“Urbanisation brings problems which are hard for

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“Urbanisation brings problems which are hard for governments to solve.” Discuss

Urbanisation is defined as the increase in the proportion of people living in a country’s urban areas. Whilst the Western World has undergone urbanisation and is now facing suburbanisation and counter urbanisation, the less developed world is seeing the results of urbanisation such as urban sprawl (the unplanned, uncontrolled spreading of the urban area, adjoining the edge of the city) and urban growth (increase in the population of the city due to natural increase and migration). Besides urbanisation bringing benefits such as increased investment and the development of infrastructure and communication systems, it exerts pressures on both the city and the surrounding area, for example; housing restraints in the city can lead to the emergence of illegal slum settlements. Some other issues include an increase in crime, restricted access for road networks and emergency services, increased fire risk, disease spread, contaminated water, insufficient public transport system, congestion and unemployment. These issues often pose a range of problems which prove difficult for governments to solve, although it is debatable whether an issue will ever be “solved” or whether it will simply transform into another problem. In this essay a range of examples will be used in order to compare the effects of urbanisation in LEDCs (notably Thailand and Egypt), MEDCs and the BRIC countries, as well as taking into account other factors such as the population of the city, migration rate and any external issues such as limited room for expansion, which may exacerbate the problem. Firstly, unemployment is a major issue in many urban areas due to the high competition for work, particularly in the informal sector (including market trade, food and cleaning), since it is unable to absorb growing population numbers. For example, in Cairo, Egypt, 35% of adults are not in full-time employment. Moreover, the average wage is continually pushed down as rural/foreign migrants undercut the workers in terms of pay and often productivity. This illustrates the “race to the bottom” principle, whereby working conditions, wages and workers’ rights are lowered as competition for work becomes so fierce that employers are able to exploit workers. Unemployment in cities is a major problem for the government since it is difficult to force employers to improve working conditions and pay, without resulting in job cuts. Moreover, unemployment is directly associated with poverty, and low incomes and large household sizes have posed problems, in some cases leading to violence. Furthermore, unemployment or lowered wages reduces residents’ expendable income for purchasing consumer goods, and so informal work opportunities are decreased further and production for internal goods will decline, meaning employers cut more workers; the viscous cycle continues. An option is for governments to create employment in the state sector, but this will cost the economy enormously usually at minimal benefit. Furthermore, this may encourage more people to migrate into the city in search of work, and they will have to keep providing more jobs. A second issue for the urbanising city is high population densities, leading to problems of congestion, pollution, high fire risk and crime. High population densities often lead to the emergence of illegal slum settlements, and in Mumbai (India’s commercial capital) housing prices are so high that 60% of inhabitants are forced to live in slums such as Dharavi. In these slums, population densities are as high as 18,000 people per acre. This leads to cramped living conditions, for example, in some cases there is only one toilet for 400 people. Moreover, rapidly urbanising cities often face issues with lack of clean drinking water, general lack of sanitation, noise pollution and congestion. Problems like these often prove difficult for governments to solve since the continually increasing population contributes to these problems increasing exponentially, as greater pressures are exerted on the city. Also, since these settlements are illegal, (and so the residents are not paying taxes) the government is reluctant to consider spending taxes on improving conditions, at the fear of being voted out at the next election. This is an underlying reason why governments don’t always do everything possible to help the neediest in the cities; financial spending on non-tax payers would result in a loss of support, and may encourage more people to migrate to the city if they see that residents are essentially receiving “free help”. Health and nutrition issues are often prevalent in urban areas, where low incomes and the rise of the junk food industry exist. Moreover, service provision (water, sewerage, electricity, waste removal etc.) is sometimes inadequate, especially in the squatter settlements, such as the Cairo slums, where there is no running water or electricity and sewage runs through the street causing diseases to spread. Cairo has undergone rapid

urbanisation (It’s grown 10 times in last 100 years making it the largest city in the Arabic World) which has been a particular issue since it cannot expand in terms of the land it occupies since it is surrounded by the Sahara Desert. Issues like these are difficult for the government to “solve” centrally, as they will often require the city’s authorities to fund and organise waste collection/water provision etc. However, these efforts will need to be coordinated by the government, but with the view that different areas of the city will require different levels of support depending on the severity of the issue. Also, transport networks both within and into the city will often become overwhelmed by urbanisation, also restricting access for emergency services vehicles. For example, in Cairo, Egypt, a metro system was built to relieve the city surface of traffic. However, during the years taken for construction, the city’s population has grown to the extent that the tram system will only relieve the city of the new people acquired during construction. Also, in Cairo and other cities such as Rio de Janeiro, a common government strategy to solve housing issues is to build “edge cities” to move people away from the overcrowded city. For Rio de Janeiro, this has been mostly successful, but in Cairo, due to the Sahara Desert, the satellite town is too far away for residents to commute daily into Cairo. The issue of transport networks is very difficult for governments to solve unless the city’s slums are cleared to make way for them. This is often an unfeasible option since it would result in thousands of homeless people, causing greater problems. A major problem for the countryside is that as the working age population migrates to the city, a high dependency ratio will remain, and moreover, the child bearing age sector is decreased, slowing population growth rate. Also, in rural areas, agriculture is reliant upon able-bodied people and if husbands are migrating to the city to send remittances home to their families, agricultural exports and subsistence farming may grind to a halt. Also, the “brain drain” phenomenon is occurring in countries such as Thailand, where the educated are moving to the cities (in this case Bangkok) and the intelligence and wealth of the countryside is continually diminishing as the educated and rich are attracted to the cities. This decreases the likelihood of improving agricultural efficiency since the incentive to invest in farming is lost when the vibrant city offers a range of job prospects for the intelligent. In conclusion, I think that urbanisation does cause many issues difficult for governments to deal with, however, I believe that the essay title is essentially flawed, since a problem will never be “solved” and in whatever city there will always be problems; however large or small. I think that the issues will continually change over time and since any city’s problems are so intricately intertwined, solving one issue, will only create another. Moreover, the title doesn’t take into account the positive impacts of urbanisation, and their weighting against the negative impacts. For example, when London urbanised during the Industrial Revolution residents thrived on the new jobs created, and the process later led to suburbanisation and counter urbanisation, which led to decentralisation. Also, it is debatable whether all the issues which arise lie in the government’s responsibility. Some countries such as Zimbabwe which have very corrupt governments still manage to solve pressing issues through community programmes, remittances, or personal/employer help. Also, a major problem of urbanisation is the widening gap between the rich and the poor; surely there will always be “poor” people within a city and if the poorer are made richer, the wealthier too will become even richer (as they exploit the poor), still leaving the lower social classes with major issues. The above reasons suggest that a more appropriate essay title would be “Assess the relative benefits and problems associated with urbanisation.” Although I agree that urbanisation causes many problems which are difficult to solve, I think that the relative benefits must be assessed before coming to a decisive conclusion. Word Count: 1461

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