The Externalities of Urban Development

Should urbanization and development be always greeted with open arms? Here’s a personal account of the externalities of urban development.

Early this morning as I try to enjoy the refreshing light of dawn in our porch and wait for the sun to shine, I expected to breathe the fresh air to fill my lungs and get ready to face another day. But I was greeted by the putrid smell of methane, presumably coming from a neighbor’s pig business, a block away from home. They buy and hold a large number of pigs and cows to be butchered in nearby market that supplies the increasing meat demand of a growing population in the city. Occasionally, someone surreptitiously leaves a herd of goats to graze at the vacant lot next to our house, taking advantage of the fresh grass shoots that spring up whenever I have somebody mow down the tall cogon grasses that easily burn when withered and dry. In the past, I have to frantically douse the grass fire that pose hazard to our house. And the buffer of mowed area of about five meters lessens the risk. But then again, this herd of goats add stench to the already foul air because of their excrements. Their persistent, irritating calls to each other is a distraction to my writing mood.

This scenario is quite different when we settled in this place 15 years ago. The place was quiet and generally rural. I can breathe fresh air and have a good sleep in the sleepy afternoon – deep slumber in a quiet environment. Only the sweet sound of chirping birds are audible. I long for this kind of atmosphere, but here I am suffering the externalities of so-called urban development.

Indeed, now we have piped-in water, electricity that powers up different appliances that provide information and entertainment, can easily access a mall where I spend a large sum of hard-earned money, modern communication gadgets that rapidly get outmoded as new, more pricey ones arrive with better designs or more ringtones than the previous one, a washing machine that replaced manual clothes washing, an air conditioner to cool off hot, humid days in a concrete house, among others. All these “conveniences” become desired targets of what I call the “active scavengers” – people who come to your house and pick anything they want when you’re away. Once, these guys were rarely a complaint.


As more people came in and populate the city, the poorer the quality of life had become for me. I, therefore, list down the price of increased urbanization to the general environment below based on this musing:

  1. Poor air quality
  2. Noise pollution
  3. More expenses to keep up with the demands of modern living
  4. Increased threat to life and property

This list of the externalities of urban development should be long but just to put the point across,  these things made a major impact to the way I live. Are there things I could do to mitigate the effects of these externalities that lower the quality of life in the once peaceful place I used to live? As a thinking animal, adaptation takes the form of fight or flight. I can do something actively to change the environment, or escape the undesirable situation. Correspondingly, the ill effects of externalities listed above can be mitigated thus:

  1. Petition that the livestock holding station be located somewhere else, away from the residential houses
  2. Have my room fitted with sound proofing
  3. Buy only what I really need or live simply
  4. Secure the property area with burglar proof fences

Once, a professor from a British university visited our place. He talked about pollution. What really caught my attention was when he said that in many cities in England, they would like to step back in their development because of the high levels of lead found in the hair of young children. They were exposed to large levels of lead from petrol in the air because of a busy thoroughfare.

Where does this take us? This just means that urban planners must see to it that optimal conditions, not maximal, are maintained for the citizen’s greatest benefit. Urbanization and development must be taken with caution and good planning.

© 2013 December 15 P. A. Regoniel

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