British urbanisation benefited from three major advantages: the numbers of people were relatively small, we dominated the world economy and we were able to export our surplus labour to North America and the colonies. Countries urbanising today must cope without these advantages and with far higher numbers of people. In this context, cities have coped surprisingly well to absorb surplus rural population, increase life expectancy and avoid the frequent epidemics that plagued British cities in the 19th century.
Cities are also the engines of social and economic development and create a disproportionate share of national wealth and government revenues (including finance for rural development). They also provide opportunities for community and individual initiative which reinforce a more democratic decision- making process. In short, they are a major success story in an unprecedented transformation of society.
It is, of course, true that cities are ecologically inefficient and Herbert Giradet's pioneering work provides us with the information to improve the management of all cities, not least our own. However, it would be unjust to conclude that cities are greedy parasites. This anti-urban bias has been the attitude of many governments and international agencies for the last two decades and has denied city authorities the level of support they need to make their cities work better.
Partnerships with communities and the private sector are certainly part of the answer, but first we must overcome the alarmist view that cities are fundamentally bad for us. That would only serve to pull the ladder up after those of us who are happily settled in them and deny others the opportunity to improve their chances in life.
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