It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more than 30 cities of 10 million residents, with Shanghai among the largest of them…

The challenge to make the cities of the world, and especially the so-called mega-cities work as sustainable places, or at the very least, as agglomerations of many sustainable places. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more than 30 cities of 10 million residents, with Shanghai among the largest of them.

Some metropolitan regions in Asia are expected to reach 30-40 million inhabitants. The cities have been identified as the major sources of air pollution (leading to climate change); of water contamination and depletion of supply (endangering millions of people and causing global conflicts); of excessive fossil fuel consumption (principally because of electric power generation and the growth in personal automobiles); of the consumption of materials made from non-renewable resources; and, of the depletion of agricultural land through low density sprawl and expansive waste management. Even the projected depletion of forests and the endangerment of the oceans’ coral reefs can be traced to the excessive consumption of building materials and food preferences in many of the cities of the world.

Today, the need for coordinated, holistic, visionary and sustainable management of the cities of the world has never been more critical. The quality of the environment and the quality of life for residents is at risk, in the midst of new science and technologies that may, or may not lead to positive changes.

As the communities get large—both in population and land coverage—the expenses of development and maintenance are inflated. The financial support of new growth, and its sources, becomes more and more difficult to manage— while the new growth at the edges drains resources for maintenance and rehabilitation from the older city sections. There are growing economic inequities, internal to the cities, amid dramatic influences from external migrations and informal, illegal settlements—especially in the developing nations. It seems that the greater the economic success of a city/region, the greater the pressures become for social equity–in all forms: health, housing, human services, employment, income distribution, education, environmental justice—in general, the quality of Life.

Urban growth management and planning for sustainability have become the major challenges of the 21st century for managers, planners, designers and civic officials.

—Cecil Steward

Steward will be a presenter at the University of Hawaii’s Fifth International Symposium on Asia Pacific Architecture, on April 9-11.