The Toilet as Destination

Meet Ecotact, a company focused on changing the urban poor's perception of toilets. In the slums of Eastern Africa, open trenches and flying toilets are the go to methods of waste disposal. In many slums there may be one toilet for a thousand residents. That toilet is filthy. As a consequence, toilets are assumed to be disgusting. Ecotact is attempting to combat this perception and make toilets desirable destinations. Their primary draw is clean water. Ecotact's Ikotoilet malls double as community water centers. No one has to tell the urban poor how important clean water is. That's why the 27 Ikotoilet malls in Kenya serve over 30,000 customers. I've read about a variety of pay-toilet models, and paid for a few trips myself in Kenya and Tanzania. I think Ecotact's plan is smart. By tackling two major problems at once (water and sanitation) they've actually enhanced the effectiveness of their business. I wish them all the best.

Cities vs. States

What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else.

-Parag Khanna

 In a provocative Foreign Policy article, Beyond City Limits, Parag Khanna examines the future influence cities will have on our world. As Khanna points out, today "100 cities account for 30 percent of the world's economy, and almost all of its innovation." Tomorrow, there will not only be more cities, but a significant number of megacities, each of which will assert a powerful gravitational force economically, politically, and culturally. Khanna lays out the trajectory of city growth quite well, but his article doesn't live up to its promise.

Subtitled, The age of nations is over. The new urban age has begun., one would expect an explanation or, at least, speculation as to the manner in which cities will decouple from states. State economies have always been dominated by their urban centers. Simply pointing out that cities are growing bigger and continuing to innovate is hardly a proof that state systems need to worry. The strongest example of an imbalance between the state and city interests given by Khanna is China, where "cities have now begun to bypass Beijing as they send delegates en masse to conferences and fairs where they can attract foreign investment." This may indeed challenge Beijing's particular love of centralized control. However, the government delegates of capitalist societies have been similarly outnumbered even prior to calling themselves capitalist and yet they persist.

Khanna has penned an interesting primer on the primacy of the modern city. I fully agree that cities pose a challenge to states and, if we are lucky, could lay the foundations for a worthy successor. Still, I don't find any explanation of how cities would move beyond the limits states impose upon them. I would have welcomed his input.