Worldwatch Paper #147: Reinventing Cities for People and the Planet

June 1999
Molly O'Meara
ISBN: 1-878071-49-1
94 pages

Cities are home to more people than ever before. In 1900, only 160 million people, one tenth of the world's population, were city dwellers. But soon after 2000, in contrast, half the world (3.2 billion people) will live in urban areas--a 20-fold increase in numbers.

In this urbanizing world, cities hold the key to achieving a sustainable balance between the Earth's resource base and its human energy. Industrialization in developing countries has led to urban health problems on an unprecedented scale. China, for instance, has reported 3 million deaths from urban air pollution over two years. Cities around the world affect not just the health of their people but the health of the planet. Urban areas take up just 2 percent of the world's surface but consume the bulk of vital resources.

In this paper, author Molly O'Meara shows that changes in six areas -- water, waste, food, energy, transportation, and land use -- are needed to make cities and the vast areas they affect better for both people and the planet. Cities can align their consumption with realistic needs, produce more of their own food and energy, and put much more of their waste to use. Citizens and local leaders from Curitiba, Brazil, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, are already showing the way as they overcome financial and political obstacles to put these ideas into action.