City life or slum strife? The effects of urbanization

by Kiara Velasquez on February 21, 2014

Beijing, Cairo, New York City, Manila, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires are some of the biggest cities in the world. The current number of city dwellers is around 3.5 billion people worldwide, the highest it has ever been in history. As world population increases, the United Nations expects that by the year 2050 the number of inhabitants in cities will double. The expansion of urban living is known as urbanization, and from the looks of it, urbanization seems inevitable. It is important to be aware of the positive and negative effects that urbanization has on our environment and health.

Beijing Skyline

Cities attract people mainly for the immense amount of opportunities that they offer. They bring chances for success, improvement, jobs, and education. Compared to rural areas cities are more efficient. They make most of a land in an industrial sense; they can hold a large population with a small amount of land, there is access to many resources, and progression can be seen all around. Cities spark innovation and promote the advancement of technology, architecture, art, education, and industrialization. Another major positive impact that cities create is diversity. All types of people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and ideals flock to cities which create for a very unique and rich environment. With such a great mix of people, cities enable people to share information and grow in all different aspects. Many barriers can be broken and new movements in politics, arts, and technology can be made. Cities allow its inhabitants to reap all of the knowledge and resources available to them.

Despite the benefits of a city-life, there are also negative aspects. When the land of a city has become too small to support the amount of people who have migrated there, slums form. Slums are overcrowded neighborhoods with substandard housing and poor living conditions. There are said to be over 200,000 of these communities in the world. About 90% of slums are in developing countries such as India and Brazil, however slums can also be found around the largest European and American cities. Slums are more overcrowded, less sanitized, and more violent than the cities they surround. Slums do not have proper sewage or easy access to clean water, creating polluted water that causes diseases among those who use “slum” water. There is such an insufficient amount of usable water that

“an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than
the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire
day” (United Nations Development Programme, 2006).

Health aid for the diseased is rarely available and diseases are much more contagious due to the living conditions of slum residents. Slums do not have much law enforcement; many violent acts of theft and domestic violence (especially to women and children) are done without any consequences. Children are not able to receive proper education and most families are so poor that banks resist giving them any financial help because they are considered “unbankable”. The creation of slums is probably the biggest negative impact that city-life has influenced.

Slums in Rio de Janeiro

Slums in Rio de Janeiro


Slums in Detroit.

Slums in Detroit.

Although urbanization is inevitable, there are ways that we can prevent the development of such unlivable slums. Many organizations who are promoting this prevention refer to this process as “urban/slum upgrading”. The main purposes of such organizations are to reduce urban poverty, improve their standard of living, and to get governments to address their urban poverty issue. Some banks are trying to create programs that allow the poor to have a better financial standing. Other organizations focus on providing the poor better housing; volunteer programs such as Habitat for Humanity builds and repairs houses for those in need. Some believe that in order to prevent slum development, governments need to offer more jobs in the cities or focus more on rural development. Despite all of the efforts made, society needs to spread more awareness on slum development and stress how harmful slums are to the health of its inhabitants in order to prevent further slums from growing.


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