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Articles in "Features"

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Baltimore was the sixth-largest city in the United States in 1950, home to nearly 1 million people. But over the next 50 years, nearly a third of that population seeped away. The city fell out of the nation’s top 10 and wrestled painfully with the challenges of urban decline.

If we are in the midst of the "century of cities," then the world's mayors will be in the spotlight more than ever before as they try to solve the most pressing urban problems. That has been the case for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has made headlines for bold approaches to issues such as public health and climate change. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy this past fall, Bloomberg, a 1964 Johns Hopkins University graduate, took time to answer SAISPHERE's questions about rebuilding a city in the wake of a natural disaster, as well as the roles cities and their mayors must play in leading policy change to benefit the public.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world's population lives in cities. An estimated 200,000 people move from rural to urban areas every day—about enough to create a new New York City every month. More than 90 percent of this migration is occurring in developing countries.

The term “smart cities”has come into vogue in recent years and, like many short-hand expressions—sustainability, globalization, the digital age, to name a few others—it is an important concept, but neither simple nor well defined. Although most commentators build into their description of a smart city the wide use of information and communication technology (ICT), they argue, sometimes consistently, and sometimes not, that a smart city is more than a digitized city—that is, more than a city with a well-developed ICT hardware infrastructure.

An initiative launched in 2011 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff stands at the vanguard of policy innovation to spur inclusive and equitable economic development through sustainable and resilient urban investment. Showcased at the Rio+20 Conference in June, the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS) aims to catalyze infrastructure investment in “smart cities,” beginning with Philadelphia and Rio de Janeiro. Building on Philadelphia’s aspiration to become a leading “green city,” and recognizing the reality that Rio de Janeiro must undertake extensive infrastructure investment before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, the JIUS (pronounced “juice”) strives to create a new paradigm for integrated urban investment that is socially and environmentally sound.

On July 30, seven states in Northern India went completely dark. A catastrophic power failure brought commerce and daily life to a complete halt. But that was not all. On a scorching hot summer day, the main water stations in New Delhi also shut down, leaving nearly 17 million people with dry taps.

Erik Jones

 et al.

World cities are shaped as much by their own histories and ambitions as by their relationships with each other and the rest of the world. This is the story of New York, London and the financial crisis that threatens to pull them apart. The narrative starts with the fierce competition between the two cities in the first years of the new century and ends with the spate of scandals that rocked the transatlantic banking community in the early 2010s.

The Arab awakening of 2011Ð12 is usually characterized as a series of national events: the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, Yemeni and Syrian revolutions. We likewise say that no revolution has occurred (yet) in Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Repression has so far succeeded in Bahrain.

Most insurgencies have been quintessentially rural struggles. Guerrilla bands have historically relied on dense, leafy jungles and rugged mountains to organize clandestine resistance movements. But urbanization and population growth have contributed to the rise of campaigns in teeming cities such as Baghdad and Damascus. This trend toward urban insurgencies likely will have a profound impact on the nature of insurgency and counterinsurgency.

The eldest daughter of a family from a Colombian village worked at a local grocery store to help support her family. Learning of promising work in the United States, the girl relocated to earn a better income. Upon arrival, she was forced into prostitution, held in debt bondage and told that if she tried to escape, her family back in Colombia would be harmed. For five years she was moved to several different brothels throughout the United States and was unable to seek outside help.

South America’s famed megacities are among the most heavily populated in the world.Consider four of the largest metropolitan areas in the region: São Paulo (19.96 million), Rio de Janeiro (11.84 million), Lima (8.77 million) and Bogotá (8.26 million). Lima and Bogotá are the capital cities of their countries. Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil until the 1960s, when the capital moved inland to the city of Brasília. São Paulo is the largest metropolis and industrial complex on the subcontinent.

Medellin, Colombia, is a city of 2.5 million inhabitants nestled in a picturesque valley of tropical green. It is called the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its amicable year-round climate. Despite its natural beauty, the city is better known for its dark side. Mention of Medellin often conjures up images such as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, the cocaine trade, guerrilla troops, paramilitary death squads and horrific levels of violence. The city’s grim past has changed to an increasingly bright future, thanks to a dynamic group of national and local politicians, businessmen and nongovernmental organization workers—overseeing what has come to be called the “Medellin Miracle.”

Growing up in what by the 1980s was the biggest metropolis in the world, my friends and I thought we were very tough. Taking to heart the naïve view that “things that do not kill you make you stronger,” there was plenty to choose from in Mexico City. To name but a few, the city had the worst quality air anywhere, and we still managed to play soccer, basketball and water polo at 7,300 feet above sea level without collapsing. We learned fortitude and patience from the three-plus hours lost in traffic as we fulfilled our daily obligations. We developed good negotiating skills, given that by 18 or 19 years of age we each had been mugged at knife or gunpoint at least a couple times without suffering major consequences. Of course, our smugness was baseless because we were among the lucky minority to have been raised in middle-class or well-to-do households, and therefore our exposure to the dangers and hazards of the city were minuscule in relative terms.



Karachi, the “City of Lights,” is a metropolis bursting with life. It is, in many ways, a microcosm of Pakistan—a culturally rich, young and engaged nation—yet it simultaneously amplifies the country’s failings on a daily basis. Karachi’s shortfalls are splashed across news outlets in headlines portraying a disastrous forecast attributed to an array of social, political and economic drivers. But despite the troubling press and claims of “Karachipocalypse” inside the city itself, the reality is a mosaic of distinct experiences.

Along the periphery of Cape Town, the shantytown of Khayelitsha extends across the Cape Flats from the main highway to the horizon, a broad field of glinting tin, cardboard and plastic sheeting. The best current estimates place the population above 400,000, a community larger than Atlanta or Miami. This informal settlement is rivaled in size by Nairobi's Kibera slum, where 300,000 live in even more dire circumstances, without access to sanitation, electricity or effective public transport. The predicament of these slum dwellers is offset by the dynamism of downtown Cape Town

Cities are agents of change—economic, political, geostrategic, technological and cultural—transforming domestic societies and the world beyond their boundaries. Contemporary China is urbanizing faster than any other significant part of the planet and therefore catalyzing domestic and global change. Rome and Athens shaped their worlds militarily, economically, politically and culturally in pre-modern times. British cities propelled the age of global industry, commerce and empire. And as American cities have fostered technological, popular culture, political and financial transformations in the 20th and 21st centuries, the next wave of urban-induced change will be propelled by the explosive development of Chinese cities.

In the story of human history, the city quickly emerges as the main protagonist, leaving the countryside in a supporting role. As historian Samuel Kramer tells it in his widely read account, it was with the rise of the ancient city of Sumer that “history begins.” There, the development of an urban way of life accompanied by specialization and commercial activity added impetus to the development of many new technologies. The need for sophisticated record keeping, for example, went hand-in-hand with the revolutionary development of cuneiform script.