|Population, Urbanization and Quality of Life (HABITAT, 1994, 47 p.)|
It is increasingly, and widely, being accepted that urbanization is both inevitable and irreversible. Before now, more emphasis has been placed on the problems and negative consequences of urbanization than on its positive potentials. For decades, urbanization was seen as inimical to human development. Cities were considered to have benefited disproportionately from national development efforts; urban development was considered more costly than rural development, and it was considered that the growth of cities merely added to unemployment, to environmental deterioration and degradation, to increases in crime and social decline etc. Thus, government policy and international assistance gave greater attention to rural development.
In more recent years however, the growth of cities is seen increasingly as essential for human development. As indicated earlier, the GNP per capita numbers are much higher in countries with more of their people in cities. The economies of scale in large cities generate goods and services far in excess of their share of the total population. This higher productivity of urban labour means that wages are higher and employment opportunities greater, especially for women. Cities also give their residents the knowledge and skills to become more productive - a propitious cycle. Cities promote the modernization of agriculture, provide markets for farm goods and reduce pressure on the land (UNDP, 1991). Cities also provide a predisposing environment for more effective information dissemination, education and awareness that influence fertility and mortality trends, family planning responses and family size desires - all of which contribute to improving and enhancing the overall quality of life of the population.
Rather, therefore, than considering and treating urbanization as a development problem, it should be recognized and treated as positive potential in human development. The benefits of urbanization clearly exceed its problems. As rightly noted by UNDP (1990), this phenomenon "is neither a crisis nor a tragedy". It only poses a management challenge. What is required is better management of urbanization and the cities they create with more appropriate policies and practices. With improved urban management, the realization of the fuller potentials of urbanization would be attained while minimizing its negative consequences.
"Urban management", refers to the process of efficiently and effectively utilizing resources to provide satisfactory living and working conditions for the urban population and facilitating economic production and growth in urban areas. This process essentially involves the formulation of appropriate objectives, goals, policies and strategies; and the mobilization and efficient use of resources (including personnel, organizational, information, finance and land resources) in order to develop, maintain and provide essential urban infrastructure and services (including water, sanitation, electricity, refuse collection and removal, roads, education and health) for both docmestic consumption and economic production purposes. Some of the urban management strategies have also to do strengthening urban informal sector roles, and strengthening urban institutional capacities (Cheema, 1993: 7-13).
Given the existing urban management problems in developing countries, the major challenge for the next 20 or so years is the formulation and implementation of management strategies capable of not only resolving extant problems, but also of coping with very significant urban growth - estimated to be 51 million people per year over the next 40 years (UNCHS (Habitat), 1987; 30).
One of the challenges for urban management in the future will also be to increase the income-earning opportunities of the poor through enhancement of the capacity of cities to generate increased productivity, economic growth and employment, or, in other words, through the transformation of cities into efficient engines of economic growth. This will demand far better organized and more efficient physical infrastructure, in particular serviced land for the location of new production enterprises, water, electricity, roads and telecommunication facilities. Also necessary will be an enabling environment in which the restrictions on the informal sector, which still exist in many developing countries, are reduced to the minimum and replaced by more supportive policies.
One of the most significant failures of urban authorities in many developing country cities is that they have so far been unable to cater to the needs of the majority of their urban residents, who cannot afford the types of services offered. A major challenge for urban management is the reorientation of the objectives, goals, policies and strategies of municipal management in order to meet the needs and improve the living and working conditions of the majority. Meeting this challenge will partly require the relaxation and rationalization of existing housing and infrastructure standards which have tended to exclude the poor, as well as the institutionalization of an enabling framework which will permit community-based organizations, individual households and the private sector to contribute towards the provision and maintenance of urban services, particularly in low-income areas. This should not be seen as an abdication of responsibility on the part of municipal authorities, but simply as an affirmation of the already existing activities which are currently filling the large gap left by formal local government.
Urbanization has both positive and negative roles in population management and in the quality of life or urban populations in both the developed and developing countries. Its diverse roles need careful research, monitoring and evaluation with a view to prescribing and implementing suitable policies and strategies that have both short-term and long-term consequences. The inevitability and irreversibility of urbanization demands that effective and sustainable urban management be developed and maintained.
Sustainable urban management that is sensitive to population management and improvement of the quality of life of urban populations should be pragmatic, grassroots-based and oriented to problem-solving. It should place the interests and requirements of the underprivileged - the urban poor, children, women and the aged - at the top of its agenda in order to eliminate the costly option of ignoring them and downplaying their problems. Urbanization will in future change countries to "urban-nation States" almost reminiscent of the ancient Greco-Roman civilizations, forcing all countries to re-examine themselves and urbanization afresh. It will subsume demographic, economic, social and political components which will interplay to determine the profiles of individual urban areas, and the quality of life they offer their residents.
Lessons learned from recent and current research and technical cooperation programmes in urban management suggest the need for a number of fundamental changes and improvements in existing urban management practices. These include improving the efficiency of land markets; redefining intergovernmental fiscal relations; redefining the allocation of decision-making responsibilities in respect of the delivery of services; adoption of an enabling framework in order to encourage partnerships between the public, private and community sectors; and adoption of the principles of sustainable development in managing urbanization and the urban environment.
As the world becomes increasingly urban, the necessity to further improve and strengthen urban management policies and instruments can only be imperative.
Some of the accumulated insights of UNCHS (Habitat) on this subject is encapsulated in one of its recent publications entitled, People, Settlements, Environment and Development.