To accomodate the many millions of mostly poor rural migrants streaming into megacities in the developing world, planners must prevail in establishing a grid -- the framework for future urban expansion. That was the message from Joan Clos, executive director of UN-HABITAT, the United Nations organization concerned with helping developing world cities establish basic services, housing, and infrastructure, at a symposium last week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The event, co-sponsored by the Lincoln Institute, honored the SPURS fellowship at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, a program for international mid-career professionals.
“The street pattern is the foundation of urban planning," said Clos, citing the work of Solly Angel, who in Planet of Cities calls for minimal preparations for massive urban expansion.
As it stands, most cities poised for explosive growth seem woefully unprepared. Those moving to cities in search of a better life are going straight to the slums. In sub-Saharan Africa, Close says, 65 percent of the urban population is in informal settlements. Slums in general, he says, range from 200,000 to 750,000 in size; for comparison, the entire city of Boston is a bit over 600,000. Families live in 10 by 10-foot spaces with a crude cooking stove and no toilet, and wait in – or more often bail out of -- long lines for public restrooms.
By starting with the basics, Clos said, these growing cities would do well to look at the grid created by the planning commissioners in New York City. The zoning, regulations, real estate development composition, and modes of transport changed many times in the two centuries that followed, but the basic framework of the grid has endured. More on Clos's remarks can be viewed at The Atlantic Cities.
Senior fellow Armando Carbonell helped inaugurate the two-day symposium at MIT, describing much of what was discussed as an exercise in building in resilience. Martim Smolka, director of the Lincoln Institute's Latin America program, also served as a commentator following remarks by Medellin mayor Anibal Gaviria Correa. Planning needs its heroes "and its meccas," Smolka said, noting the successes of many interventions such as a tram network in Medellin. But the question remains, he said, how leadership emerges in struggling cities.