Friday, December 18, 2020

Shaping the Global South

In late September 2020, I was invited by the editor of Topos magazinea professional magazine for landscape architectures, urban designers, & urban planners based in Germany, to write an article on planning megacities in the Global South for the upcoming issue on urban mutations. I accepted the invitation and wrote the article that has been published on the week of December 14, 2020. I am pleased to share the article here.

[To cite this article: Rukmana, Deden. (2020). Shaping the Global South. Topos Magazine. December 2020 edition. pp. 38-43] 

The global population has been experiencing a process of rapid urbanization for more than six decades. Cities are now home to 55 percent of the world’s population. Since 2007, the world’s urban population has exceeded, and grown faster than, its rural population. By 2030, the urban population is projected to rise to 60 percent of the world’s overall population; at that time approximately 730 million people will live in megacities. These vast metropolitan areas will play a critical role in the sustainability and livability of the globe in the next few decades (Sorensen & Okata 2011). Some studies define a megacity as an urban agglomeration with more than 5 million people (Beirle et al. 2011; Kraas 2007), others use the threshold of more than 8 million inhabitants (Gilbert 1996). This article defines a megacity as a continuous urban area with a population in excess of 10 million people. This definition has been widely used in reports published by the United Nations, particularly the World Urbanization Prospects of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). 

In 1960, only three cities could be classified as a megacity: Tokyo, Osaka and New York. All three were located in the Global North. In 1980, two new cities in the Global South met the definition of a megacity used here: Mexico City and São Paulo. In 2000, the number grew to 16, including five megacities in the Global North (Tokyo, Osaka, New York City, Los Angeles, and Moscow) and 11 megacities in the Global South (Delhi, Shanghai, Mumbai, Beijing, Dhaka, Cairo, Mexico City, São Paulo, Kolkata, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro).

Between 2000 and 2018, no less than 17 new megacities emerged. Only one of them is located in the Global North: Paris. The new 16 megacities of the Global South include four Chinese cities (Guangzhou, Chongqing, Tianjin and Shenzhen), two Indian cities (Bangalore, Chennai), two Pakistani cities (Karachi and Lahore), two African cities (Lagos and Kinshasa), two South American cities (Bogotà and Lima), and four other Asian cities (Istanbul, Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok). 

Distribution of the world’s megacities in 1960, 1980, 2000, 2018 and 2030 

1960

1980

2000

2018

2030

Global North

3

3

5

6

7

   North America

1

1

2

2

2

   Europe

0

0

1

2

3

   Japan

2

2

2

2

2

Global South

0

2

11

27

34

   Central and South America

0

2

4

6

6

   Africa

0

0

1

3

6

   China

0

0

2

6

7

   India

0

0

3

5

7

   Rest of Asia

0

0

1

7

8

World

3

5

16

33

41

Sources: Rukmana (2020), UNDESA (2019) 

According to World Urbanization Prospects (UNDESA 2019), the Global South is projected to be home to 34 out of 41 megacities in 2030, adding seven new megacities between 2018 and 2030: Hyderabad, Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, Ahmadabad, Luanda, Ho Chi Minh City, and Chengdu. The only agglomeration in the Global North expected to become a megacity before 2030 will be London.

The growth of megacities in the Global South presents major challenges for urban governance and planning. To master them, developing planning tools that consider the specific conditions of cities in the Global South will be crucial.














Rapid urban growth

The megacities in the Global South have grown from cities with discernible boundaries to giant, endlessly sprawling metropolitan areas. The core city boundaries, which had been inherited from the era of colonialism, were transcended as a result of rapid population growth and the accompanying expansion of economic activities. The massive expansion of suburbs was also the result of a series of deregulation measures and economic reforms instituted in many countries of the Global South (Rustiadi et al 2020; Yeh & Chen 2020). Agricultural areas and forests were converted into residential areas and industrial zones at a massive scale. The residential areas that have emerged are often divided along class lines, producing cityscapes of high social contrast, ranging from informal settlements to affluent gated communities. Developed for middle and upper income groups, such estates typically offer high-standard shopping malls, cinemas, hospitals and other amenities, while the so-called slums usually lack adequate public infrastructure. In many instances the emergence of new suburban towns led to large-scale displacement of farmers and other existing residents, their displacement frequently enacted through eviction procedures. In most cases, urban sprawl in megacities is an uncontrolled and unexpected process, with the expansion of the city’s boundaries occurring at a greater pace than planning and interference by local governments

Urban informality and dualism

A distinct feature of cities in the Global South is their informality, a concept that refers to spatial as well as socio-economic dimensions. Spatially, a considerable if not the bigger part of the urban fabric consists of informal structures, as most urban inhabitants in the Global South have to house themselves. Neither the market nor the public sector offers affordable land or housing to cover their needs. The OECD defines informal settlements as “1. areas where groups of housing units have been constructed on land that the occupants have no legal claim to, or occupy illegally;” and “2. as unplanned settlements and areas where housing is not in compliance with current planning and building regulations (unauthorized housing)” (OECD).

Informal housing is a product of poverty and rapid urbanization (Gonzalez 2008), predominantly resulting from rural-to-urban migration. The hopes for employment and a better income that draw many migrants to cities are often disappointed. They usually have no other choice but to move into already overcrowded settlements or create new ones as they arrive. Frequently such settlements are located in geographically and environmentally sensitive areas such as riverbanks, wetlands, floodplains, steep slopes, etc. Their legal status is likewise insecure as the land that has been seized is either unoccupied state-owned land, e.g. disposal sites or railway tracks, or private unoccupied land. The lack of security of tenure for the land or dwellings inhabited cements the permanent urban crisis to which the inhabitants are forced to adapt, a crisis that is marked by the inadequacy or absence of basic services and city infrastructure, particularly housing, insufficient growth management and social inequality (Roy 2009).

The World Urbanization Prospects (UNDESA 2019) report 883 million people or 22.8 percent of the world’s urban population living in slums or informal housing in 2014. The majority of people living in such inferior and insecure conditions are located in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (332 million), Central and Southern Asia (197 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (189 million).

A further dimension of urban informality concerns the structure of the economy. The majority of the working population in cities of the Global South is employed in informal arrangements of production, distribution and trade. Most workers enter the informal sector due to a lack of opportunities in the formal economy. The most recent global estimates on the size of informal employment, published by the International Labor Organization in 2018, calculate that 44 percent of the world’s workers are informally employed in urban areas. The proportion varies by region and country. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest proportion of informal employment in urban areas (77 percent), followed by Southeast Asia (73 percent), South Asia (72 percent), Central America (58 percent), South America (49 percent), and China (36 percent). Those working in the informal economy are usually deprived of decent working conditions. Many of them also fail to meet state regulations and are classified as illegal (Skinner & Watson 2018).

As these descriptions demonstrate, there are good reasons for considering urban informality in the Global South the norm rather than the exception. Some planning theorists (Roy 2005; Porter 2011; Yiftachel 2009) suggest that urban informality is not separable from urban formality, that it should be seen as a system of norms that governs the transformation of cities. In other words, informality is a mode of metropolitan transformation in the Global South, but an insignificant mode of development for cities of the Global North. In the developing world, the state and its planning authorities contribute to the production and maintenance of urban informality rather than seeking to prohibit or prevent it (Roy 2009; Yiftachel 2009). The presence of informality as a mode of urban transformation is manifested in the spatial layout of cities. Slums or informal settlements are frequently located around, or in the immediate vicinity of, exclusive residential high-rises in inner-city areas or gated communities in urban peripheral areas. Informal sector workers engage in activities with formal sector workers in the same urban spaces.

This urban dualism is a further distinct feature of cities of the Global South. Spaces of formality and global culture and informal spaces of slums and squatter settlements are adjacent to each other and their inhabitants cooperate at many levels and in numerous sectors, contributing in important ways to the efficient functioning of the city. Such spaces of dualistic contrasts are much more pronounced and frequent in developing countries. In most megacities of the Global South, this urban dualism is also the legacy of colonialism. The divide between the formal and informal city continued throughout colonial and post-colonial periods.
















Planning initiatives and innovations

Planners in the Global South need to understand the relationship between urban informality and their planning work. Informal spaces are often misperceived as ‘unplannable’. This misperception lies at the basis for numerous attempts to integrate such spaces into formal urban structures and global culture (Roy 2005). Informal spaces interact extensively with the formal spaces; they evolve over time and hybridize. Informal settlements become the means for urban poor to secure income, housing and services. Therefore, planners need to recognize the value of these spaces and how they become part of the physical and socio-economic fabric of the city. The experience of slum clearance and relocation programs has taught planners that such actions are no solution as they only moved the same substandard houses to new places, usually urban peripheral areas. In fact, there was no need to demolish slums because they were part of the solution. Similarly, top-to-bottom upgrading programs have been disappointing as they have produced high levels of household displacement.

As a consequence, many megacities in the Global South have applied a “self-help” approach to implement strategies of upgrading for improving and consolidating the existing homes of slum dwellers. The concept is that the inhabitants improve their housing incrementally by using better materials and adding more space (Mukhija 2001). Studies show that the “self-help” method is superior to total redevelopment in terms of affordability, flexibility, and encouraging human creativity in seeking value in life (Pugh 2001; Rukmana 2018).

To policy-makers in the Global South, the “self-help” approach is appealing because it is an inexpensive solution to the housing crisis (Rukmana 2018). Through in-situ upgrading of existing buildings, the number of slum dwellers who are relocated to other sites is minimized and the extent of disruption to the social and economic networks of slum dwellers is reduced. The “self-help” approach largely does without displacement and has been key to the success of many slum upgrading programs.

Planners in the Global South furthermore need to understand the importance of spaces provision for the informal economy. Some governments have taken violent measures against the informal economy due to pressure from the urban elite or private sector land developers. The use of urban planning to constrain the activities of the informal economy is facilitated by the legacy of colonialism, particularly the planning legislation that has survived from the colonial era in many places. Former British colonies in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, adopted British planning laws aiming at the ‘orderly’ development of cities. The plans based on these laws promote urban structures that provide no space for an informal economy (Skinner & Watson 2018). As a result, such plans become a source of conflict between urban authorities and the informal economy workers. A case in point is the eviction of street vendors whose work collides with the focus on order and beautification that urban planners still bound by colonial-era urban planning thinking will necessarily prioritize. By contrast, accommodating the informal sectors in urban spaces will aid an urban transformation that increases the quality of life in those areas that urgently need improvement (Rukmana & Purbadi 2013).

It is a sign of adjustment in the right direction that many countries in the Global South, among them Mexico, Colombia, and India, have understood the importance of street vendors for the economy and wellbeing of their cities and now recognize the constitutional right of people to work on the street. (Skinner & Watson 2018). Street vending is a significant element of cities developing countries and has two important characteristics: mobility and flexibility (Bromley 2000). Street vendors tend to cluster towards areas with high levels of business opportunities, such as central business districts, commercial centers, transportation terminals, sports and entertainment venues and major tourist attractions. They can bring life to dreary streets and serve as living signs where economic activity is concentrated. They can offer colorful stalls and merchandise that attract more people to visit. Street vendors can provide “an element of novelty, and add conviviality, congeniality and just a little congestion to the environment” (Bromley 2000).

Conclusion

Planning the megacities of the Global South is an urgent and critical task for securing the sustainability and livability of the globe in the coming decades. The core feature of urban transformation in the Global South is urban informality, a phenomenon that plays a comparatively insignificant role in today’s cities of the Global North. In other words, urban informality is the norm rather than the exception in cities of the developing world. Here the majority of workers earn a living in the informal economy, and the urban space is characterized by stark dualistic contrasts of informal and formal structures. Planners in the Global South need to engage with the specific challenges that come with this informality, a task that involves a change of perspective whose difficulty lies in it being paradoxical to the very nature of planning. Roy (2005) pointed this out in her seminal article on urban informality: “To deal with informality … partly means confronting how the apparatus of planning produces the unplanned and unplannable.”

References

Beirle, S., Boersma, K. F., Platt, U., Lawrence, M. G., & Wagner, T. (2011). “Megacity emissions and lifetimes of nitrogen oxides probed from space”. Science, 333(6050), 1737–1739.

Bromley, R. (2000). “Street vending and public policy: A global review”. The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 20(1/2): 1–28.

Gilbert, A. (1996). The Mega-city in Latin America. Tokyo/New York/Paris: United Nations University Press.

Gonzalez, C. (2008). “Squatters, pirates, and entrepreneurs: Is informality the solution to the urban housing crisis?” University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, 40, 239–259.

International Labor Organization. (2018). Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture. 3rd Edition. Geneva: ILO

Kraas, F. (2007). “Megacities and global change: Key priorities”. Geographical Journal, 173(1), 79–82.

Mukhija, V. (2001). “Upgrading housing settlements in developing countries: The impact of existing physical conditions”. Cities, 18(4), 213–222.

Odendaal, N. and A. McCann. (2016). “Spatial planning in the Global South: Reflections on the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework”. International Development Planning Review 38(4): 405–423

Porter, L. (2011). “Informality, the commons and the paradoxes for planning: Concepts and debates for informality and planning”. Planning Theory & Practice 12(1), 115–120

Pugh, C. (2001). “The theory and practice of housing sector development for developing countries, 1950–99”. Housing Studies, 16(4), 399–423.