Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Rise Of The City State

Jonathan Manthorpe, at ipolitics, has an interesting column about the rise of the modern city state. Cities, he writes, are where the action is:

The tipping point in this movement came in 2008, when — according to the World Bank — half of humanity was living in cities for the first time in history (the percentage has since risen to 54 per cent). More than that, the World Bank calculates that urban populations now create 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, and that this will continue to increase as urbanization accelerates in developing countries, especially in Africa.

Recent political events, however, signal that not everyone is happy with the trend:

In most cases, citizens are shifting their immediate loyalties from the nation to their city or region. This trend does always lead to positive outcomes. The Brexit vote last year for Britain to leave the European Community can be seen as the country’s rural and smaller urban regions rebelling against the political, economic and cultural domination of London. Added to this is the perception that London is increasingly distant from and disdainful of the rest of the country.

The rise of Donald Trump is also attributable to a rebellion in "flyover country." And the Electoral College favours flyover country.  The disconnect between urban and rural citizens could be the source of much future strife:

A major problem for all cities is that they tend to be administrative creatures of subnational governments (like provinces) or the nation-state. Their capacities to pursue their own policies and raise the revenues needed to implement them are usually heavily prescribed and limited.

That’s as true of Toronto as it is of Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is already Africa’s largest city, with 20 million people. The local governor predicts its population will increase to 40 million people in the foreseeable future.

Lagos is a city of enormous energy and self-confidence, but it is a city of almost unmatched chaos. There are about 200 unplanned slum neighbourhoods, with the result that 70 per cent of the city’s 20 million people lack indoor plumbing or access to grid power. About 60 per cent of Lagos’ children do not attend school.

The hope is that as Africa becomes the next repository of cheap manufacturing labour to be exploited, international investment will also bring the resources for functioning local and national administrations.

That has happened to a substantial degree in Southeast Asia, where urbanization has been underway for 30 years and more. However, since moves towards economic integration among the 10 regional countries begun in 2015, rapid social and technological developments are putting great strains on the cities and national government.

Cities that can't cope with rapid growth can quickly become hell holes -- fertile ground for terrorists:

Dislocated cities are also natural breeding grounds for radical political or ideological movements. The ultra-right-wing political movements in Europe and North America and the propagation of violent Islamic movements are not springing from villages. They are coming from the grimmer districts of Hamburg, Paris, Cairo, Karachi and the American rust belt.

Those of us who live in rural areas have watched this trend for decades. The children we raised have left because there are no jobs in the hinterland. The jobs are in the cities -- all over the world. But, unless the world can get its cities right, it will be rocked by our darker angels.



Rural said...

Many of us who live in rural areas. despite the increasing need to visit 'the city' for even the most basic supplies or services, watch the demise of rural areas brought on by the difficulty of finding suitable employment with concern, Owen. As an 'old fart' with over 70 years of life away from urban living I am not about to change now but do wonder how long our smaller towns and villages can remain viable and remain free of the 'city mindset'.
Are those 'darker angels' drawn to the citys or more a result of living in such high pressure places I wonder?

Owen Gray said...

I taught lots of kids who would like to come back here to live, Rural. Some have gone away and come back as doctors and lawyers and they can make a good living here. But the majority of the kids I taught know they can't go home again.

Toby said...

Back in the early 1970's the BC government made a conscious decision to decentralize. Throughout the Province community colleges sprang up and even a couple of Universities. Regional government offices grew. Services improved. Businesses set up branches in the Interior. Businesses flourished. Many people migrated from the cities to small towns to work and bring up families. Then someone turned off the switch.

There was a financial crunch in the late 80's that has never really gone away. Various powers that be protected their own turf by sacrificing their small town and rural extensions; at least that's the way it seemed. One regional government manager told me that someone in Victoria blocked computer access to head office files; decisions that had been made locally would thereafter be made in Victoria. Decentralization was dead.

Steve said...

I grew up in the country, town of 1200 people. It was tourist town and supported a reasonable economy.

Small towns are not sustainable. They are versions of the Native village problem. Its too expensive to provide services to small.

I still live in a small town but am only 15 min drive from Niagara Falls.

The most important thing goverment can do is good planning, and preserving green spaces. I really worry that if the Conservatives win the first thing to go in a Trump like move would be the greenbelt preservation.

Owen Gray said...

The same thing has happened to schools and hospitals in Ontario, Toby. Management was centralized on the theory that we were setting up economies of scale. But what happened was that resources got sucked to the centre. Our local hospital is struggling these days. It offers fewer and fewer services.

Owen Gray said...

Your fear could become reality, Steve. The main argument these days against preservation is that it's too expensive.