not encourage automotive transportation inherently puts people into closer contact with others; instead of driving alone in a car, people walk among others, or take public transportation, where conversation and interaction is possible.

Economically, when people are not required to spend significant parts of their income on transportation, they are allowed more freedom in discretionary spending, which stimulates the economy. And all these improvements combine to make urban areas more politically stable, as happier, healthier people with a sense of community are less likely to riot or seek out lives of crime. Furthermore, a centralized population makes it easier for governments to provide top-of-the-line infrastructure and services to its constituents.

Designing or redesigning cities in this way is not without a plethora of obstacles. Automakers and oil companies would see huge hits to their profits if people had less incentive to drive everywhere and can be counted on to lobby hard to keep suburbs expanding. Individuals cannot be counted on to relish the idea of relocation, particularly if they deem new housing as worth less than what they currently have. As with any big transition, costly surveys and consultations will soak up massive amounts of public funds.

But the U.N. and its constituents have the power to counteract those obstacles with measures of its own. Clos suggested replacing gasoline subsidies with others, which encourage new uses of land. Independent studies, according to Alexander Felson of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, can provide major insights into the ecological aspects of urban design, and could operate from separate funds than those used by governments. Furthermore, businesses–nationalized or privatized–which currently have small markets could grow in influence to rival the old regime of petroleum-based industries and provide corporate power to the movement.

Urban development is not without precedent; Edinburgh, for example, was burdened by nearly unlivable conditions until James Craig, under the sponsorship of various sections of the royalty and nobility, won an open contest with a design which is still considered one of the finest examples in history, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the numerous differences between 18th century Scotland and the modern urban world, Edinburgh stands as an example to be aspired to and superceded. Hopefully, governments around the world will commit to the challenge and not leave the UN disappointed.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: WRAL, UN, Yale, Good Is
Photo: Oodles