A PERSONAL NOTE BY KENNETH KING
I am an urban dweller. I was born and raised in Shanghai, after which I lived in Hong Kong for three years and then in London for five before settling in New York in 1960. Since the late 1970s when China opened to the world, I’ve pretty much split my days between Shanghai and Manhattan. Along the way I’ve spent a good deal of time in Paris, Zurich, and Pacific Rim cities like Kuching and Kota Kinabulu in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo, not to mention Beijing, Tianjin, and a host of other large — and growing — Chinese cities.
What I like about cities is their efficiency and adjacencies and the sheer convenience of being able to move around on foot or public transit, quickly and inexpensively, without ever having to own a car. I like the rich variety, interest, and excitement – the fun – of city life, and the opportunities for social interaction in restaurants, concerts, parks, or in spontaneous exchanges on the street rather than being isolated in a car, wasting and polluting precious hours while commuting back and forth to work, pulling into a driveway, and disappearing into a single family house sealed off behind a tidy green lawn and white picket fence. From an environmental perspective, the American dream is a petrol-dependent nightmare.
Given the unprecedented urbanization taking place in China and other developing countries, the need is urgent. If China, for example, keeps on building sprawling new cities to accommodate the massive migration that is expected to continue for the next thirty years, there won’t be enough land to grow food. There won’t be enough water or other resources. And if, with their new found wealth, people continue to buy cars in record numbers, the eco-consequences will be calamitous, not just for China but for the world.
We no longer have the luxury of thinking about such problems, least of all about their solutions, in isolated terms. This is a war – a battle for survival – that will not be won in small uncoordinated skirmishes. It is not just an issue of per capita usages but of global stewardship, reduction, conservation, and commitment.
It is neither reasonable, nor possible, to try to stop human energy consumption. But we can use our resources more intelligently, more sustainably. We have the knowledge and the wherewithal. And, with the right leadership, we have the ability to succeed. We need to revisit familiar patterns and determine whether they are valid or whether they are actually destructive and merely sanctioned by habit. We must understand and embrace the need for change and give full rein to our imagination so that we may benefit from new and emerging technologies and creative ideas.