| The Courier N°131 Jan-Feb 1992 Dossier The urban crisis- Country Report: Dominican Republic |
|Dossier: The urban crisis|
by Poul Ove PEDERSEN
Small towns have never played a key part in the development debate. However, in recent years more attention has been given to small towns primarily because during the 1980s they seem to have been growing rapidly in many developing countries.
The group of small and intermediate towns is not a clearly delimited entity. It comprises centres ranging in size from large villages with a few thousand inhabitants to quite large provincial towns with populations of 50 000 or more.
Common for small towns is that many of the activities on which they are based serve as intermediaries between the rural areas and the larger cities, especially the capital. The small town is a collection point for rural agricultural produce and a distribution point for public and private services and for industrial products. Therefore, small towns are seen potentially to play an important role in the rural development process.
Small towns, however, are not only the location of economic activities. They are also the place of living and working for a growing number of migrants from the rural areas. Therefore, it is often hoped that small towns may absorb a significant share of the rural-urban migration and thus reduce the flow of migrants to the large cities. However, due to lack of financial resources and administrative manpower, the local governments of small towns are often not able to cater satisfactorily for the housing, service and infrastructure needs of the growing number of people.
Moreover, small towns are in no way a homogeneous group about which one can easily generalise, and even where, on average, they grow rapidly, not all small towns will be growing. Their develop" ment depends on the economy of their hinterland, the organization of both local and intermediate functions and the structure and strength of outside national and international forces. As a consequence, there is no guarantee that figures for individual small towns are representative of the group as a whole. Unfortunately, most of our knowledge about small towns comes from case studies of individual towns. Statistics and other information on small towns are scarce, because most often, small towns are not recognised as independent statistical units, appearing instead as part of a larger rural area.
The two boxes contain profiles of two small towns in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
The image of small towns
One important reason why the interest in small towns has been slow to develop among donors. politicians, planners, and researchers is undoubtedly that theoretically it has been very unclear how the role of small towns should be understood.
Theories and viewpoints on small towns in the development literature have tended to be either positive: the small town as a point of service distribution and innovation diffusion for the rural areas, or negative: the small town as a point of exploitation and resource extraction from the rural areas. Especially in Africa, the negative viewpoint has tended to dominate, and that for good reason: during the colonial period the small towns were the seat of the colonial power and traders, and often the takeover by the nation state after independence did not greatly change this pattern.
As a consequence of this negative viewpoint, development planners have tended to overlook the potential role of small towns. Implicitly or explicitly, these were seen as the seat of the rural bourgeoisie and the exploitative superfluous middlemen, who were not seen to play any positive role in the development process. Instead, development activity should, it was believed, focus directly on the farmer, and the support needed should be provided directly by the government without the we of unnecessary intermodiaries. In most rural development programmes, this led to a direct focus on the farmer and agricultural activities. This rural focus was obviously important in order to understand and support the rural development process; but it has not led to the degree of decentralisation, which in general was intended. Rather, it has, on the one hand, led to a strong concentration in the capital cities, of decision-making power and of processing and marketing activities related to agriculture. On the other hand, it has also led to the support of very small scale rural processing and marketing activities at a subsistence or artisan level. But it has tended to block the development of rural industrialisation which ought to have taken place at the intermediate level but which was prevented by the prevailing theories.
Although the negative view of small towns as exploitative in most cases seems to be historically justified, this does not justify the conclusion that small towns should be by-passed because this will obviously not, by itself, reduce the central exploitative powers.
Makambako has, since the mid 1970s. developed into an important transport and market town with about 15 000 inhabitants. It is located 700 km from Dar es Salaam where the Tazara railway (connecting Zambia with Dar es Salaam harbour) meets with the Tanzan highway and the new highway from Songea and the southern parts of Tanzania.
Thus the growth of the town is due primarily to its strategic location on the transport network which has developed since the 1970s. However. the town has also benefited from rapidly increasing agricultural production in the rural region surrounding it, and by the liberalisation which, since 1986, has opened up possibilities for private businesses.
The activities of the centre are l dominated by private small-scale businesses in trade and transport. There is also considerable artisan production, mostly related to the housing sector (buildings and furniture), but few larger production enterprises. Many : of the inhabitants are full- or part-time workers engaged in agriculture. On the other hand, the town is not an administrative centre, and public sector employment is limited.
Until recently, the town has legally developed in a vacuum, neither recognised as a town nor as a village. l Consequently, public investment in l services and infrastructure is lagging 1 far behind.
The recent growth of small towns
Whether the small town is dominantly exploitative or supportive does not primarily depend on the small town itself. If the relationship between the rural areas and the urban-based national economy is exploitative, the development of small towns is not likely to change that. It may even make the exploitation more efficient. On the other hand, if the national urban economy is supportive of rural development, the development of small towns may make that support more efficient.
Many countries have had specific growth or service centre policies to support the development of small rural centres. However, where the sectoral policies have been highly centralized, the effect of such policies has been limited.
Consequently, the recent trend toward growth of small towns is not primarily a result of specific small town policies, but rather of the restructuring which has taken place in many developing countries since the mid- 1980s. The recent literature points to a number of different explanations for small town growth:
- Decline or even breakdown of the large scale, semi-monopolistic, formal sector which, to a large extent, is located in the large towns. This has left a void, which has made it possible for smallscale, often informal activities to develop at the periphery. Some authors have even talked about the retreat from the formal economy.
- Changes in marketing and pricing regulations which, in a number of countries, has led to increasing rural incomes. - Increasing acceptance of the importance of a small-scale distribution and production sector.
- Decentralisation of public administration and the spread of public services and infrastructure.
As to which of these factors is dominant, this will vary from country to country and from town to town. So too will the consequences for development.
Some authors, who emphasise the decline of formal sector employment in large towns, describe the process as one of falling urban incomes and increasing ruralisation. Others, who emphasise the development of new enterprises in the small towns, see the same process as an emerging urbanization in the rural regions. Whether the latter, more optimis tic, vision comes true, it may well be too early to judge.
Local and national action towards small town development
Although the possibilities for the growth of small towns depend to a large extent on national restructuring policies, the actual development obviously depends on the local response to new opportunities by private businessmen, social groups and public authorities.
Therefore, improved local government, small town investment programmes, establishment of local financial institutions, and local vocational and business training programmes etc. are important. They also acquire a new meaning and a larger chance of being successful in a more decentralized economy where they are not counteracted by centralised sectoral policies.
The development of small towns in the rural regions may become an important element in increasing the productivity and income generation of the rural regions. The process of rural industrialisation should start in the small town, not primarily with the purpose of reaching the world market, but rather in order to increase the efficiency of the rural economy.
Small towns also may create new employment for part of the surplus rural population. However, they are not likely to become the solution to the growing urban unemployment problem.
Even where small towns have grown most rapidly, they have in general not absorbed more than a minor part of the rural-urban migration. However, this may still be important because it relieves some of the pressure caused by the flow of migration towards the large cities.
Gutu is a district service centre in one of the largest communal areas in Zimbabwe. It is located 300 km south of Harare. It is the main urban centre for a rural region with more than 200 000 inhabitants. The centre dates back to the 1 950s, but it has, especially daring the 10 years since independence, been growing rapidly and it has now around 20 000 inhabitants.
The growth of the town is caused on the one hand by a rapid expansion of public administration and services, and on the other hand by increasing rural incomes caused partly by increasing agricultural production in the area, and partly by increasing income remittances from people working in the large towns.
Consequently, activities in the town are dominated by the public sector on the one hand and by private retail and wholesale trade on the other. There is also a considerable small-scale building sector but few other production enterprises. Among the major production enterprises are a small commercial mill, small oil mill a soap factory and a scotch cart production unit. But this production only counts for a small proportion of the employment.
Since independence, there has been considerable infrastructure investment in the town which has been linked to the national electricity and hard surface road network. These networks, however, still do not extend into the rural hinterland. Also, housing and urban infrastructures are lagging far behind demand.