Developed nations have a higher percentage of urban residents than less developed countries. However, urbanization is occurring rapidly in many less developed countries, and it is expected that most urban growth will occur in less developed countries during the next decades. Figure 2 shows the projected growth of the urban and rural populations in developed and less developed countries.
The definition of an urban area changes from country to country. In general, there are no standards, and each country develops its own set of criteria for distinguishing cities or urban areas. A city is generally defined as a political unit, i.e., a place organized and governed by an administrative body. A way of defining a city or an urban area is by the number of residents. The United Nations defines settlements of over 20,000 as urban, and those with more than 100,000 as cities. The United States defines an urbanized area as a city and surrounding area, with a minimum population of 50,000. A metropolitan area includes both urban areas and rural areas that are socially and economically integrated with a particular city.
Cities with over 5 million inhabitants are known as megacities. There were 41 in the year 2000. This number is expected to grow as the population increases in the next few decades. It is predicted that by the year 2015, 50 megacities will exist, and 23 of these are expected to have over 10 million people. Table I is a list of the world’s 25 largest cities in 1995.
Why is the urban population increasing so fast?
The rapid growth of urban areas is the result of two factors: natural increase in population (excess of births over deaths), and migration to urban areas. Natural population growth has been covered in other units, and consequently, here we will concentrate on migration.
Migration is defined as the long-term relocation of an individual, household or group to a new location outside the community of origin. Today the movement of people from rural to urban areas (internal migration) is most significant. Although smaller than the movement of people within borders, international migration is also increasing. Figure 3 shows the annual net international migration totals and migration rates in the world’s major areas between 1990 and 1995. Both internal and international migration contribute to urbanization.
Migration is often
explained in terms of either “push factors” – conditions in the
place of origin which are perceived by migrants as detrimental to their
well-being or economic security, and “pull factors” – the
circumstances in new places that attract individuals to move there.
Examples of push factors include high unemployment and political
persecution; examples of pull factors include job opportunities or
moving to a better climate.
Typically, a pull
factor initiates migration that can be sustained by push and other
factors that facilitate or
make possible the change. For example, a farmer in rural Mexico whose land has become
unproductive because of drought (push factor) may decide to move to
Mexico City where he perceives more job opportunities and possibilities
for a better lifestyle (pull factor).
In general, cities are perceived as places where one could have a
better life, because of better opportunities, higher salaries, better
services, and better lifestyles. The
perceived better conditions attract poor people from rural areas.
In order to better
illustrate the causes of rural migration, we will consider policies that
have led to migration in many developing countries.
In order to pay foreign debt and to be more competitive in
international markets, national governments have encouraged the export
of national resources and agricultural products.
Agricultural products (sugar, flowers, coffee, etc.), and
primary-sector goods (timber, fish, minerals, etc) become natural
resource capital that can be traded to bolster the national economy.
In order to produce agricultural products quickly, efficiently,
and for a decent prize, national governments often look to decrease the
number of small producers, and turn agricultural production and resource
extraction over to larger enterprises, with larger production
facilities, and a lower per-unit cost of production.
This trend turns land into a commodity, that can be bought and
sold, and it is viewed only in terms of its productive capabilities.
Free market economics pursues economic efficiency to deliver
goods at the lowest possible price, and its advocates maintain that any
government intervention diminishes this efficiency.
Consequently, they seek to eliminate farm programs such as farm
subsidies, cheap credit policies, etc. intended to help the farmer, and
to maintain stable prices. This
scenario leaves farmers to shoulder the burden of farming, sometimes
with no alternative but to sell their land to a foreign investor or a
domestic-owned enterprise, and move to the cities, where the farmer
hopes to have a better life.
reinforce the above scenario. In
this case, in order to boost the production of cheaper goods,
governments have maintained artificially low food prices in urban areas.
The strategy here is to maintain urban food prices below market
levels to reduce the cost of urban labor and urban life.
This policy has resulted in inadequate compensation of rural
producers for the costs they incur to produce food products and thus
have aggravated rural poverty. On
the other hand, these policies have also made city life more attractive
and pulled them from rural areas. As
a result of these policies, an average of 270,000 rural migrants have
been arriving in Mexico City annually over the last ten years,
transforming it into one of the largest cities in the world.
International migration includes labor migration, refugees and undocumented migrants. Similar to rural-to-urban migration, individuals move in search of jobs and a better life. Income disparities among regions, and job opportunities, are key motivating factors. The migration policies of sending and receiving countries also play a key role. The best current estimate from the United Nations Population Fund, indicates that more than 100 million people were living outside their countries of birth or citizenship in 1998. There is a number of reasons why this figure is rising, but an important one is that the native labor pool in the industrialized countries is shrinking, while the developing world’s workforce is rapidly increasing. Figure 4 shows the countries with largest stock of migrants in their population, while figure 5 shows the countries whose populations have the largest percentage of migrants. Today, international migration is at an all-time high. About 2% of the Earth’s population has moved away from the country of origin.
International refugees contribute to the urban migrant population. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that most of the 22 million people who came under its wing in 1997 were fleeing from domestic or international conflict. Figure 5 shows the number of refugees registered by the United Nations between 1960 and 1997. The Geneva Convention (1951) on Refugees defines refugees as those individuals who migrate because of:“….well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion”.
Nations honoring the Geneva Convention have an obligation to determine whether, in fact, individuals will truly face persecution at home. Excluded are those who fear famine or are pushed out by natural disasters. The overwhelming majority of refugees come from developing nations, and most of them flee to poor countries.
What are the Problems Associated
with Rapid Urban Growth?
The urbanization process refers to much more than simple population growth; it involves changes in the economic, social and political structures of a region. Rapid urban growth is responsible for many environmental and social changes in the urban environment and its effects are strongly related to global change issues. The rapid growth of cities strains their capacity to provide services such as energy, education, health care, transportation, sanitation and physical security. Because governments have less revenue to spend on the basic upkeep of cities and the provision of services, cities have become areas of massive sprawl, serious environmental problems, and widespread poverty.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, urbanization resulted from and contributed to industrialization. New job opportunities in the cities motivated the mass movement of surplus population away from the countryside. At the same time, migrants provided cheap, plentiful labor for the emerging factories. Today, due to movements such as globalization, the circumstances are similar in developing countries. Here the concentration of investments in cities attracts large numbers of migrants looking for employment, thereby creating a large surplus labor force, which keeps wages low. This situation is attractive to foreign investment companies from developed countries who can produce goods for far less than if the goods were produced where wages are higher. Thus, one might wonder if urban poverty serves a distinct function for the benefit of global capital.
One of the major effects of rapid urban growth is “urban sprawl"- scattered development that increases traffic, saps local resources and destroys open space. Urban sprawl is responsible for changes in the physical environment, and in the form and spatial organization of cities.
Developed and less developed countries of the world differ not only in the percent living in cities, but also in the way in which urbanization is occurring. In Mexico City (950 square miles), as in many other megacities in the developing world, urban sprawl exists as nearly 40% of city dwellers live in the urban periphery in poverty and environmental degradation. These high density settlements are often highly polluted owing to the lack of urban services, including running water, trash pickup, electricity or paved roads. Nevertheless, cities provide poor people with more opportunities and greater access to resources to transform their situation than rural areas
In the United States, poorly planned urban development is threatening our environment, our health, and our quality of life. In communities across the United States, sprawl is taking a serious toll.
Consequences of sprawl in the United
Solutions to decrease sprawl
Readings and References:
All Materials Copyrighted 2002 University of Michigan