There is more sex in the city; the majority of the world’s seven billion people are now urban-dwellers. Last year the China Association of Mayors announced that China has reached that milestone itself, and other fast-growing parts of the world are urbanizing feverishly as well. India will add almost another 500 million to its cities by 2050. Nigeria, whose urban population grew by only 65 million between 1970 and 2010, is expected to add 200 million between 2010 and 2050. Many parts of Latin America are majority-urban already. About 85% of Brazil is in cities.
Where are all these people going to live and what will be the quality of their lives? And where should planners turn for ideas and innovations in the new urban living? Should they take a tour of Antilla, the 27-story Mumbai home of billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his wife, Nita, featured recently in Vanity Fair? Or should they drive a few miles down the road toward the Mumbai airport and check out Annawadi, the subject of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Katherine Boo’s new book about life in the most wretched of slums?
We think Annawadi may be a better bet. The best innovations are responses to the most severe unmet needs. In Annawadi—or, for that matter, in Kibera in Nairobi or Zabaleen in Cairo or Heliopolis in Sao Paulo—there is no shortage of unmet needs. And there is no shortage of people with such needs, since there are almost a billion slum dwellers around the world, expected to grow to 2 billion by 2030. Slums offer an informal global network of living laboratories. Each offers a staggering variety of local solutions to universal urban problems that are rapidly catching up with all of us.
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