Megacities: Love ‘em or Leave ‘em?
by Lawrence Downing
The headline on cover of the May 9, 2011 FORBES (FORBES.com) reads “MEGACITIES THE WORLD’S GREATEST OPPORTUNITY.” In three articles FORBES reports on the dramatic population shifts taking place around the world, examines the impact the megacities have on the business world. The articles describe how the people in the megacities have adapted to their situation and the how slum dwellers have learned not only to survive, but at times, thrive. The message in these articles is clear: The business world ignores the megacities to their peril. People, the authors found, have an astounding ability to adapt. Some of the world’s wealthiest people had their beginnings in slums. As I read the articles it became clear that the observations and conclusions set forth in the three articles are instructive to contemporary religious organizations.
SLUMDOGS Millions by Raquel Laneri (p. 100) lists the 21 megacities of 10 million people or more. There will be an additional 8 megacities by 2025. New York City and Los Angeles are the two US cities that meet the population criteria. As one who has for the past 14 years been working in one of these two megacities (Los Angeles) I read with interest the findings. Important to note: for the first time in history the majority of people live in cities! In the second article, “New Lands of Opportunity “by Edward Glaesser ( pp. 102) the author informs the reader that “…there is a one-in-eight chance that you are living in a slum in the developing world, desperately — often successfully — trying to improve your lot.” Glaesser’s examples of how people scrape by and at times succeed, illustrate the creative endeavors one finds among those who live in the slums. The third article, “Megaslums Salvation or Sinkhole?,” written by Helen Coster with Daniel Fisher and Michael Noer (p. 114), is a roundtable discussion via the internet among FORBES staff, contributors and readers from around the world, to the megacity data.
In the article, participants comment on the triumphalism surrounding slums and megacities, describe how people adapt and survive in the city, debate whether large cities are desirable or necessary, and define challenges such as infrastructure and crime that are part of highly urbanized centers. Participants are of the opinion that it is unrealistic to look for top-down government action to solve megacity problems. If those who live in the slums are to see their life improve, they will have to take responsibility for their own future and respond to opportunities that arise.
In a typical slum one will find community leaders, idle youth, entrepreneurs, company men, land barons, thieves, drunks, housewives, street jesters, and educated professionals. Often, an individual may be one or more of these at the same time. So what is the future of these megacities? When the oppressive conditions become too debilitating, people find a better place, often that place is an urban fringe or a less populated city. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, in its 2011 research effort, found that since 1990 “’built-up area densities’” have been dropping by roughly 2% a year, including in the developing world. The question the writer poses is this: “Rather than foster an urban form that demands heroic survival, perhaps we should focus on ways to create cities that offer a more healthful and even pleasant life for their citizens.” Consider this question: Is not providing this kind of service right up the Adventist alley? Health and pleasant life, a natural fit for what we count important! If we directed a significant portion of the resources now budgeted to traditional evangelistic methods, that have become less and less effective in the urban centers, and use those resources to establish health and happy life programs, who knows, someone might listen. Even better, think of the possibilities if we trained people who live in megacities to be the ones who work with those they know and live to teach others how to live a healthy life and how to have true happiness.
The White Memorial Medical Center, a major health-care facility, is located in one of the most economically depressed areas of Los Angeles. At the June 2011 White Memorial Medical Staff Meeting Dr. Hans Diehl, Director of Lifestyle Medicine Institute at Loma Linda, CA and founder of CHIPS (Coronary Health Improvement Project) was the guest speaker. In his lecture, Dr. Diehl explained how it is possible through diet alone to decrease cholesterol, lose weight, reverse arthrosclerosis and Type II Diabetes, and achieve other beneficial health outcomes.
The next day the conversation round the tables in the doctor’s dinning room was about the lecture the physicians had heard the previous day. The docs were enthralled by the presentation. One person said, “This was the most interesting lecture I’ve ever heard here at the hospital.” The person pointed to her plate and said, “Look, vegetables!” Think about it, if physicians can be charged up over a health lecture what response might one expect from urbanites with only elementary knowledge about health and diet should a trained person introduce them to a better way of life? We Adventists are experts on healthy living. We may struggle a bit when it comes to sharing how to have a happy life, but half the equation is better than none! The information is available. Trainers are ready to go and there are people who will benefit from what we have to share. So what’s stopping us? Readers, you know the answers better than I.