The world we now inhabit, the world that is threatened by massive and cataclysmic human-induced environmental change, emerged only in the last three centuries and less. It is an urban-industrial world with rapid population growth.

    The industrial revolution of the late 18th century was based on a combination of new inventions-power looms, spinning genies and the steam engine-and an energy revolution to fossil fuels. This revolution ushered in a totally new type of society, an urban-industrial society that now threatens the global ecosystem with debilitating pollution, global warming, deforestation and habitat destruction.

    It began in Europe and has quickly become the norm for the entire world. From a gradual pace, it has quickened and the numbers of people involved have grown exponentially. In the two centuries from 1800 to 2000 the European population grew from 180 to 729 million; its urban population grew from 12 million to 572 million. In just the last half century, however, from 1950 to 2000, Asia's population grew from 1.4 to 3.7 billion; its cities grew from 244 million to 1.4 billion. In the next half-century another 2 billion Asian urbanites may be added to the total. If the struggle for sustainability will be decided in the cities of the world, nowhere is this more true than in Asia, where we shall see the major arena for the working out of the new population-environment relationship.

    This general perspective lies behind a long-term collaborative relationship developed between the University of Michigan's Population-Environment Dynamics Project (UMPEDP) and the City of Kobe, Japan. In 1989 the City of Kobe signed a memorandum of cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to create the Asian Urban Information Center of Kobe (AUICK). The U-M's PEDP director was involved in the creation of AUICK, and has served on its International Advisory Committee. Most recently PEDP has been involved in a collaborative research project on Asian Urban Population Environment Dynamics. (Gayl D. Ness and Michael M. Low, eds., Five Cities: Modelling Asian Urban Population Environment Dynamics, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 2000.)

    The Five Cities study was carried out in Faisalabad, Pakistan; Khon Kaen, Thailand; Cebu City, the Philippines; Pusan, South Korea; and Kobe, Japan. In each case, teams of local social scientists worked with city administrators to examine the population environment relationship for the period 1970-2020. A dynamic modeling program (STELLA) was used for the study. A general model of the Urban Population Environment Dynamic was developed to guide the studies.

    This model posits four environmental conditions-air, water, energy and land use-in interaction with three institutional components-production, social services and transportation. All interact to produce a distinctive quality of life. The cities' "social-political-economic-cultural systems," or SPECS govern the interaction of these seven elements. We call this model "metabolic" because it proposes that the interaction of all the conditions will result in a distinctive "quality of life." Any metabolic process produces life, which varies in its quality. We can see urban systems in this light, which provides either high or low qualities of life for their inhabitants.

    In each of the five cities, researchers used data available for 1970-95 to construct models that would permit projections for the next 25 years, 1995-2020. Here is a brief summary of some of the insights derived from this study.

    In Faisalabad, Pakistan, the major threat comes from the potential for a general agricultural collapse. Its economy is based on canal irrigation in an arid climate. Already the once rich surrounding agricultural lands are becoming salinized and losing productivity. A general agricultural collapse is possible, which would send millions of destitute farmers into the city. Faisalabad could see an increase from its current two million to five million with a deepening of poverty and a collapse of the urban infrastructure. This threat is exacerbated by the incapacity of both the national and city governments, which have been unable to provide even the basic services of education, primary health care and family planning.

    Khon Kaen, Thailand is the new "Heart of the Northeast" province. Over the past four decades the central government has invested heavily in this new "growth pole" outside of the Bangkok region. A new university was formed, and major road and railway lines lead from Bangkok through Khon Kaen to the Mekong border with Laos. The town has experienced only moderate growth largely as a result of Thailand's highly successful family planning program, which cut total fertility rates from over six per family in 1965 to less than two by 1990. The program brought greatly reduced population pressures on the environment, but even more, it immediately improved the health of poor women and children. Like other cities, Khon Kaen has experienced a rapid increase in vehicles and traffic. Congestion and pollution have been minimized, however, by the government's policy of building by-passes around all major cities. A major problem for Khon Khan is the lack of good data for its own urban planning. This problem results from the high centralization of the national government. Major decisions are in the hands of central government agencies, leaving little initiative and authority for the urban administrators. As we shall see shortly, this situation may change dramatically in the near future.

    Cebu City, in the central islands of the Philippines, faces severe environmental pressures, and has little political or organizational capacity to deal with them. Rapid population growth has greatly increased pressures on both the natural and urban environment. The city's water comes from a deep aquifer beneath the island, fed by eons of tropical rains. Today population pressures on the city have resulted in the denudation of the surrounding hillsides, and the illegal digging of deep wells to tap the aquifer. Deep below the surface the isochloride line, separating fresh from salt water, is moving inland at the rate of a kilometer per decade. Soon the city will have no water, and political weakness precludes the development of an adequate alternative. Air quality is another serious issue. There is no systematic, sustained monitoring, but the few spot studies done have all shown hazardous levels of suspended particulate matter. Hundreds of homes and commercial restaurants cook with wood and charcoal, polluting the city's air. Most of the city's roads are unpaved, raising dust to contribute to the pollution. In addition, with no highway bypasses in the island's north-south road, heavy truck traffic adds greatly to the pollution. As in Pakistan, neither the local nor national political system is able to deal with these problems.

    Pusan, South Korea offers a major contrast. First, South Korea, along with Taiwan, had one of the world's first really successful family-planning programs. Family size and fertility dropped dramatically from traditional to modern levels in less than two decades, relieving major pressures on the environment and directly increasing the quality of maternal and child health. South Korea's rapid urban and industrial transformations after 1960 made the society wealthy and provided its citizens with a high quality of life. But there are forces external to Pusan City that lie outside its control. Pusan lies at the mouth of the XX River, where it empties into the sea. Upstream are newly developing industrial centers anxious to increase their economic growth. To reduce costs they dump untreated industrial wastes into the river, which pollutes Pusan's water supply and threatens its beaches with devastating pollution. The city has done well to house its population, manage heavy traffic and clean its air, despite the rapid growth in automobiles and trucks. Its future is less secure.

    Kobe, Japan is the richest of our five cities and indeed, one of the richest in the world. Japan's major seaport, it is a relatively new city, emerging only after the forced opening of Japan in the 1860s. Its location dictates much of its life, wedged as it is into a narrow strip of land a mere four kilometers wide by 20 kilometers long between the sharply rising Rokko Mountains on its north, and the deep Osaka Bay on its south. The deep bay makes for an excellent port, but the rising mountains restrict the city's capacity to expand. Geography forced it to a highly innovative solution. It cut the tops of the mountains to make room for new satellite towns, and used the fill to build two major islands just off the city that provide extensive port terminal and residential facilities. This innovation proved highly successful for transport, and made the city fabulously rich. The wealth has enabled to city to provide a high quality of life for its citizens. Morbidity and mortality rates have fallen; housing and all urban services have improved; and the transportation system provides a paradoxical benefit. All vehicular traffic has grown exponentially. The city's own mass transit system adds to the quality. At the same time, all air quality measurements have improved. The problems of the future, for Kobe as for all of Japan, lie in the declining fertility rate and rate of population growth, and the subsequent aging of the population. As yet, there seems to be no effective solution for this problem. Thus the future of the city's high life quality is somewhat in doubt.

    What have we learned?

    Population environment dynamics and their outcomes are location specific. This means that local groups must be used to assess situations and devise solutions that work for the local area. Central plans, made in world or national capitals, run a great risk of failure. At the very least, they must be tailored to local situations; at best, they should be devised by local leaders.

    Wealth pollutes, but also provides resources for sustainability. Faisalabad and Cebu City face clearly unsustainable futures. They lack the wealth to provide the clean air and water that underlie all human health. Pusan and Kobe have experienced exponential rises in vehicular traffic, but both also show declining levels of air pollution. Wealth allows the richer cities to invest in vehicular and industrial emission controls that give the citizens clean air.

    There is more than wealth, however. Neither Faisalabad nor Cebu City has the political-administrative capacity to provide a higher quality of life for their citizens. Kobe, Pusan and Khon Kaen are distinguished by political-administrative systems that provide some accountability and give cities administrative structures that fundamentally serve the citizens (as well as the wealthy and powerful). It is easier to describe these systems than to explain them. Thus a major theoretical question emerges from this analysis: what determines the character of a political-administrative system? Why do some systems serve mass populations well, while others only serve the powerful well?

    Next Steps A: Local Studies. The study formulated two types of "next step" strategies. One includes a list of specific questions for each city. What are the demographic potentials for a massive increase in Faisalabad's population? How can Khon Kaen develop a better database for its urban planing? How can Cebu City address its water and air problems? What can Pusan do about river water pollution from upstream sources? How can Kobe attract sufficient immigrants to maintain its labor force?

    Next Steps B: City-University Partnerships. A more important suggestion concerns the development of local capacities to assess population environment dynamics and address them effectively. Here the study came up with a specific suggestion. It proposes the formation of local city-university partnerships. These would bring together the wide variety of university scientists needed to collect data and do the modelling cities need to examine their various futures. The partnership also includes, however, city managers who will work continuously with university scientists to determine what data are needed, how they should be collected, and how they should be used. Essentially the administrators and scientists would work closely together to examine possible futures of the city given its current conditions. They would then try to work out programs and projects that would address current problems and try to build a better future for the city's inhabitants.

    At present, UMPEDP and AUICK are trying to launch such a project for a number of Asian cities throughout Southeast and South Asia. Khon Kaen University is prepared to begin a trial partnership in which the university scientists would help the city collect and model the data it needs to examine the future implications of current conditions. Both foundations and national and international government agencies are being approached to help this development. The current plan is to use Khon Kaen City and University as training ground for all of South and Southeast Asia. Each country will then establish a national training center, which will eventually provide all nations with the capacity to model their urban population environment relationships and to build effective programs to address the problems of those relationships.


    Gayl Ness received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960. He then spent four years on an Institute of Current World Affairs postdoctoral fellowship in Malaysis and other parts of Southeast Asia. He joined the U-M Sociology faculty in 1964 and has been here since then. He is now retired, but remains active in research as well as in CSEAS and University affairs.