Is Urbanization Really The Answer?

Atanu Dey’s article and analysis on the Urbanization and Development of India lends itself to interesting opinions and conclusions on an important topic that encompasses many cross-cutting issues. Dey follows the model of linear development in his conclusion:

Therefore the rural people have to be urbanized for India’s development and growth. Every economy has followed that path which begins with agriculture being the main source of income for the majority of the population and ends with agricultural employment being a very small fraction of the total labor force.

While the general tone of development in countries across the world is centered around cities, I wonder if such a model is healthy for a place like India, where most of its population lies in rural areas. The implications of the migration shift could be destructive, from family issues to shifts in labor markets to environmental impacts.

Another surprising aspect of the article is that Dey asserts that people actually prefer to live in urban slums:

Most Indians living in villages would welcome the chance of living in well-designed efficient cities. They are already doing so as is evidenced by the fact that tens of millions of rural people migrate to cities – often choosing to live in urban slums. They are voting with their feet saying that life in an urban slum is preferable to life in a village.

Perhaps the issue is more about the lack of economic opportunity in villages – given good employment prospects and the availability of basic services in rural areas, I’d venture to say that more people would opt to stay in a place where they have stake over the land and the possibility of a higher standard of living.

Although I believe his conclusion is arguable, the question Dey sets out to answer is a valuable one: is urbanization really the answer? Should India focus more on creating these “mega-cities” rather than developing rural infrastructure?

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7 Responses

  1. >> implications of the migration shift could be destructive, from family issues to shifts in labor markets to environmental impacts.

    Atanu might defend his position better but my take is that when he talks about urbanization of the Indian population, he isn’t talking about migrations to existing cities.

    His RISC model is about providing infrastructure services, that exist in typical urbanized environments, to a rural area. Thus enabling the rural area to catalyze economic growth.

  2. well I do think it’s really easy to create infrastructure in an urban milieu than in a rural one, and there are comparatively more job opportunities there.

  3. Urbanization is not all about moving everyone to the two biggest cities. While major cities do get a lot of the new urban dwellers, moving from a tiny cluster of huts to a tiny town in a form of urbanization.

    Also, I agree that people would rather live in a slum with a chance at getting a job than live in a rural area under subsistence agriculture conditions. But when people are given basic property rights these slums have been known to evolve from huts, to huts with siding, to huts with merchant alleys, to somewhat better buildings. In short they can evolve into something better. Communities eventually form and put down some cement here and some drainage there and if the government is not completely corrupt and decides to bulldoze them, they can put in infrastructure. Over time, one person who gets a better job sells his hut to another person with a better job so first guy can move and second guy can expand his property.

    I man not saying that slums are good, but they are not necessarily a step backwards. Encouraging more decentralized urbanization in smaller towns and cities can help take the pressure off big city slums. That requires investment in connective infrastructure like roads, small scale water and power systems and the like.

  4. Antanu’s point as I understand is “Urban areas provide better opportunity to earn and better facilities than rural areas. So, create more cities”.

    In my opinion, this is both right and wrong cities provide better opportunity to earn, but its priorities are not comparable to rural areas”. Cities have no agricultural land and villages don’t have software companies. Cities depend of villages for food, and villages on cities for money (and infrastructure). But this relationship isn’t balanced, cities get enough food (from villages and from elsewhere) but villages don’t get enough money in return. So, the movement from village to urban slums is not because the city life works, but because the village life doesn’t. I think that is the part Antanu got wrong.

    But, if Antanu’s vision of “urbanising” rural areas means a small third-tier city closer to villages, which provides for a research center (funded by the city) that works on improving soil quality and agricultural output, a public health system that not only offers curative, but also preventive care, a well-funded free public school that offers education to village kids well that is precisely what is needed.

  5. I agree with Badhri’s comments… the urban-rural relationship is very unbalanced right now. I supposed to connotation of urbanizing a rural area is a negative one for me – brings forth images of mega malls and other Western creations. If “urbanizing” means providing equal services, then, as I stated in the post, I’m sure a greater proportion of the rural population would opt to stay in the villages (therefore addressing slum issues as well). Above all, I would stress planned urbanization, as Saul suggests in his comment – the haphazard development of villages would only exacerbate the problem.

  6. […] Posted on August 5, 2008 by Shital The comments from a previous post questioning the value of urbanization discussed the need of developing rural industries and services. According to iGovernment, the […]

  7. […] and discouraging rural schemes for poverty alleviation.  This debate also points back to an earlier post I wrote on urbanization.  Is this another development report gone […]

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