The Future is Now: Urban Asia in the 21st Century: Panel 3 & Closing Remarks
More than 90 people participated in the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future conference “The Future is Now: Urban Asia in the 21st Century.” The conference was held Oct. 8 in the Metcalf Trustee Center on Boston University’s campus.
Experts from Boston University and elsewhere explored various aspects of the social and environmental impacts of urbanization in Asia. The all-day conference was co-sponsored by Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, the Initiative on Cities, the Center for the Study of Asia, Global Programs India Initiatives, and the Center for Global Health and Development, in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and BU’s Metropolitan College.
The overarching theme of each panel was the impacts urbanization has and will have in Asian cities. The panelists noted that cities in Asia are not blank slates—they aren’t being built from scratch— but are urban landscapes being built on top of existing ones. Several speakers said that these “new” cities must be shaped not only by the large infrastructure that defines cities, but by paying attention to and meeting human needs, especially the needs of poor people. During the course of the day, they discussed specific examples in cities ranging from Singapore, Shanghai, and Beijing to Jarkarta, Phnom Penh, Kolkata, and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The third panel discussed how urbanization fuels global environmental change (climate change, loss of agricultural land, etc.). BU Professor Susan Foster spoke of how lifestyle changes associated with urbanization, such as “fast food” diets and smoking, can lead to increased health risks including diabetes, stroke, and cancer. She talked specifically about government programs in China that encourage people to smoke as a means of supporting the local tobacco industry. The associated health problems dramatically increase health care costs, which can place a significant strain on family spending, she noted.
Urban dwellers in Asia will be affected by environmental, societal, and economic impacts of climate change. “Finding ways to adapt to climate change within existing resource constraints is essential to avert or lessen the risks of climate related impacts,” said Madhu Dutta-Koehler (Adjunct Professor, Metropolitan College, BU). The coupling of planning objectives related to climate risk management and developmental initiatives that produce synergistic outcomes – such as preserving significant urban wetland areas as protection against flooding and for water quality improvement — increases the likelihood that such measures will be prioritized, funded, and implemented by city-level public agencies, she said.