The Political Economy of Sprawl in the Developing World
Out of Bounds: The Sprawling Metropolis and Its Discontents
The Political Economy of Sprawl in the Developing World
An Interview with Anna Tibaijuka
Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka is executive director of UN-HABITAT, the UN agency for human settlements. A Tanzanian national, Tibaijuka holds a doctorate of science in agricultural economics from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. Prior to joining UN-HABITAT, she was the Special Coordinator for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked and Small Island Developing Countries at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Preceding her UNCTAD post, she served as associate professor of economics at the University of Dar-es-Salaam. She has undertaken extensive research on agriculture and human settlements policy, among other topics, and is author of five books.
Multinational Monitor: Is economic globalization contributing to intensified urbanization in developing countries?
Anna Tibaijuka: The process of globalization has a distinct spatial specificity. The outcomes of globalization also show particular geographic patterns. For example, though it has certainly affected rural areas, global forces of exchange are centered in cities. The result is that globalization has facilitated urbanization in many developing countries through a number of different factors.
For example, improvements in communication technologies have facilitated the location of industries in developing country cities, by "abolishing the tyranny of geographical distance." These industries can now be managed globally from developed countries. We also know that as industries move to the cities of developing countries, with comparatively lower labor costs, it has changed the structure of employment. This has also further facilitated the "bright lights" syndrome that lies behind rapid rural-to-urban migration. Such migration is now often across national and continental borders to cities perceived as offering good personal advancement opportunities.
Even as globalization has facilitated urbanization, our research shows that it has not been equally beneficial. For example, we know that the development of global real estate markets, a process that has brought increased investment to developing country cities, has also often increased land costs beyond the reach of local people. At the same time, it is clear that the investment patterns within the local economy have been skewed toward high-tech infrastructure investments in order to attract international capital. The result has been increasing disparities between the poor who live in slums and the rich who often live in gated communities and work in high-rise buildings with every modern convenience.
In other words, the benefits attributed to globalization have not accrued to everyone alike. Indeed, while the conditions of many have improved, others have seen their situation deteriorate. In many countries, real incomes have fallen, the costs of living have gone up and the number of poor households has grown, especially in cities.
Thus globalization brings opportunities as well as problems, both most clearly seen in cities. The challenge is to develop solutions to the problems associated with globalization, while at the same time realizing its positive prospects.
MM: How is rural economic instability contributing to intensified urbanization? Do export-oriented agricultural policies contribute to intensified urbanization?
Tibaijuka: Rural economic instability within many developing countries is a result of a number of factors, including the shortage of viable agricultural land, unaffordable agricultural inputs and collapsing and ineffective agricultural marketing systems -- among other factors. The results of all of the above are rural unemployment and under-employment; and diminished household incomes, often to levels below the poverty line.
In response, households and individuals adopt several survival strategies, of which rural-to-urban migration is among the most important. The most important reason why people move from rural to urban areas is the possibility of improving their lives through real or perceived employment opportunities.
The impact of export-oriented agricultural policies on urbanization depends on the nature of the policies, whether they are based on small-holder, labor-intensive production models, or on capital-intensive, and highly mechanized models. Capital-intensive, highly mechanized models tend to create a lot of surplus labor in rural areas, which then migrates to urban areas in search of employment, thus intensifying urbanization. However, smallholder, labor-intensive models of export-oriented agricultural production provide real livelihood opportunities for rural dwellers, thus reducing the need to migrate to urban areas in search of employment.
Finally, there is no question that if the international community could find ways and means for farmers in developing countries to compete with the farmers in the developed world, for example without subsidies, it would radically improve the employment capacity of the rural areas in developing countries. This could in turn influence the patterns of urbanization.
MM: Are there sizes at which cities are too big to be sustainable? Are there alternatives?
Tibaijuka: In the 1950s, New York was the only mega-city with a population over 10 million; today there are about 19 and the figure is set to rise. Many of these cities will be in developing countries. For example, Lagos, which is currently the sixth largest city in the world with a population of 13.4 million, will in the medium term become the third largest city in the world with a population of 23.2 million. Mumbai which currently has 18.1 million people will have 26.1 million and will be the second largest city. Such large cities clearly create problems of urban governance both in terms of environmental sustainability and social sustainability.
For example, it should be noted that in most of the cities in developing countries, up to 50 percent of the population live in slums and squatter settlements without adequate shelter and basic services. This is clearly unsustainable. One of our priorities at UN-HABITAT is to help local authorities manage this process of rapid urbanization. In fact, we are directly responsible for helping the international community meet the Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 11, which is committed to improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. We are also directly involved with helping the world meet the Millennium Development Goal that is committed to halving the number of people living without clean water and adequate sanitation by 2015.
However, it should be understood that if we are to have truly sustainable cities, we have to prioritize a number of important strategies. First, as our Campaign for Good Urban Governance points out, cities have to become inclusive. Better urban governance means that local authorities must be democratically elected and accountable to their citizens. At the same time, and most importantly, the concerns of all citizens, rich or poor, must be included in plans for urban development.
At the same time, we believe in integrated regional urban planning both for better environmental management and also to help control migration. This does not mean that you can stop rural-to-urban migration, but one solution to the rise of mega-cities is comprehensive urban planning that encourages the development of smaller urban centers that provide jobs and economic incentives for the immediate rural areas.
MM: What kind of community rights should be given in slums? How important is land tenure?
Tibaijuka: Fifty percent of the world's population lives in urban areas -- this is about 3 billion people. Of this 3 billion people, about 1 billion live in slums and squatter settlements without adequate shelter and basic services. According to the latest Global Report on Human Settlements: The Slum Challenge, this figure may well increase to 2 billion by 2030. We estimate that, every day, there are about 180,000 people added to the population of cities. That is like having another Los Angeles every three months. The result is that in many cities of the developing world, about 50 percent of the population lives in slums and squatter settlements. In other words, there is a crisis in the cities of the developing world.
The international community has taken note of the problem and in 2000, in the Millennium Declaration, there was a specific Millennium Development Goal committed to improving the living conditions of 100 million slum dwellers. This is a small proportion at best and our aim at UN-HABITAT is not just to help the international community meet this goal but also to ensure a radical change in the management of our cities and towns so that they are governed more democratically and inclusively.
It is one of the tragedies of our time that the urban poor are totally disenfranchised. They have no rights and live in constant fear of eviction. The lack of secure tenure discourages even the poorest of the poor from investing in improving their immediate environment. There are numerous best practices from around the world that indicate that if the poor are given some form of security, it acts as a catalyst for considerable investment from donors, the private sector and poor themselves.
It should be noted that though it is absolutely critical that land tenure systems be formalized, it is not always possible to give the poor individual title deeds. In other words, we at UN-HABITAT are keen to encourage innovations in community land tenure and, given that most of the poor are in fact tenants, we are keen to legalize the whole rental market. At present, because many slum dwellings are not legally recognized, it is not possible to take the landlord to court for failing to deliver the necessary services. UN-HABITAT's Campaign on Security of Tenure advocates a whole range of options in order to provide the poor with the necessary long-term security.
MM: What are some of the best practices globally for providing housing to the urban poor?
Tibaijuka: Since 1996, UN-HABITAT has been documenting and disseminating best practices in improving the living environment. To date, over 1,600 peer-reviewed practices from 140 countries are compiled on the Best Practices Database. Out of these, 427 address housing provision and are drawn from all over the world.
Briefly, many best practices in Africa focus on providing affordable housing to disadvantaged groups, targeting proliferating informal settlements. In African cities, provision of secure land tenure in informal settlements is a prerequisite to increasing permanent housing. There is a shift in shelter policies by concerned governments, with more attention given to infrastructure provision, secure land tenure and support to housing agencies, public and private. Community-based organizations are in the forefront in shelter provision, mobilizing community members to participate in improving or constructing their own houses.
In Asia, a number of innovative solutions have been developed at the grassroots level through adoption of comprehensive planning techniques in housing provision. There has been an increasing civic participation in infrastructure provision with some local authorities receiving assistance from their citizens through "People's City Built by the People" initiatives. Strong public-private partnerships have been formed to mobilize financial resources.
The experiences of housing in the Latin American and Caribbean region are similar in most of the countries. Approaches to address problems range from the use of affordable building technologies to the use of free labor by the families who would occupy the houses. Revolving funds and credit schemes are common approaches that enable communities to own their own homes, while reconstruction efforts on existing houses dramatically reduces the costs of owning a decent home and improves living conditions.