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close this bookPopulation, Urbanization and Quality of Life (UNCHS/HABITAT; 1994; 47 pages)
Open this folder and view contentsForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. Urbanization: conceptual and measurement issues, temporal and spatial perspectives and the driving forces
View the documentII. Impact of urbanization on social change and modernization
View the documentIII. Impact of urbanization on demographic changes
View the documentIV. Impact of urbanization on individual and household income
View the documentV. The challenge: more efficient and effective urban management
View the documentVl. Conclusion
View the documentReferences
View the documentAnnex

II. Impact of urbanization on social change and modernization

Urbanization has impacts on social change and modernization which are parts of a continuum rather than empirically separate issues. The contention here is that urban areas: (a) generate and transmit innovations to less urbanized as well as rural areas; (b) expand communications mechanisms; and (c) provide ready access to scientific and technological knowledge. Some of the typical infrastructural facilities in cities include the basic and most desired social services (schools, health facilities, piped water), better and more flexible means of transport and communication and entertainment opportunities, all of which distinguish urban areas from rural areas. Conversely, cities constitute the hubs of vice, including numerous social, economic, political and environmental problems which often increase faster in these localities than they would in rural areas. A balanced treatment of the impact of urbanization is therefore useful, though empirical evidence suggests that positive aspects generally outweigh negative ones. Broad perspectives in population growth and policies in some mega-cities - Bangkok (Thailand), Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras (India), Cairo (Egypt), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Jakarta (Indonesia), Karachi (Pakistan), Metro Manila (Philippines) and Seoul (Republic of Korea) - have been published in a series by the United Nations, revealing much about the role of cities in spatial, economic and social change.

A. Urbanization as an agent of transformation and innovation

As cities are nodes of new ideas, communication and innovation, they spread these in the immediate hinterlands as well as in the whole country, through sustained urban-rural links. While innovations tend to flow from urban to rural areas, information of various types often are in the reverse.

In Africa, it has been found that migrants bring with them one set of ideas, attitudes and knowledge to towns and return to their rural homes with a different one. For example, itinerant traders, city-trained school teachers and nurses working in rural areas can radically change the lifestyles of populations (O'Connor, 1983). In some cases, cities in the developing world have received new ideas and information from migrants returning from, or maintaining links with, cities in the developed world.

In Asia, the city has been termed the "centre of change" (Dwyer, 1972), and the same goes for Africa (Gutkind, 1962). This is evident in migrants on brief home visits, and return urban-rural migrants, who often increase awareness among rural villages, encouraging them to adopt some innovations already witnessed in urban areas. Indeed, there is widespread evidence of this in all the developing regions as urban and rural residents sustain links in practically all spheres of life. Improved health and housing, positive changes of attitudes, aspirations, behaviour and personal relationships are all contingent upon urban living, however little time migrants have experienced it. Cities often project the image of all that development and modernization entail, hence their crucial role in every sphere of life. Indeed, civilization has aptly been described as what goes on in cities (Boulding, 1963).

Flows of information, ideas and practices from rural to urban areas have also caused 'ruralization' of some cities, especially in post-colonial Africa. The laissez faire policies adopted by independent governments at independence, as opposed to the rigid ones which controlled rural-urban migration during colonialism, gave rise to the invasion of cities by traditional medicine and other traditional social practices. Not least has been the change in language, in some cases new languages having evolved altogether (O'Connor, 1983). Thus in Dar-es-Salaam, Swahili took over from English, while in Mombasa, Kenya, Swahili has relegated English and other African languages to virtual non-existence, and "Sheng", an entirely new urban language, has gripped the independence-era children in Nairobi city.

African cities have in many ways emulated cities of the developed world, especially those of the former colonial powers. They have transmitted information, innovations and ideas from Europe and North America; earlier some of these had been imposed on African cities, rendering them mere appendages of the Western world.

Urban centres are historically the chief focus for the introduction of new ideas and new ways of doing things. Cities may be looked on as the crucial places in developing countries in which adaptation to new ways, new technologies, new consumption and production patterns, and new social institutions could be achieved.

Cities, historically, have been the seats of learning and education, they have been the centres of governmental and administrative organizations, and they have performed the function of religious or cultural rallying points.

All these transmissions and innovations have contributed immensely, first, to improving the quality of life of urban populations and, secondly, to enhancing the catalytic role of urban centres in rural transformation and development. The sustained urban-rural links have acted as a development pipeline with flows from both sides, thereby making the two termini inter-dependent in various ways.

B. The role of urbanization in expansion of communication mechanisms

The most visible role of major cities is their linking of different parts of the world through transport and communications, thereby improving international contacts. Air routes, ocean liner routes, road and rail networks, telephone, telex, facsimile and E-mail networks (satellite communications) are the main transport and communication mechanisms that have revolutionized the concepts of time and distance throughout the world.

This explains why in Africa the movement of people, goods, money, messages and ideas is channelled through towns and cities (O'Connor, 1983). Also in almost every country, the urban hierarchy permits both vertical and horizontal integration of transport and communication. For Africa, with poor facilities in the transport and communication mechanisms mentioned above, radical improvement of these facilities holds the key to future development because both urban and rural areas remain strongly and persistently interdependent.

In both Latin America and Asia, where transport and communication facilities are considerably better, cities have acquired very powerful international roles. Improved facilities have expanded international trade, enhanced international travel and communication, and contributed significantly to national and regional development. African countries which have evolved political and cultural links with some Asian countries have changed their people's lifestyles. For example, in the United Republic of Tanzania, the country, drawing from the experience of communist China, imported a large number of bicycles for Dar-esSalaam, Dodoma town and the countryside, to adopt this transport system after the Chinese mode (O'Connor, 1983).

Cities have also played an important role in political engineering, regional integration and international cooperation, all of which depend heavily on viable transport and communication facilities. The capital cities of many African countries were in the forefront of the struggle for political independence. They provided refuge for large numbers of political refugees and asylum seekers, shaped these migrants into powerful pressure groups and systematized their return at the opportune time, thereby developing international cooperation, some of which embraced regional integration. The network of diplomatic missions worldwide has been facilitated by capital cities in which the offices are located to link with their counterparts elsewhere.

C. Cities as fountains of scientific and technical knowledge

The history of industrialization is replete with evidence of the application of sound scientific and technical knowledge. Cities are thus the fountain of scientific and technological knowledge which produces innovations intended for modernization and development of cities as well as the whole nation State.

In nearly all countries, large well-supplied hospitals, universities and polytechnics, manufacturing and processing industries of all shades - indeed all products of science and technology - have sprung up and are concentrated in cities. Most of these have taken on the names of the cities in which they are located hence the University of London, Mombasa Polytechnic, University of Tokyo and so on. Even the few cases where these have been located in smaller urban centres or rural areas, deliberately to stimulate development in the neighbourhood, the small localities have grown rapidly into big cities or megapolises have emerged which coalesce different smaller urban areas.

As "engines of development", cities have drawn the inflow of human resources, unskilled labour and raw materials which, coupled with the urban infrastructure and facilities, have spurred industrialization, commercialization and all forms of desirable elements of development. The British Isles, the former Soviet Union and the United States developed steadily from particular cities which played specific roles in national development.

Both scientists and technologists/technicians require some basic facilities, which often are urban-based, in order to perform their tasks. This is part of the "urban bias" of development which may develop urban areas at the expense of, or alongside, rural areas. Generally, they are trained, they work and survive in urban areas in order not only to practice their skills, but also because their minimum requirements are not obtainable in rural settings.

Thus the history of scientific and technological innovation, and that of civilization in general, is inseparable from the history of cities. Towns and cities have consistently been at the centre of most civilizations and techno-economic revolutions: from the ancient Mesopotamian, Nile Valley and Indus civilizations; through the classical Greek and Roman civilizations; to the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution.


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