Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Urbanisation - Where do we go from here??

At the beginning of 20th century, urban population was 20% of the total human population. In 2010, 50% human population was living in urban area. The number of urban residents is growing by nearly 60 million every year. In India, we don't need statistics to see how rapidly we are urbanising. 

But have you ever wondered, what exactly is it that makes 'urban' different from 'rural'? Is it infrastructure? amenities? employment opportunities? population density? all of these? more?

When humans settled down about ten thousand years ago, these were all small settlements focused on agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry. How and why did some settlements grew bigger and became 'towns'? 

This happened often as accidents of geography - some places were convenient trading posts. It also happened due to accidents of history - the leader of a particular town had better administration, law and order, or encouraged arts and crafts, etc., so people preferred to flock and settle there. Some towns were chosen to be centres of administration of a region, and thus grew in stature and size.  Places of significance to religions practiced by people, also grew in prominence. 

The transition from 'town' to 'city' was not very common in this pre-industrialisation era, and was mostly driven by a deliberate plan and design. 

The rapid, uncontrolled, and apparently uncontrollable urbanisation of towns everywhere is another 'gift' of industrialisation. Especially the discovery of petroleum made it faster and cheaper to transport goods and people over long distances. Industrialisation expanded the production capacities, necessitating transport over ever longer distances to reach out to more consumers. Therefore the 'growth' of a town was no longer limited by the resources available in its neighbourhood - anything and everything could be imported from beyond the neighbourhood, even from far away lands, provided you had the financial resources. 

But the cities have just grown and grown and grown! And their insatiable hunger is sucking out resources from all over the world! The resultant resource scarcity in other areas forces people to migrate to the cities, and that further adds to the resources required to be brought into the city! It has become a vicious cycle, moreover the process is becoming highly unsustainable. 

So what is the solution? As pointed out in an earlier musing, the options of  (a) giving up everything created by human civilisation over the past ten thousand years and returning  back to nomadic life, and (b) forcing people to give up cities and return to simple agriculture based lifestyle, are no longer going to solve our problem. It is also unfair to 'freeze' the urbanisation and ban immigration! 

How should urban centres evolve then so as to be able to absorb more incoming people, and yet be sustainable? 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


    Samuchit Enviro Tech.     samuchit@samuchit.com     www.samuchit.com

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