Two Stories, One Encouraging, the Other Worrying

First is the incredible dynamism, energy and economic hope found in the great cities of the developing world. Most coverage of developing world cities concentrates on the problems: environment, overcrowding, shanty towns. But these cities represent the best hope of the world's poor nations. Modern myth has it that these cities are growing at unprecedented rates in an increasingly urbanized world. In fact the cities of the north grew at even greater rates in the 19th century. Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Calcutta, Buenos Aires and Rio all had more people moving out than moving in over the decade of the '80s. More than two-thirds of the world's cities with populations of more than 1 million were important cities 200 years ago. Miami and Phoenix grew more rapidly than Nairobi in the 20th century; Los Angeles more rapidly than Calcutta. Urban growth is generally good: rising levels of urbanization are strongly associated with growing and diversifying economies, and most of the nations in the south whose economic performance over the last 10 to 15 years is so envied by others are also the nations with the most rapid increase in their levels of urbanization. The developing worlds cities need to be celebrated and not lamented.

Less encouraging is the largely ignored story of climate change. All media have great difficulty in covering stories that develop over generations. Who in 1900 would have written about the changing role of women or the spread of democracy, two of the extraordinary shifts of the last century. The failure of the Kyoto conference on climate change to get significant action by the advanced, industrialized countries on climate change means that the problems will get far worse before there is any chance of them getting better.