Growing Cities   Leave a comment

​The growth of the number and size of our cities is dramatic. In the year 1800 only Beijing was over 1 million people. One hundred years later, in 1900, there were twelve; by 1950, eighty-three. By March 2015, 536 cities surpass one million inhabitants.
Our cities are more numerous, but also larger in scale. In 1950 only two of the world’s cities were home to over ten million people: Toyko and New York. Mexico City joined the ranks in 1957. In March 2015, thirty-two cities are over ten million and thirteen of those cities are larger than twenty million, with Tokyo clocking in at an unprecedented 39.4 million.
An equally dramatic increase in the world’s population is taking place. The United Nations estimates that in 2011 the world’s population reached seven billion. It took twelve years to grow from six to seven billion people; it took almost 2000 years to grow our first billion. This population growth is taking place in cities. The United Nations’ State of the World Population 2011 estimates that one in two people live in cities today, and in thirty-five years two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.
A grand migration
Geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells has a time machine. In 1987, scientists found that all humans share an African great-great… grandmother who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. We also share an African great-great… grandfather who lived approximately 60,000 years ago. For Wells, these two points in time, where genetic data coalesce, indicate that there were no modern humans living outside Africa prior to 60,000 years ago. Using genetic markers in our DNA, Wells has mapped the human population’s journey from a tribal village in Africa to the expanse of the planet.
This migration happened fast. Wells plots it over the course of a calendar year. Imagine ‘New Year’s Day’ is twenty three million years ago, when apes appear. At the end of October our first hominid ancestors walk upright; only by December 28 do our first modern ancestors appear in Africa. It isn’t until new Year’s Eve that modern humans leave Africa to populate the world. For Wells, it was the first big bang of human evolution  and it took place in an evolutionary eye-blink. This leaves us with a big question: what sparked our ancestors’ mass migration on New Year’s Eve? What sparked their drive to brave unknown and unfamiliar terrain?
To travel, we constantly adapted to life in conditions that were unfamiliar; we grew and evolved our understanding of the world as we migrated – and in order to migrate. Wells wonders if one single fortuitous event changed the course of human evolution, if the right person was in the right place at the right time that provided the spark, but the truth is we just don’t know. This all took place before our traditional recorded history, but we do know that three archeological shifts took place around 60,000 years ago (Wells):
First, the tools used by humans became far more diverse and made more efficient use of stone and other materials. Second, art makes its first appearance, and with it a presumed leap in conceptual thought. And finally, it is around this time that humans began to exploit food resources in a far more efficient way. All-in-all, the evidence points to a major change in human behaviour [sic].
We began to think new things, make new things and do new things.
There is a pattern within us that generates and regenerates our cities:


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