Caught your attention, didn’t it?

It caught mine.  I read this article by Claire Berlinski in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune in which she writes “try to imagine another way in which bad urban policy could kill 1 million people in 30 seconds”.  What is she talking about?  Seismic risk mitigation in cities.  How cities can be better prepared for earthquakes.

Berlinski writes that “the odds of more Haiti-scale destruction are growing by the day because the world is urbanizing.  Two hundred years ago, Peking was the only city in the world with a population of 1 million people.  Today, almost 500 cities are that big, and many are much bigger.”  Eight of the world’s 10 biggest cities are built on fault lines.  Why?  Read the article. 

But the greater subject is how the rapidly urbanizing world is changing our way of life.  The time we live in is now being described as the Urban Millennium.  Somewhere in the middle of the last decade over half our world’s population became urban dwellers.  More people now live in cities than at any time on earth.

Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums (2006) describes current conditions in the world’s largest urban areas.  Davis warns that if the inequities and injustices experienced by our urban poor (over 1 billion) are not addressed we should expect unprecedented turmoil, violence and upheaval.

Earlier this month many of us shook our heads over the riots in London and in other British urban centers.  The rioters were not innocent.  But can anyone suggest that the solution is so simple as punishment after identifying them through Britain’s thousands of security cameras?

The stakes are higher in the 21st century.  Our urban places more challenging.  The need very great for public policy and personal involvement to make the world’s urban places more safe, more just.