In the last thirty years, the number of cities with a population of over ten million jumped from 10 to 34. Today, 55% of the world population lives in a city. And those numbers are only going up, which creates concerns since megacities face disproportionate effects of climate change due to their population densities and geographic locations. Today, we’ll break down some of the many environmental risks facing megacities, and some strategies to manage them. With special guest Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler: Director of the City Planning and Urban Affairs program at Boston University.
The megacities episode was the first episode that I had the opportunity to research. Coming from a background in writing that tends more towards global, broad issues as an International Relations and Environmental Policy student, I was excited to have to opportunity to do a deep dive into one specific topic. Having worked on other episodes now, I think that this is my favorite part about researching for the Podcast; having the time to really dive into all of the problems with a specific issue and all of the possible solutions.
That being said, megacities was definitely the hardest topic that I’ve had to research thus far. The impacts of these massive cities cover such a large range of areas between the environment, economy, equity, and public health that, to do the issue justice, an episode would have to be at least three hours long. Focusing in on the most important environmental challenges that megacities both face and create was a big goal for this episode. Highlighting how cities contribute greatly to climate change while simultaneously showing how they stand to lose the most in the disasters caused by climate change was vital to explaining the paradox that is a megacity. Additionally, I think the second biggest thing that I learned through this research was just how different these cities are in developing countries compared to cities in more developed regions. These differences are incredibly important to take into account when thinking about solutions to the issues caused by megacities and understanding that a one-size-fit-all solution is not viable.
Overall, megacities was an incredibly interesting topic to research. The exponential growth of these areas have created far-reaching impacts that will only continue to increase in intensity as more and more people move to cities. This creates an issue that will have to be dealt with sooner than later and in increasingly creative and viable ways. Hopefully, as cities continue to grow, the technology and infrastructure available for dealing with this growth will evolve simultaneously.
It seems like a lot of people have very strong opinions toward cities, whether they like them or not. I like cities, but am always open to ideas for improvement. So in speaking to Madhu and learning more about megacities, it was really striking how the issue isn’t a clear-cut cities are good or cities are bad. They have potential. And they face risks. And we need to manage the risks and capture the potential.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was especially interesting to think about megacities as they seem to be a frequent conversation topic. Here in Connecticut, everyone’s talking about the mass exodus of people and businesses from New York City, and how transportation will be down and people will be less dense. I learned through this episode that that’s a small sliver of the conversation around cities. Madhu’s thesis opened my eyes to the much more imminent threats posed by today’s climate challenges, which we discussed in episode 12. Being on coasts mostly, megacities are uniquely situated to face massive extreme weather events. And becoming resilient to them is as important as mitigating future carbon.
Enjoy the episode! Thanks for listening!