In the 1890's, Rudyard Kipling wrote of Calcutta:
"So it spread …
And above the packed and pestilential town
Death looked down."
Calcutta's condition hasn't improved since that time. Today, it has a population of over 8 million people spread 60 miles along the banks of a river. By 1999, it is estimated that its inhabitants will number 12 million, living in squalor and poverty.
In 1960, the world's population was 3000 million. Twenty-six years from now, that figure will have increased to between 6000 and 7500 million.
The implications are more severe than they appear, however. The overwhelming majority of that increase will take place in the world's cities, rather than being evenly distributed over the globe. In 1960, two thirds of the world's population made their living on the land, but from migration trends already apparent, it is estimated that by the end of this century only one third will be living on the land. By the time people who are now in their middle-twenties reach the age of fifty, a further 1467 million people will swell the ranks of the world's cities.
For most Australians, these rather awesome figures seem a remote abstraction. This continent, generally, has no population crisis. The city explosion, however, has already begun.
The present population of Melbourne stands at around 2 ½ million people; the result of over 100 years of settlement. Yet within 26 years, most experts agree that nothing can now be done to prevent that figure swelling to at least 4½ million, probably over 5 million. If Melbourne's suburbs already stretch from Footscray to Dandenong, and Coburg to Frankston to accommodate 2½ million people, the implications of that increase can begin to be understood. Governmental authorities readily admit that no policies introduced now would have any effect before 1990.
As the growth and change of the city becomes more sweeping and apparent many individuals begin to react against the overwhelming changes and attempt to establish a more stable order of things, as stability is equated with "reality". Alvin Toffler has written about this phenomenon in his book Future Shock. In order to find stability, members of the community are now actively protesting against and rejecting the effects of change, and they are also searching for an alternative.
Those pressure groups protesting against new freeways housing commission flats, "trendy" redevelopment of inner suburbs, clearance schemes, environmental destruction, are all symptoms of the growing opposition to change, though each cause has valid justification in its own right.
Similarly, the recent vogue of "Nostalgia" in art, film, music and fashion reflects the desire to hold on to the past. The culture of youth, in particular, is orientated in many ways towards the 1950s or even earlier decades. Change has become too rapid for people to be able to live out an era, and then go through a gradual transition to the next.
The Walden Syndrome
All these reactions tend to be a subconscious response to the insecurity induced by change in our society, but there is also a conscious level on which people are searching for an alternative. Accordingly, and not for the first time, there has been an attempt to return to the simple country life. In the 18th century, the back to nature movement was called the "Walden Syndrome". There was a strong current of feeling in the 18th century that cities were a source of corruption Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I view cities as pestilentia to the morals, the health and the liberties of man".
For those who have remained in the city, the revival of the Utopian ideal has taken the form of health food fads, and an upsurge of handicraft industries, but many people have taken active steps to live out the ideal. Communes and country retreats have sprung up everywhere, with accompanying publications such o The Whole Earth Catalog and Blueprint For Survival Because change in the country proceeds far more slowly than in the cities, it has a greater degree of "reality" and permanence for the alienated urban population
The "Walden Syndrome" of a return to nature is however, a reaction, and a reaction that is not a practical alternative for 2 ½ million people, given the expectations and demands of a consumer western society, or for that matter any urban society. Only by stopping wholesale urban growth can people be re-established in a secure "reality". Is such a reversal possible?
"… there is no city in the world which has managed to stop population growth. So it is not strange that all our plans have been failures. Because of such failure we are trying to ameliorate the present cities with urban renewal plans, but we are not achieving anything as the rate at which the problems are increasing is higher than the rate at which we can solve them so lot as we view the city statically".
(1967, Doxiadis, Director of the Athens Centre of Ekistics)
The attempt to plan for the future grows out of an attempt to catch the dynamic process. The mind attempts to freeze what is in constant change. Even the procedures devised to take account of growth rates and change factors try to hold on to the process As the process of change grows faster, so the predicti time and planning possibility declines. Town planners once looked 50 years ahead with certainty. Today, they can only plan for five years hence, on any secure basis.
The Problem Gets Bigger
The populations of Melbourne and Sydney will double within 30 years. That is as far ahead as the planners call look. Unless something drastic occurs between now and then, it is certain that the next doubling will not take anything like 30 years. The problem gets bigger, the time gets shorter, the social frictions grow.
Those who oppose the freeways, housing commission flats, redevelopment projects, destruction of natural environment, do so with justification, but the population of the city demands the living standard, goods, communications, and social amenities which make necessary the destructive aspects of change. The drift continues from country to city areas because of these desires which are the result of our conditioning. To fulfill the desires of the majority of the population, urban living is a necessity.
"If we follow this road, there is no way out. Our cities cannot survive in their present form. The dynamic cities of the present are being led towards their destruction" concludes Doxiadis.
In Australia we have nothing to compare with Calcutta, yet our cities, too, are beginning to strangle themselves A reflection of each individual's values and desires.