December 11, 2014
Seminar in Composition
Urbanization: Not the Bad Guy, but the Key to our Future
The world is urbanizing rapidly, with cities today concentrating more than half the world’s population. While it is widely accepted that development and urbanization go hand in hand, the expansion of cities gives rise to both opportunities and challenges, with countries urbanizing in quite different ways. Urbanization has occurred at different times and different paces, and some countries have concentrated the urban populations in few mega cities, while others have spread the urban populations across many smaller towns. Perhaps the most interesting question that has come with increased urbanization is its effect on education and poverty. In fact, today most do not know about the relationship between the nature of the urbanization process and reduction in poverty. The majority of people opposed to this argument and even kids in school are taught to associate urbanized life with negatives like pollution and the poor. However, I hope to show the full potential of urbanization and the direction in which the nations in our world are going. For in the near future the world will likely encounter a great need for technology and energy that can only be achieved through more urbanization. Thus, while adversaries argue that there are many negatives to living in an urban environment, in this essay I hope to show the reader that increased urbanization has many positive impacts: including a reduction in poverty, increased environmental benefits, and stronger education for those who live in urban communities. And instead, it is through increased urbanization that we as a race can hope to one day eliminate these problems.
It is no secret that countries love their large cities because they make money and the larger the attraction the more money a country reels in. Governments see their cities like business’ see their products, let me use the movie industry to illustrate this. A production studio gets pitched thousands of scripts but only produces a handful of theatrical films per year. While reading over scripts, executives of a studio meet and discuss a couple things: is it a good script with potential and how do they think audiences will respond. For every movie is greenlit, the studio wants to study do people care about this movie, basically how large is the audience. If the executives decide that the movie will produce good profit, the movie is made, simple as that. The same goes for most all industries, if the product is has a high demand and will make a lot of money, it is made. The same goes with a country and their attractions like a city. Urbanized communities make money and assist in economic growth. This is why it seems as if so much money is thrown at places like New York City and Washington D.C., tourists are greatly attracted to them.
As a result of all this, Jude Clemente of Forbes Magazine found “movement into urban areas is occurring on a staggering scale, over 70 million people a year” (Clemente). His research continues to point out that over fifty-three percent of the world is now urbanized and by 2050 the percentage is projected to reach seventy percent along with the growth from twenty-four to one hundred “megacities” (population of ten million). In turn, urbanization will bring new jobs and higher productivity because of its positive externalities and economies of scale (long run advantages), dimming the population of the world living in poverty. A current example, “Asian urban productivity is more than 5.5 times that of rural areas” (Clemente), explaining why the most developed nations are “around 80% urbanized, versus less than 30% for the least developed [nations]” (Clemente). If cities were the main cause of poverty, none of these facts would exist for government and heavy investors would not put their money into a failing project.
In a twenty year case study (1991-2010) performed by Luc Christiaensen, Joachim De Weerdt, and Yasuyuki Todo of the World Bank, “Urbanization and Poverty Reduction –The Role of Rural Diversification and Secondary Towns,” 3,300 people living in rural Kagera and Tanzania were analyzed as to their daily living. The study followed them as they exited poverty. Which, according to the study, they did by transitioning from agriculture into the rural nonfarm economy or secondary towns. The authors state their paper to be “a different view and seeks to shift the dialogue beyond the oft stale dichotomy between rural and urban development communities” (3, Christiaensen). Through this quote Christiaensen is drawing attention to the negative and incorrect view of the urbanization process. Furthermore, when analyzing their data over four decades (1970-2010) they noted increased urbanization and decreased poverty at a greater speed. Their results showed poverty among the individuals of Kagera and Tanzania almost halved (from 58 percent to 30 percent) and almost half of the poverty decline could be attributed to “rural diversification and migration to small towns (i.e. the transition out of agriculture into the middle).” (23, Christiaensen). Furthermore, the study found that intriguingly “only 1 in 7 of the people who exited poverty, did so through migration to the larger cities.” What this may imply is the importance of rural diversification and the better ability of poor rural households to connect with the rural economy and smaller towns in exiting poverty, even though average consumption growth was substantially higher among those moving to the cities. In other words, this stat expands my argument to urban communities not necessarily narrowed to cities.
On the other side of these claims are people who view these developments with more suspicion and see them as an omen of new sources of poverty. These people point to “congestion effects hindering growth and the negative externalities from geographically concentrated poverty (such as violence) as well as the irreversibility of urban migration” (3, Christiaensen). This is the explanation for what I pointed out in my introduction where we are taught to associate the poor with cities because when we visit and study large cities it comes to fruition that a larger share of the poverty stricken population appear to be living in urban areas even though my cited studies show that poverty has come down substantially. While I will address the geographical and environmental effects later in this essay, the ‘congestion effects’ are a side effect of the nature of urbanization unfortunately because where there is jobs, there is an over saturation of people. These counter arguments are short sighted because if you sit back and think about the big picture urban communities “reduce the area that humans can impact onto the environment,” (Clemente) thereby indirectly protecting nature elsewhere.
While it seems as if the deeper you travel into an urban community, the more blight stricken areas you see, however this is not always the case. For example, in Pittsburgh: the suburbs are very nice and attractive to families then one enters Oakland which has strong culture and of course a strong college vibe then moving into the city of Pittsburgh, one will experience a quality city with personality. “Cities may concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it. Although cities embody the environmental damage, namely, increasing emissions due to transportation, energy consumption and other factors, policymakers and experts increasingly recognize the potential value of cities to long-term sustainability. It could be that these potential benefits of urbanization outweigh the disadvantages.”(18, Zarzoso). At each deeper level the number of poorer people seems to grow but that’s simply a generalization, “Urbanization is the pathway to eradicating global poverty…to that end, everyone deserves the quality of life enjoyed by the urbanized West.” (Clemente). Together these case study and article results “call attention to the spatial allocation and orientation of infrastructure and policies in steering the world’s ongoing urbanization and development.” (24, Christiaensen). Poverty is not a problem caused by urbanization but an advantage reduced by urbanization.
The most common arguments against urbanization, often coming from voices of environmentalists, is how it hurts the environment and while I am not denying the existence of negative externalities resulting from the likes of construction and factories, the notion that the environment suffers from urbanization is short-sighted. In the chapter, “Resources and Rural Communities: Looking Ahead,” by Kathleen Segerson, she claims “industrialization and developments that lead to environmental externalities can often affect communities” (211, Frontiers). But, in a journal by David Dodman, “Blaming cities for climate change? An analysis of urban greenhouse gas emissions inventories,” Dodman’s findings conclude that “analysis of emissions inventories shows that – in most cases – per capita emissions from cities are lower than the average for the countries in which they are located” (1, Dodman). While this does not directly shoot down Segerson’s claim, it does prove why I call the blame of urbanization on hurting the environment short-sighted because pointing the finger at a city without scientific proof is too simple of a solution. Dodman cites a study by United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN–HABITAT) has stated that cities are “…responsible for 75 per cent of global energy consumption and 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions” but in response Dodman states “urban residents tend to generate a substantially smaller volume of greenhouse gas emissions than residents elsewhere in the same country” (2, Dodman). In other words, this means that the only reason urban areas output a disproportionate amount of pollution is simply because lots of the world still has very little access to resources. As Dodman said, those in similar situations actually expend less energy in urban environments than in non-urban ones. Furthermore, this is also because of environmental laws and taxations that cause large polluting companies to either move away from urban communities and cities or are (more commonly) required to reduce their admissions. Throughout his journal Dodman cites cities in all regions of the world, not just North America because pollution is not a national problem for America but a threat to our Earth that together we created during the Industrial Revolution and together the whole world is trying to correct our mistake.
Getting into the more specifics, this paper is focusing on Greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions as the main form of pollution and combining with Dodman’s study, another study “The Impact of Urbanization on CO2 Emissions: Evidence from Developing Countries” by Inmaculada Martinez-Zarzoso, there is a lot proof that cities are not to blame anymore for CO2 pollution. What I have found to be very interesting from Zarzoso’s study is that developed countries are not the ones to place the blame on regarding air pollution, but instead developing countries. During the time period of 1975 to present day developing nations are responsible for over half of the world’s CO2 emissions. This pattern reminds me of the proverb ‘what comes up must go down’ because during the Industrial Revolution there was a major rise in greenhouse gases in countries that embraced industrialization (U.S., China, U.K., etc.) but because they have settled, their responsibility of air pollution has since decreased. So these new developing countries, of which Zarzoso does not name, are too going through their initial climb in the latter half of the twentieth century and within my lifetime it could be predicted that they settle and begin to decrease their emissions too. He concludes with, “this result has a very important policy implication: once urbanization reaches a certain level, the effect on emissions turn out to be negative, contributing to reduced environmental damage” (18, Zarzoso), what goes up does come down.
Returning to Clemente’s article, I only touched upon one half of his argument, the other half has to do with like it says in the title “Helping the Environment.” He primarily focuses on the China and India for they are coal-based and “in the midst of the largest urbanizations in world history, and it will continue for decades” (Clemente) continuing boldly by claiming that they will have a main role in the future of the world’s energy. With over eighty-percent of the world still living in “undeveloped nations” (Clemente), once they develop, in parallel to Zarzoso’s study, the energy demand on the horizon appears quite massive.
According to Clemente’s Data, the last time this type of boom happened from 1955-2010: coal demand increased from 2 billion tonnes to 7.1 billion tonnes, oil demand grew from 10 million b/d to 88 million b/d, and natural gas use rose from 8 Tcf to 113 Tcf, cement use rose over 3 billion tonnes, steel consumption increased from 200 million tonnes to 1,400 million tonnes and finally nuclear power rose from nil to 2,500 TWh.
Without great knowledge of environmental engineering hopefully you can realize that those numbers indicate quite the boom. Starting in 2013, China is going through a twelve year project to bring four hundred million people into cities bringing the country to seventy-seven percent urbanized. On the other side of the spectrum, India is easily the most energy-deprived nation on Earth, with “over 300 million people lacking access to electricity” (Clemente). Fortunately, urbanization will help lift India’s per capita annual electricity use of “just 700 kWh” (Clemente), a figure that is comparable to the U.S. in the 1920s. As a result, in context with the imminent next boom India’s urbanization will also bring huge amounts of coal for energy consumption for the world. Clemente conclude by stating “those who have stated their aspirations to achieve universal energy access must comprehend what it will take to reach that goal” because as a species we have what seems to be an innate drive to always raise the bar and overcome new challenges that further our success.
Onto the final of my topics, educational benefits of urbanization which I believe to the most obvious results of urbanization. At the same time it might also be the most beneficial on a grand scale and according to “Sustainable Urbanization” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organiaztion “the school is a unique institution where connections are made between world problems and local life.” In an article by Paul Romer of Urbanizationproject.org “Education complements Urbanization,” Romer’s research of underdeveloped nations like those in Latin America showed that there was nothing wrong with the school systems in the region but when he studied what the students were actually learning he found that schools in the region dramatically underperformed those in the rest of the world. Allowing Romer to hypothesize “the skills gap was so large that it could easily account for the region's chronically poor growth performance” (Romer) proving a positive correlation between urbanization and higher education. This is because as I mentioned earlier, urbanization can have positive effect on economic growth thus more money gets flushed into an education system. Additionally, Romer cites a proverb of the book “The Chosen Few” and states “[these statistics] show that urbanization and literacy reinforce each other” (Romer). All in all of his article, urbanized or currently urbanizing countries can use education to reach their full potential whereas lesser developed nations like Brazil, weak education systems is their roadblock to catching up with the rest of the world.
I would to bring attention to a quite famous article by Robert J. Havighurst called “Urbanization and Education in the United States” which proves correlation in our national rising education ever since we became an urban which was “in this sense until after the first World War” (3, Havighurst). He goes onto claim since urbanization is a process of bringing people together in towns and cities, this process has increased the average size of schools and decreased the number of school districts with small enrolments, this data gathered up until the 1970’s. His data shows that just over two-thirds of school children and teachers are located in a metropolitan and suburban areas because cities are basically a centralized place for intelligence. He then goes onto analyze school quality by economic class in the country and there is quite the obvious disadvantage for lower economic class in education but to sum up his argument. At any level there is still a higher form of education in cities and urban areas than is found in most countries around the world. Havighurst concludes with “The schools do not simply reflect the structure of the community of today. They also influence the structure of the community of tomorrow” (407, Havighurst) which highlights the not only the importance of urbanization but also its greatest contribution to our world.
The higher standard of living seems to be associated with urbanization providing people with “better food, education, housing and health care” (Clemente) and a solution to not only future energy problems and problems of all kind. Urban growth generates money that is flushed into the infrastructure of better public life. Further suggesting that growth promoting interventions that enable poor people to access growth and basic infrastructure services more directly (as through rural diversification and secondary town development) are also more likely to “lift more of them out of poverty, than when the benefits of growth have to trickle down from the metropolis” (24, Christiaensen). Urbanization continues to prove the “green” people wrong along with those who find a city to be the sanctuary for the poverty stricken. But most importantly, increasing urbanization improves education. Improving the minds of the next generation saves the generations after them and more generations to come.
Wu, JunJie, Paul W. Barkley, and Bruce A. Weber. Frontiers in Resource and Rural Economics: Human-nature, Rural-urban Interdependencies. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2008. Print.
Marx, Karl, Friedrich Engels, Friedrich Engels, and Ellen Meiksins. Wood. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Monthly Review, 1998. Print.
Dodman, David. "Blaming Cities for Climate Change? An Analysis of Urban Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories." (n.d.): n. pag. Sage Journal. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://eau.sagepub.com/content/21/1/185.full.pdf html>.
MARTÍNEZ-ZARZOSO, INMACULADA. "The Impact of Urbanization on CO2 Emissions: Evidence from Developing Countries." Diss. CESIFO VENICE SUMMER INSTITUTE, 2008. Abstract. The Impact of Urbanization on CO2 Emissions: Evidence from Developing Countries. Repec, 2008. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <https://ideas.repec.org/p/ces/ceswps/_2377.html>.
Clemente, Jude. "Urbanization: Reducing Poverty and Helping the Environment." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 22 July 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2014/07/22/urbanization-reducing-poverty-and-helping-the-environment/>.
"News." 2nd Urbanization and Poverty Reduction Research Conference. The World Bank, 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2014/07/07/urbanization-and-poverty-reduction-research-conference>.
Christiaensen, Luc, Joachim De Weerdt, and Yasuyuki Todo. "Urbanization and Poverty Reduction The Role of Rural Diversification and Secondary Towns." Urbanization and Poverty Reduction (2013): n. pag.Wider.unu.edu. Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://www1.wider.unu.edu/inclusivegrowth/sites/default/files/IGA/Christiaensen_1.pdf>.