Population growth making largest cities unlivable, study says

November 20, 1990|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The world's fastest-growing cities are also the least livable and are doomed to deteriorate further unless developed countries do more to help Third World countries reduce birth rates, according to a study of the world's 100 most-populous metropolitan areas.

The two-year study, sponsored by the Washington-based Population Crisis Committee, concludes that fertility of urban communities has outstripped economic development as the primary cause of urban growth.

As a result, the cities least able to sustain basic living standards -- generally in underdeveloped or developing Third World countries -- are growing faster than those with more resources and better-developed infrastructures, found mostly in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Tokyo-Yokohama is far and away the most populous metropolitan area, with 28.7 million people, but it ranks with San bTC Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (5.2 million) and Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto (16.8 million) as having the fifth-highest standard of living.

On the other hand, Mexico City, whose 19.4 million population makes it the world's second-largest city, is rated one of the worst places to live. And with a growth rate of 3.8 percent, it is expected to eclipse Tokyo-Yokohama in size before the turn of the century, the study says.

The worst city by far to live in, the study says, is Lagos, Nigeria (4 million population). Ranking only slightly better are Kinshasa, Zaire (3.2 million) and Dhaka, Bangladesh (4.3 million). Cities of Africa, Asia and South America dominate the least-livable category.

None of the 14 U.S. cities in the top 100 is rated as having less than "good" living standards. In fact, 10 are among the 21 cities with the highest rating of "very good."

Seattle-Tacoma (2.4 million) ties with Melbourne (3 million) and Montreal (3 million) as being the most livable.

Two U.S. metro areas cross national boundaries: Detroit and Windsor, Canada, are rated together as third best; San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, although rated at the bottom of the U.S. list, are considered 21st overall. Baltimore was not rated.

Only one Third World metro area -- the city-state of Singapore -- gets a "very good" rating, while Taipei, Hong Kong and Ankara are the only ones considered "good." Of the 54 "fair" or "poor" cities, 53 are in the Third World.

The PCC based its ratings on 10 aspects of city life: murder rate, food costs vs. income, people per room, proportion of homes with water and electricity, telephone availability, percentage of secondary school pupils, infant mortality, noise, traffic flow and air pollution.

Africa is fast turning from tragedy to horror, according to the study. The continent already has more city-dwellers than North America. With a 5 percent urban growth rate, its cities will double in size in 12 to 20 years. By 2015, the committee says, they will be bulging with more than 666 million people -- almost three times as many as in North America's cities.

The world's cities will expand by 1.5 billion, placing more than half the world's 7.6 billion people in urban areas. The rural population will increase over the next 20 years by 423 million, mostly in poorer countries.

Urban problems in many less-developed countries "will worsen substantially through the coming decade and beyond as population growth outruns investments in new urban infrastructures," said Sharon L. Camp, PCC vice president.

Cities in better-developed countries, she said, will face problems common to all urban conglomerations: air pollution, traffic congestion, violence, noise and the need to refurbish crumbling infrastructures.

"But with their slower rates of population growth, greater financial resources and more highly educated populations, the cities of the developed world are much better prepared to resolve urban problems," Ms. Camp said.

In an interview yesterday, PCC President Joseph Speidel commended Congress for voting to increase U.S. spending on population planning -- $250 million -- by $50 million this year, the first increase in five years. But he said current worldwide spending needed to increase 10-fold to avert a looming catastrophe.

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