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Cities: Small Guides to Big Issues

Jeremy Seabrook
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Small Guides to Big Issues is a new series of accessible introductions to the global challenges of the twenty-first century. The books in this series de-bunk myths and raise questions about the global economic and political system and how it works. They are designed for campaigners and activists, students and researchers, and anyone interested in looking behind the headlines. Produced in partnership with Oxfam, each book provides an informative and thought-provoking guide to current trends and debates, and what needs to happen in order to end poverty and injustice. Every year tens of millions of people abandon rural areas of the South for life in the city. With education, health care and even safe water in short supply, cities risk becoming sites of violent conflict for future generations. And yet world governments are doing little to address these demographic shifts. Jeremy Seabrook offers a vivid portrait of the lives of people who migrate from impoverished villages to towns and cities, the changes they face, and the impact these changes have on their psyche and well-being. Contrasting the attitudes of today’s governments with those of the past, the book provides a sharp critique of global policies, and an ideal introduction to the impact of urbanisation on modern life.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-261-3
    Subjects: Population Studies
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. iii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Boxes (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Abbreviations and acronyms (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Series preface: Small guides to big issues (pp. viii-ix)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-6)
    Jeremy Seabrook

    This book is concerned with the prodigious growth – both actual and forecast – of urban centres in the South. Many of the predictions, including those of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme’s 2003 publication,The Challenge of Slums,¹ echo the apocalyptic warnings that accompanied the unplanned development of manufacturing towns and cities in the early industrial era in Britain and elsewhere. And indeed, many of these warnings were subsequently justified – living conditions in the cities of early Victorian England deprived people of basic needs, of adequate nutrition, health care and livelihood. Only by consistent agitation for government intervention and reform were...

  7. 1 An urbanising world (pp. 7-19)

    No one really knows at which point a majority of the world’s population will become urban. Has it already occurred? Will it happen in the next decade? In 1950, only 18 per cent of the people in developing countries lived in cities. By 2000, this exceeded 40 per cent, and the numbers continue to rise.

    In any case, the distinction between urban and rural is hard to sustain. Few areas of the world have remained closed to the influence of industrial society. Not only is agriculture more and more dominated by industrial inputs, but contemporary communications systems ensure that the...

  8. 2 Cities of the past, cities of the present (pp. 20-30)

    The growth of cities in the South today both parallels and diverges from the urbanisation of early industrialism in Britain. There are astonishing correspondences between the conditions in which people live and lived: the picture Engels painted of nineteenth-century Manchester¹ does not differ greatly from the squalor and neglect of much of contemporary Dhaka, Kolkata and Lagos. The ingenuity of people’s survival today echoes that of the child workers, hawkers, street-sellers, prostitutes and rag-and-bone men of Henry Mayhew’s London in the 1850s.²

    Although therewasurbanisation without industrialism, especially in London and Dublin, and in Liverpool after the Irish potato...

  9. 3 The global network (pp. 31-43)

    The cities of the South are differentially integrated into a global economic system, which goes forward unevenly. Vast urban areas are caught up in its vortex, as when for example a significant portion of global garment manufacture is relocated to a new country or export-processing zone. Then, when polluted areas are abandoned or cheaper labour is discovered elsewhere, many people find themselves left to their own resources. There is no forward, or planned, development. Investment is opportunistic and volatile. Efforts have been made by the international financial institutions and the WTO to adapt the economic policies of a majority of...

  10. 4 Migrants to the city (pp. 44-57)

    Every year, 70 million people are added to the urban population of developing countries. World-wide, however, it is estimated that about 200 million people leave their home each year in search of a livelihood – 3 per cent of the population of the earth. The great majority migrate within their own country. Of the approximately 175 million people who live outside their country of birth, 120 million are migrants. The proportion of illegal migrants is unknown. In the USA, it was estimated in March 2006 that there are up to 12 million.¹

    Each year, significant numbers of immigrants are admitted legally...

  11. 5 The spectre of the poor (pp. 58-65)

    Ever since the early industrial period, fear of ‘the dangerous and perishing classes’ has haunted the city and its middle-class occupants. Later, in Britain at least, separation of the poor into the ‘rough’ and the ‘respectable’ sought to isolate the upwardly mobile from the rest – the unreformed, the unwashed, the criminal classes. The same anxieties still pervade Western cities. Fear of crime, drugs, robbery and mugging ensure that streets are virtually empty once the rush-hour crowds have gone. Visitors from the South to London or Berlin look at empty streets and say, ‘Where are all the people?’

    In some cities,...

  12. 6 Slums (pp. 66-82)

    The Challenge of Slums, from which this quote is taken, reasserts the familiar statistic that 3 billion people live on less than US$2 a day, while 1.2 billion survive on less than US$1. These figures are a misleading guide to poverty, since they take no account of self-provisioning and pooled resources, especially in rural areas. People with enough land to answer their own needs are not poor, but in a market economy where everything has to be bought in, US$ 10 or 20 a day may be insufficient for sustenance. Rural areas often supply non-marketed goods, services or amenities to...

  13. 7 Livelihoods (pp. 83-98)

    Since there are few people to ‘give’ them work in the slums, poor people show much imagination in providing it for themselves. The distinction is usually made between the ‘formal’ and ‘ informal’ sectors. The first suggests regular employment, with duly regulated wages and conditions, such as service in government, the bureaucracy and military, financial and banking organisations, the upper reaches of transnational companies, and work by professional and qualified workers. Beneath these are large numbers employed on a semi-formal basis – as factory workers, in retailing, hospitality and transport – while for many (sometimes a majority of workers, the percentage varying...

  14. 8 Cities of fear (pp. 99-110)

    The partition, segmentation and division of cities leads to increasing separation of the rich from the poor. The growing lack of contact between the two leads to fantasy and paranoia, but also to a form of economic apartheid. The rich, seeking security in gated communities and policed enclaves of privilege, see the poor as agents of social disintegration and breakdown. This sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, since desperation may indeed generate violence and crime. Although criminal gangs, kidnappers, drug mafias and people traffickers constitute only a small minority, these feed a discernible sense of urban paranoia.

    In 2002 there was...

  15. 9 Provision of basic services (pp. 111-126)

    Insecurity is almost always accompanied by inadequate services. Of the poorest 20 per cent of urban dwellers in the developing world (sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean), 40.6 per cent have water connections, 9.7 per cent have sewerage, 61.6 per cent electricity, 17.4 per cent telephone connections (although the advent of mobile phones makes this figure less relevant) and 71.2 per cent access to water. For the richest 20 per cent the figure is well over 90 per cent, except for telephones (87.6 per cent).¹

    In towns and cities...

  16. 10 City borders (pp. 127-137)

    Of equal importance with migration in the growing population of cities is the enclosure of peripheral areas. The expansion of boundaries takes in former villages, transforms the use of agricultural land and alters the livelihood, not only of those already living there, but of the newcomers to suburban and near-urban areas.

    How peripheral land is used varies. It may become a source of a different kind of farming, growing vegetables and livestock rather than wheat or rice, to feed the growing city. It may be a site for industrial estates, enclaves of high-tech specialised labour, or export-processing zones. It may...

  17. 11 The country and the city (pp. 138-148)

    The relationship between city and country is complex. The hinterland of cities can be very wide indeed, as any extensive slum reveals. In Mumbai’s Dharavi, there are communities from as far away as Kerala, Bengal, Gujarat and Orissa, while migrants from Karnataka or Maharashtra have reconstituted whole settlements, mock ‘villages’ in the city. The world’s richest cities can, of course, command resources from a hinterland that is truly global. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are available at any time in New York or Tokyo; oil can be drawn from where time and nature have created it and transferred to the thirst...

  18. 12 The triumsph of the middle class (pp. 149-167)

    The city belongs, overwhelmingly, to an increasingly conspicuous middle class. Transformed cities in South Korea, Malaysia, China and India, and in Central and South America, bear the imprint of an expansive urban middle class and its demand for more living space. Apartment blocks and fortified communities of privilege have demolished much slum housing, and overshadowed that which remains. In cities with a significant – say 20 per cent – proportion of the middle class and rich, it is they who dominate the cityscape. Where poor people remain in central areas, these are usually hazardous sites – areas prone to flooding, close to fetid...

  19. Conclusion (pp. 168-179)

    The landscapes of today’s urbanising world bear such a striking resemblance to those of nineteenth-century Britain that they offer a kind of reassurance: yes, we have been there. We recognise the pain and the pity of people used up by work, sent from one insecure lodging to another, desperate to find an income that will ensure, at the end of a day’s labour, a sufficient meal for a family. We see the same patterns of exploitation, identical artful contrivances of survival, similar ways and means of triumphing over adversity.

    It seems reassuring, because it suggests that the people who now...

  20. Resources (pp. 180-195)
  21. Notes (pp. 196-201)
  22. Index (pp. 202-206)