A defining feature of the 21st century is the mass rural to urban migration movements that have taken place first in the Global North during the industrial revolution of the late 1700’s and more recently in the Global South as those countries industrialise at a rapid pace (Seto, Fragkias & Gu, 2011). Such migration mostly takes place in-country (Haug, 2008) and is primarily motivated through climate or economic incentives (Barrios et al.. 2006) but often incorporates a desire to access public services upgrade lifestyles or access education. By the middle of this century we will be a predominantly urban civilisation (UN, 2015). Up to a third of the world’s population is involved in this vast human migration (Saunders, 2010) which impacts nearly everyone in some tangible way. There are approximately 498 cities globally that have over a million inhabitant, over 70% of which are located within the Global South (UN, 2016; 4). Approximately half of all urban growth in the Global South is a direct result of rural to urban migration (Smart & Smart, 2003) leading to fears that the pace of population growth outpaces the capacity of the city to sustainably absorb those migrants into the urban economy (UN, 2015; Røpke, 2006). Such a shock to the city will inveitably lead to considerable transformation of the urban space (Smart & Smart, 2003).
Over the past decade, the importance of urban space has returned to the forefront of the collective mind. Magazines, documentaries, books and public debates increasingly revolve around the use and misuse of our built environment whilst university courses and consultancies focusing on urban development spring up every day. As a result of this attention, studies are frequently carried out on the social and economic impact of our built space. Never has the knowledge of our urban environment been so great, yet never have the inequality of its citizens been so apparent. Stakeholders are given a conflicting message of a “global north” turned towards sustainability, the abandonment of the car as the first urban design prerogative and the pursuit of a ‘human scale’ for the privileged few while the ‘global south’ has less ambitious aims, centring around resilience, a pursuit of affordability and the provision of basic public services for all. In this race to the top, must the ‘global south’ truly forsake its sense of place and identity in the pursuit of emulating a vulnerable, flawed and often frail ‘global north’? Is sustainability achievable or must they settle for resilience instead? Should we achieve our utopian desires, is humankind destined to live in a globally uniform and sceptic urban environment as Hollywood would have us believe?