The Benefits of Urbanization
Experts expect that 66-70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 (Taylor). Yearly, more and more rural residents migrate to urban cities in hopes of a better life. Further increase in population in urban areas will translate to harmful effects on people and the environment. People in cities will experience housing problems, poverty, and unemployment (National Geographic Society). While all of these would lead to the exacerbation of current climate issues, primarily waste management, pollution, and deforestation, this phenomenon is not something that can be prevented, unless more opportunities become available in rural areas. Urbanization is associated with numerous issues, including pollution and urban sprawl. However, research shows that despite these disadvantages, urbanization brings about more benefits for low-income countries that would allow them to solve existing and current issues, such as job generation and commercialization, improved transportation infrastructures, acceleration of the tourism industry, and technological innovations.
What is Urbanization?
The National Geographic defines urbanization as “the process through which cities grow” (National Geographic Society). The growth of cities includes an increase in job opportunities that leads to an increase in its population. People from rural areas are attracted to migrate to cities to gain access to better job opportunities in manufacturing and other professions (National Geographic Society). Thus, aside from the increase in population, another sign, and often byproduct, of urbanization is economic advancement.
The Benefits of Urbanization
Urbanization has numerous benefits for low-income countries. The first benefit of urbanization is economic advancement through increased job generation, commercialization, and trade (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements). Rural residents whose sources of income are no longer sufficient seek to move up the social ladder and improve their quality of life by looking for better jobs in urban areas. With more labor resources, cities become centers of trade. Cities also offer rural residents various products and services that are only available there, so business opportunities grow. Business sectors expand to other industries, as well as to the government. Since urbanization generates more jobs, more rural residents are able to earn and survive in shifting economies.
Transportation is one of the major issues often cited in cities. However, with increased government income, it is possible to address the infrastructural demands of the city. With these advancements in infrastructure, the country will benefit from an increase in tourism as well (Taylor). The tourism industry in the whole country will accelerate because tourists tend to be attracted to countries with efficient transportation systems. In turn, the country will see an increase in commercialization—more jobs and business opportunities both in the city and in rural areas—and higher income for the government from foreign currency inflows.
Urbanized countries also see growth in the field of science and technology. The advancement of science and technology along with urbanization is true for the private sector. Since the private sector is designed to respond to the demands of the population, they push for developments in technology to accommodate the growing demands of urban residents whose mobility and purchasing power keep growing.
Job generation, commercialization, infrastructure legacy, tourism, and innovations all come together to contribute to better overall quality of life of citizens of low-income countries. The diversified economic base due to urbanization opens up opportunities that make all these developments possible. As also noted, substantial social change encourages foreign investments in the country, which further stimulates the local economy (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements). Whether it is from non-governmental organizations or multinational corporations, these investments equip the country to further improve its status.
The Disadvantages of Urbanization
It is inevitable that urbanization also has disadvantages. In political debates, those who oppose urbanization often cite its impact on the environment as the primary reason for their objection. The expansion of cities means taller buildings, traffic congestion, increased waste, pollution, and poorer sanitation (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, n.p.). Furthermore, urban sprawl, the movement of urban residents to areas surrounding urban areas—or the suburbs—leads to reduced agricultural area, thus aggravating climate change.
These issues are all true and worth tackling during policy-making processes. While it is also true that urbanization offers far greater benefits than the issues it creates, this is not sufficient. With the climate crisis becoming more urgent, countries must actively move against climate change and toward sustainability. However, this is not a sign that countries should not encourage urbanization. Rather, this is more a reason to encourage it. Urbanization equips a country with the appropriate resources to tackle climate issues, as well as the other issues that will arise due to it (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, n.p.). With more resources, governments can fund localized solutions to the country’s existing and newly occurring problems.
The effects of urbanization in a country depend heavily on its government, specifically on how it decides to allocate new resources. While citizens also have more resources, their government will manage the majority of the resources and investments they will gain from urbanization. Thus, the government must prioritize development that is inclusive and sustainable. For instance, investing in low-carbon infrastructures, sustainable waste, water, and land management, and in the protection and maintenance of natural resources (Hoeflich de Duque). If resources are mismanaged, indeed, the country will fall into the multitude of issues cited above.
To conclude, urbanization brings about numerous benefits for low-income countries. These benefits far exceed the issues it may bring about. Despite the disadvantages, urbanization still equips countries with the resources to combat or prevent the mentioned issues. With that said, a crucial variable is the government. Urbanization can lead a country toward growth or to its detriment—and it depends on how they decide to use it. Thus, it is unfair to blame the various issues faced by urbanized low-income countries solely on urbanization. Like technology, urbanization is merely an instrument whose impact on a country or the world is dependent on the people who wield it. If properly utilized, urbanization can bring about numerous benefits that would advance low-income countries while also resolving various issues they currently face and equip them for future ones.
Hoeflich de Duque, Sarah. "The Role Of Local Governments in Sustainable Development.” Urbanet, August 2016, https://www.urbanet.info/local-governments-sustainable-urbanisation/.
National Geographic Society. “Urbanization.” National Geographic, October 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/urbanization/.
Taylor, Dylan. “The Benefits and Challenges Of Urbanization.” Urban Gateway, n.d. https://www.urbangateway.org/news/benefits-and-challenges-urbanization
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. Population, Urbanization and Quality Of Life. 1994. http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/en/d/Jha15pe/1.html#:~:text=Urbanization%2C%20and%20the%20environment%20which,of%20living%20of%20the%20population