What Can We Learn From Above About Our Urbanization?

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The U.S.-Mexico border separating Calexico, California, and Mexicali, Mexico.

Katherine Bagley, Managing Editor at Yale Environment 360 (Yale e360, one of our go-to sources on this platform), has this to say:

From High Above, A New Way of Seeing Our Urban Planet

The world’s cities are expected to grow by another 2.5 billion people by 2050. A new collection of satellite images starkly illustrates the sheer size and imprint of the world’s urban centers and their vulnerability in the face of population growth and climate change.

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February 10, 1977. Population 43,000. LANDSAT OLI/TIRS

Driven by rapid economic expansion and global trade, the world’s urban population has more than quintupled since the mid-20th century, from 751 million people in 1950 to 4.2 billion today. Centuries-old cities have pushed upward and outward to accommodate the influx of people, and entirely new megacities, home to tens of millions, have sprung up.

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February 7, 2016. Population 10.8 million. LANDSAT OLI/TIRS

Nowhere can this swift urban growth be seen as vividly as from space. In their new book City Unseen, geographers Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba, experts in urbanization and global change, offer a collection of satellite images from all seven continents that exhibit the massive imprint these cities have on the landscapes around them.

“If you look at images of Las Vegas and Lagos and Shenzhen, you see how much land it takes to house billions people, and it’s astonishing,” Seto, a professor of geography and urbanization science at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, says. “But the impact of urbanization is not only the direct land these people live on. It’s all these other non-urban places where we need to extract resources to house and electrify, to operate these cities. That’s part of the story too.”

The photos compiled by Seto and Reba have been manipulated to show near-infrared colors that delineate development and land use, offering a new perspective on the impacts of this rapid urban expansion. These images illustrate the stark differences in development on each side of international borders; the competition between urban expansion and agriculture, especially in developing nations; the way rivers can influence and define urban growth; and the way extractive industries can transform a landscape. The images also powerfully demonstrate the fragility and vulnerability of the world’s cities — striking in the face of the United Nations’ projection that there will be 2.5 billion more people living in urban centers by 2050 than today.

Originally a small fishing village in southeastern China, Shenzhen was transformed when it became the country’s first Special Economic Zone in 1980 and the site of experimental economic reforms. It was China’s fastest-growing city for more than two decades, with its population exploding from 43,000 in 1977 to 10.8 million in 2016. Rice fields and fish ponds became factories and skyscrapers, and the city filled in coastal wetlands to make room for more development…

Read the whole story here.

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