Friday, October 14, 2011

Imagine Better -- Writer's Poke #327


According to a Forbes.com article, by the year 2030, 5 billion of the world’s 8 billion people will live in cities, but it isn’t the urban lifestyle that most of us might imagine in the United States. Rather, 2 billion people will be living in slums.

I don’t think any of us can really imagine what it is like to live in a slum. Can you imagine, for example, what it is like for 600,000 slum dwellers in Mumbai, India, to live in one square mile? For sake of comparison, consider the geographic size of Rochester, Minnesota. Rochester has just over 100,000 people in its geographic boundaries, but how big is Rochester from north to south and east to west. From Target South to 55th Street is at least five miles, and from U.S. 52 on the west side to RCTC on the east side is at least 5 miles. So, the greater Rochester area is at least 25 square miles. For Rochester to have the same population density as the Mumbai slum, it would need to have a population of 15 million!

Imagine what Rochester would be like with 15 million people living in its current borders.

And this is how a great majority of people live. In Nigeria, for example, over 40 million people live in slums – that’s 80% of Nigeria’s urban population. And in India, over 56% of the total population lives in slums – that’s 160 million people.

Some futurists suggest that the slum is the future. Think about the rise of the megacity. Are people really meant to live in cities with populations of 20+ million inhabitants? Think of the basic human needs that must be met – trash pickup, clean water, etc.

People have an amazing ability to adapt to inhuman conditions. But why should they have to? My daughter is at the age where she makes wishes, and although she cannot possibly know what she’s wishing for, it’s heartening, nevertheless, to hear her wish for a cleaner planet with people that live in peace and harmony. I’m not sure where she’s picked up these ideas, but I think more of us need to redevelop the imagination of a 4 year old. We need to rediscover our innocence, and more than anything else, we need to rejuvenate our humanity.

Billions of people are surviving in conditions that we cannot imagine, and until we take the time to recover our imaginations, they will continue to do so. But once we recover our imaginations, we will be able to do more than imagine a better future. We will be able to create it. Not just for ourselves, but for all of humanity.

Imagine a better world. How do we move from imagination to reality?

“I am better able to imagine hell than heaven; it is my inheritance I suppose.” – Elinor Wylie

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

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