Simanaitis Says

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GIVEN THAT YOU’RE an Earthling, the probability is better than half that you live in an urban area. In the United States, this increases to 80 percent. So it’s most appropriate that Science, the weekly magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, focused its May 20, 2016, issue on the Urban Planet. It’s filled with tidbits that I share here, some predictable and others surprising.


AAAS Science, May 20, 2-16

In “Rise of the City,” a multi-faceted infographic details urbanization trends. The 54 percent of the world’s population now living in urban areas has grown from one-third in 1950. Urbanization is projected to rise to 66 percent by 2050.


The Rise of the City. These and other images from AAAS Science, May 20, 2016.


It isn’t that today’s urbanites all live in big cities. More than half of us reside in cities of fewer than 1 million people. However, there are 28 megacities around the world, each with more than 10 million. Most prominent in the U.S. are the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. Asia and Africa hosts the world’s fastest growing cities. Indeed, as shown in one portion of the graphic, Asian urbanization appears the most sensitive to vulnerable wildlife.

Another of the Science articles, “Vancouver’s Green Dream,” by Kenneth R. Weiss, discusses how this Canadian city is promoting efficiency of urban expansion. Vancouver is the first city in North America using sewage for heat generation. Treated resources supply hot water to commercial buildings and 6000 residences, some built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The treatment plant, modeled after one in Oslo, Norway, was more costly to build, but far less expensive to operate than a conventional one.

One challenge is the inherent inefficiency of city skyscrapers and their millions of square feet of glass. Traditional glass-curtain architecture is notorious for leaking heat; improved glazing materials are available, but costly to refit.


Red reveals heat leaking from towers in downtown Vancouver. The image at right combines the photograph of visible light with a false-color thermal scan.

In “China Rethinks Cities,” Dennis Normile recounts how this country is revising its urban goals after decades of reckless growth. This is all the more important, Normile notes, what with China’s urban population doubling between 1978 and 2010 with a tripling of its urbanized areas.

Normile observes, “Just a few steps separate one of the worst examples of China’s recent urbanization from one of the best.” He notes that earlier planning fostered “Soviet-inspired wide streets, huge blocks, and massive buildings, and then added U.S.-style highways and ring roads radiating ever farther from city centers.” Evolving gated communities for the wealthy only complicated the urban landscape.


The Liuyun Xiaoqu neighborhood of Guangzhou, China, is a new model for China’s city planning.

By contrast, today’s Liuyun Xiaoqu is a verdant neighborhood about 5 kilometers from the city core of Guangzhou. Small streets once clogged by cars have given way to walkways and planters. Boutiques, cafes, and groceries cluster at ground level in the midsize apartment buildings.

Other articles in this special issue of Science focus on psychological aspects of urban life, urban sustainability, health concerns including a potential plague of rats, transportation issues and other infrastructure concerns, including water.

Three graphics about water caught my eye: the world’s areas of physical and economic water scarcity, populations with improved drinking water, and those connected to sewers.


Data source: International Water Management Institute.

Curiously, though the American Southwest is tagged as physically challenged, Southern California is not. Our lawns, following government recommendations, look otherwise.


A good puzzle: Identify the countries in red.

Using 80 percent as a cutoff, most people of the world have access to improved drinking water sources. The exceptions include much of Central Africa, Madagascar, Mongolia, Laos, Cambodia and Papau New Guinea. Full disclosure: I had to consult a map with identifiers for this last one.


One measure of urbanization is the infrastructure of sewers.

A paucity of data is an interesting aspect of this map. Also, curiously, North America trails behind all of Europe, Australia and even Morocco and Algeria. Whatever do you suppose?

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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