From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Thu Mar 25 2004 - 18:08:14 EST

New Left Review 26, March-April 2004

Future history of the Third World's post-industrial megacities. A
billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with
Islam and Pentecostalism as songs of the dispossessed.


Sometime in the next year, a woman will give birth in the Lagos slum of
Ajegunle, a young man will flee his village in west Java for the bright
lights of Jakarta, or a farmer will move his impoverished family into
one of Lima's innumerable pueblos jovenes. The exact event is
unimportant and it will pass entirely unnoticed. Nonetheless it will
constitute a watershed in human history. For the first time the urban
population of the earth will outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the
imprecisions of Third World censuses, this epochal transition may
already have occurred.

The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the
Club of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report, Limits of
Growth. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over
one million; today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least
550. [1] Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global
population explosion since 1950 and are currently growing by a million
babies and migrants each week. [2] The present urban population (3.2
billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The
global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population (3.2
billion) and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will
account for all future world population growth, which is expected to
peak at about 10 billion in 2050. [3]


Where are the heroes, the colonisers, the victims of the Metropolis?
Brecht, Diary entry, 1921

Ninety-five per cent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in
the urban areas of developing countries, whose population will double to
nearly 4 billion over the next generation. [4] (Indeed, the combined
urban population of China, India and Brazil already roughly equals that
of Europe plus North America.) The most celebrated result will be the
burgeoning of new megacities with populations in excess of 8 million,
and, even more spectacularly, hypercities with more than 20 million
inhabitants (the estimated urban population of the world at the time of
the French Revolution). [5] In 1995 only Tokyo had incontestably reached
that threshold. By 2025, according to the Far Eastern EconomicReview,
Asia alone could have ten or eleven conurbations that large, including
Jakarta (24.9 million), Dhaka (25 million) and Karachi (26.5 million).
Shanghai, whose growth was frozen for decades by Maoist policies of
deliberate under-urbanization, could have as many as 27 million
residents in its huge estuarial metro-region. [6] Mumbai (Bombay)
meanwhile is projected to attain a population of 33 million, although no
one knows whether such gigantic concentrations of poverty are
biologically or ecologically sustainable. [7]

But if megacities are the brightest stars in the urban firmament,
three-quarters of the burden of population growth will be borne by
faintly visible second-tier cities and smaller urban areas: places
where, as un researchers emphasize, 'there is little or no planning to
accommodate these people or provide them with services.' [8] In China
(officially 43 per cent urban in 1997), the number of official cities
has soared from 193 to 640 since 1978. But the great metropolises,
despite extraordinary growth, have actually declined in relative share
of urban population. It is, rather, the small cities and recently
'citized' towns that have absorbed the majority of the rural
labour-power made redundant by post-1979 market reforms. [9] In Africa,
likewise, the supernova-like growth of a few giant cities like Lagos
(from 300,000 in 1950 to 10 million today) has been matched by the
transformation of several dozen small towns and oases like Ouagadougou,
Nouakchott, Douala, Antananarivo and Bamako into cities larger than San
Francisco or Manchester. In Latin America, where primary cities long
monopolized growth, secondary cities like Tijuana, Curitiba, Temuco,
Salvador and Belém are now booming, 'with the fastest growth of all
occurring in cities with between 100,000 and 500,000 inhabitants.' [10]

Moreover, as Gregory Guldin has urged, urbanization must be
conceptualized as structural transformation along, and intensified
interaction between, every point of an urban-rural continuum. In his
case-study of southern China, the countryside is urbanizing in situ as
well as generating epochal migrations. 'Villages become more like market
and xiang towns, and county towns and small cities become more like
large cities.' The result in China and much of Southeast Asia is a
hermaphroditic landscape, a partially urbanized countryside that Guldin
and others argue may be 'a significant new path of human settlement and
development . . . a form neither rural nor urban but a blending of the
two wherein a dense web of transactions ties large urban cores to their
surrounding regions.' [11] In Indonesia, where a similar process of
rural/urban hybridization is far advanced in Jabotabek (the greater
Jakarta region), researchers call these novel land-use patterns
desokotas and debate whether they are transitional landscapes or a
dramatic new species of urbanism. [12]

Urbanists also speculate about the processes weaving together Third
World cities into extraordinary new networks, corridors and hierarchies.
For example, the Pearl River (Hong Kong-Guangzhou) and the Yangtze River
(Shanghai) deltas, along with the Beijing-Tianjin corridor, are rapidly
developing into urban-industrial megalopolises comparable to
Tokyo-Osaka, the lower Rhine, or New York-Philadelphia. But this may
only be the first stage in the emergence of an even larger structure: 'a
continuous urban corridor stretching from Japan/North Korea to West
Java.' [13] Shanghai, almost certainly, will then join Tokyo, New York
and London as one of the 'world cities' controlling the global web of
capital and information flows. The price of this new urban order will be
increasing inequality within and between cities of different sizes and
specializations. Guldin, for example, cites intriguing Chinese
discussions over whether the ancient income-and-development chasm
between city and countryside is now being replaced by an equally
fundamental gap between small cities and the coastal giants. [14]

full: http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26001.shtml

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