Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Urbanisation Experience - The World & India

World TotalsPost colonial India, in the last 60 years has seen the shift of 30 crore (300 million) people from villages to cities - which is nearly the population of the entire USA. In 1947, India's urban population was 6 cores (60 million) - and in 2008, it is estimated to have crossed 36 crores (360 million). Another 500 million are expected to move in the next 20 years.

It is the largest demographic shift in the history of mankind - without wars, revolts or persecution. Most revolts, wars and upheavals have been accompanied by urbanization. Urbanization as the cause or an enabler of the revolutions is a matter of debate, research and conjecture.

Major Urban Agglomerations

India is different.

Indian culture started with urban centres like Harrapa and Mohenjodaro (dated between 2000-4000 BC). India has gone through many cycles of urbanization and rural migration.

The last de-urbanization happened at the the start of British Colonialism during the 1800 period. Cities like Dhaka lost between 50% to80% of its population. British Colonialism immediately startedUrban Spread In History flooding India with its Lancaster wares - and restricted Indian handloom weavers from competing with Lancaster.

The Renewal Of Mumbai

In 1982, Dr.Datta Samant called for strike by the textile workers in Mumbai. The strike went on for a year. Textile industry in Mumbai, tethering on the brink of collapses, went bankrupt.

Half of Mumbai's population (my estimate) was, directly or indirectly, dependent on these mills. In one of the most heroic renewals in modern urban history, Mumbai re-invented itself. From the manufacturing capital of the country, Mumbai has become the services capital of the country. It is this spirit which has made the Indian urban growth a remarkable story in the urbanization of the world's population.

Many Religions

The largest Islamic population to co-exist peacefully with another religion in the world now lives in India. While the West has been demonizing Islam, Indians Muslims have been getting ahead. In the last 10 years, Indian Muslims have become the richest (Azim Premji), occupied the highest office in the land (APJ Kalam) in this country.

Europe - Revolution & Civil War

In 1800, 23 European cities boasted of a 100,000 population. By 1900, there were 135 cities with over 100, 000 citizens. Amongst other causes, increased urbanization was a feature of the French Revolution - which started a chain of revolutions for the next 125 years.

The Russian Revolution by the Communists succeeded due to the rapid urbanization of Russia. Urban Russian population doubled from 7.3 to 14.6 million between 1867 and 1897. Expansion of railways between 1892-1903 made migration and travel to cities easier. Tsarist Russia, built on the support an land owning nobility, with serfs used for production, found that the urbanized industrial workers supported the Communists.

With increasing urbanization and the decline of colonies, Spain slipped into a civil war.

The Balkans Civil War, now running in its 100th year, with intermittent breaks and under different names, started with the urbanization.

South America

Among other things, urbanization played a major feature in South American 150 years after de-colonization. From 1820 - 1970, South America went through de-colonization, urbanization, revolts, revolutions - and crime.

The tipping point in South America was initially de-colonization, peasant and slave revolts and thereafter urbanization.

Why Are Cities The Focal Point

Cities provided spaces where large numbers of people could gather - and a 'change process' can start. Red Square in Moscow, Champs de Mars (where the first public meeting after the French Revolution) took place, the Tian An Men in Beijing, or the Shivaji Park in Mumbai are places where such meetings can happen.

Marx famously dismissed peasants as "a sack of potatoes" - and saw the urban worker as the base for the workers revolution. Peasant revolts are more difficult to organize as the population is spread over vast areas.

Where Do We Go From Here

This urban growth in unprecedented - and unparalleled. It shows the tremendous adaptability and resilience of the Indian. The Indian urban concept aspires towards foreign idiom - and that is the problem.

Mumbai wants to become another Shanghai, says Chief Minister, says Vilas Rao Deshmukh. This is aspiration is something that is mostly referred in a derisive manner - thankfully.

What Indian cities needs are instead to learn from the home grown Mumbai urban train transport system. For a monthly cost of Rs.70-200 (US$2-US$5), people in Mumbai can travel any number of times, in relative discomfort. It is a safe mode of transport (unlike the legacy rail system of the Colonial Britain). Accidents on this system happen due to its popularity - overcrowded trains. It is also profitable - and devoid of subsidies. Similar metros (not in scale or traffic though) have come up in Kolkatta and New Delhi.

What Indian cities needs are an Indian idiom - to solve the problems of these Indian cities. Will Indian planners deliver!

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