On the Edge of the Future, continued

Clearly, the shortcomings of the 20th century’s command-and-control development models are being answered with a global wave of grassroots programs.

And the extremes of displacement, violence and poverty in places like Kampala are less alien to the American experience than it may be comfortable to admit. 

The failure of the New Orleans levees in 2005 was an unnatural disaster comparable to the 1998 mudslides on the deforested slopes of Bahía de Caráquez. The city’s rebuilding efforts have been equally halting at times, due to patchy (or absent) aid and funding. The New Orleans murder rate—in 2008, 209 murders in a population of about 300,000—is on a par with Medellín’s worst years.

At the same time, industrialized countries can use the solutions created in the developing world.

In some places, like the gritty, low-income East New York section of Brooklyn, it’s already happening. As part of the East New York Farms collaborative project, local farmers produce and sell more than 10,000 pounds of produce a year in the neighborhood.

Or in East Biloxi, Miss., where the Biloxi Model Home Program has been helping low-income residents rebuild their homes since Hurricane Katrina leveled them in 2005. The community-based design and build project shares its architectural plans online for free at the Open Architecture Network.

By marrying community organizing to technical support, the world’s growing cities can create their own best solutions for improving health and prosperity, from the barrios of Medellín to the boroughs of New York.

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EMILY GERTZ is a journalist, editor and professional blogger who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. She has covered environment, technology and science issues for Dwell, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, Grist, Worldchanging and more.