A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) discussed what critics call “the urbanization paradox” – the fact that urbanization is helping to relieve poverty and hunger. Urbanization, critics say, should be a source of hope and progress for many poor and disadvantaged communities, not an obstacle.
Urbanization should result in more employment opportunities, improved health and educational outcomes and better quality of life. Critics also argue that urbanization may result in urban conflicts, such as between urban neighbourhoods and immigrants.
Is the urbanization paradox real?
Some critics believe that it is a valid concern. But other critics see urbanization as an opportunity that provides poverty and hunger relief. The answer may lie somewhere in between. The urbanization paradox is a concept developed by Harvard sociologist Edward Glaeser that has been widely used to evaluate the relationship between urbanization and poverty and development.
Glaeser says that urbanization may result in higher living standards, lower poverty rates and better educational outcomes, but that these results are not permanent. People in rural areas may move into cities, or continue to live in rural areas. The process of urbanization may cause a reduction in poverty and a rise in the standard of living.
But there will also be a rise in urban violence, a decrease in the quality of urban services and a rise in crime rates and social ills. Glaeser contends that this reduction in poverty and a rise in the standard of living does not necessarily translate into greater social justice and opportunities for a better quality of life.
It is also possible that the urbanization paradox is simply an artefact of urbanization itself
Cities are generally defined as places with more than one thousand people. However, the definition is highly subjective; some cities have populations of over one million. The urbanization paradox suggests that urbanization itself can be the source of problems, rather than the problem itself.
The paradox is not a reflection of the inherent problem of urbanization in itself, but rather an unintended consequence of changes in development patterns, the creation of new urban centres and the expansion of informal economies.
Glaeser also argues that urbanization paradox is also a product of economic development
For example, cities and regions that are developing have low-quality infrastructure and poor education are likely to be less able to provide basic goods such as electricity and water. And while those regions may experience urban growth, the quality of life in these regions will be lower because they cannot meet the needs of the growing urban population. This leads to less development of those basic services, resulting in lower living standards and more poverty and less social justice.
Glaeser notes that poverty reduction is possible with the right planning and investment. He argues that development is not necessarily caused by the urbanization process, but the result of an effort to plan urban areas so that poor and disadvantaged people can meet their basic needs. Read: Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways
Planning, Glaeser says, is based on the assumption that “a city is a community of many different individuals, many of whom are equally productive, many of whom live in the same neighbourhood, all of whom have the same aspirations, some of whom belong to the same group, and all of whom have the same needs.” The planning process should seek to improve the lives of all within a community.
So, the urbanization paradox may point to the reality that the process of urbanization can result in an increased sense of community, but in the end, this community is only a community of the rich and powerful. And if you look at the long term, it is likely to result in more poverty. and lower living standards.