Most North Americans live in cities; 2/3 of Canadians live in cities of 100,000 people or more. As of 3 years ago, more people in the world live in urban than in rural areas. There is no indication that this trend will change. All population growth over the next 40 years is expected to take place in urban areas – especially in the developing world. It’s hard to even say what the largest city in the world is: Tokyo is most often cited with population figures quoted between 32 and 37 million but when total urban areas are counted which include the vast shanty towns that abut the official suburbs, there are a number of cities in China, Africa and South America that come close. That’s considerably more than many countries in the world, including Canada (in fact only 39 countries have a population larger than the minimum size of Tokyo).
This is not all bad – despite popular views of city life. People in cities are generally more prosperous, better educated, contribute less to population growth (most urban growth these days is from immigration from rural areas), use less energy and water per capita and produce fewer greenhouse gasses. They are also centers of innovation where the vast majority of scientific, technological and cultural breakthroughs occur. Here’s a surprising stat: cities are less violent than rural areas. Toronto has a lower per capita murder rate than rural Saskatchewan. Toronto may have more total murders than Saskatchewan in any given year but that’s because it has 5 times as many people. The same is true the world over – cities may seem dangerous but its the country side where the really bad things happen. But anyone who ever read Stephen King knew that.
There is one thing cities do that may not be all that good for us; they disconnect us from nature. An urban park no matter how large and untamed is nothing compared to the boreal forest, the jungle, the untamed savannah or the tundra. Anyone who has spent any time in real wilderness recognizes that nature – good old Mother Nature – is red in tooth and claw. I’m not simply talking about grizzly bears or mountain lions but wind and water and temperature extremes. In the wilderness, nature doesn’t give a crap about your comfort, safety or survival.
And as the city of Calgary just learned, it doesn’t care about urban boundaries, city streets, electrical power grids, dry basements or your well-being. Fortunately, we have our neighbours and even relative strangers who do. Like the ice storm that hit the east 15 years ago, the Alberta floods of 2013 will cost billions and take years to recover from. It will tax our governments and our patience. Yet, we have already seen tremendous outpourings of generosity and support – none more so than from Albertans themselves. Living together creates a bond that transcends everything else.
What does this have to do with science fiction? Well, as we like to say here at Bundoran Press: Science fiction is our conversation with the future. Urbanization and our relationship to nature are rich fields to grow science fictional ideas and a great place to build stories (though stay away from the flood plain). The world – and especially the climate – is going to change at an accelerating pace – we’ll need all the thought experiments we can muster.