When looking at the definition of the term ‘megacity’, we can observe an upward trend in numbers, again the development of our world is described by the word ‘more’. What was ‘mega’ 30 years ago, is to be considered only relatively big today. In the 1980s, a city with a population of 5 million people was accepted to be big enough to be called a ‘megacity’. Today the number doubled and a megacity has 10 million (or more) inhabitants.
Interestingly, poorer cities are growing far more rapidly than the more established and wealthier megacities, leading to a geographical shift of most meagcities being located in the global South. We can observe a difference in the social and economic drivers behind the growth of the cities: if in the 19th and 20th century the largest cities in the North placed their focus on major infrastructure by building roads, schools and hospitals, today the cities in the global South are growing exponentially in their informal parts, where there is no access to education and healthcare, and attract people who escape from rural poverty and conflict. Hence, it comes to the formation of a social and economic barrier between the formal and informal parts of the city, with the latter often being even more numerous than the former. As a consequence, ‘informal citizens’ often develop alternative and illicit forms of economy, and communities establish their own rules – unconventional ways of living emerge. We may judge them as chaotic but they still seem to function in those realities.
Cities such as Mumbai and Lagos, also referred to as ‘immature megacities’, are prominent examples of cities facing the split between irrational and rational, raising important questions on urban planning and the future and consolidation of megacities. In the article El Sur Global: Future Resilient City Brillembourg, Klumpner and Kalagas (2015) reflect upon how to tackle the struggles cities are encountering in responding to the unfolding realities of informal cities and favelas. Questioning the role of the architect in such cities, they embrace the vision of John Habraken “a future where architects would design building frameworks while residents assumed responsibility for customised infill development over time”. When discussing sustainability, they address the social dimension of it, stressing that social needs must be “translated into physical form” (Brillembourg,Klumpner and Kalagas, 2015). Therefore the answer lies in the concept of open buildings, mixed-use, reversible structures able to adapt and respond to the constant changing needs of the city inhabitants. Ultimately “a design mechanism to create and foster productive urban growth.” (Brillembourg,Klumpner and Kalagas, 2015).
I found the arguments and solutions suggested by Brillembourg,Klumpner and Kalagas thought provoking and many were new to me. I had never thought of the social component of sustainability, probably because environmental issues generally shout louder at me than social ones. Although informal cities and favelas are a reality far away from our daily lives, they are still present and the social inequalities within many big cities are becoming greater. We have to think about how to solve the already existing problems and carefully plan to avoid them in the future.