|Perspectives on Urban-Rural Synergies - Report of a Colloquium (HABITAT, 1999, 92 p.)|
The urban-rural synergy debate has over the years been dominated by three views, namely, a 'pro-urban' view, an 'anti-urban' view, and a 'rural-urban continuum' view. These views have significantly influenced national human settlements policies.
The pro-urban view sees urbanization as a progressive process and as one of the key forces underlying technological innovation, economic development and socio-political change. Cities and towns are seen as the loci of innovation, as well as the agents of innovation diffusion and socio-economic transformation. Urbanization is also seen as having positive demographic impacts, including reduction of both fertility and mortality overtime. The current resurgence of attention to urban management, and of the belief in cities as the engines of national economic growth, is partly based on this pro-urban perspective.
The anti-urban view sees urbanization as a destructive process, leading to the breakdown of traditional values and social cohesion. This, combined with the all too common inability of cities and towns to provide adequate employment and services, results in a visible concentration in cities of various socio-economic problems, including over-crowding, poverty, crime, vice, disease and environmental pollution. Some of the justifications for present-day human settlements policies aimed at slowing-down rates of rural-to-urban migration can be traced back to this view of the urban-rural divide, and to the perceived negative impacts of the ecological footprints of cities on rural areas.
The rural-urban continuum view occupies a middle position in relation to the above two views. Its justification lies in the visible and invisible flows and linkages between rural and urban areas, which have traditionally been categorized into economic, service, demographic, environmental and infrastructure linkages. Urbanization is also seen as a way of life, a force transforming cultural behaviour and patterns of living, not only within urban areas themselves, but within rural areas as well. Thus, people residing in a remote rural village may become partially 'urbanized' without necessarily migrating to towns and cities, as their access to infrastructure and services normally associated with urban areas increases. This view has given rise to two broad categories of human settlements policies and strategies, namely, population redistribution and growth and service centre policies. A third policy and strategy category that has indirectly contributed to the integration of rural and urban economies has been decentralization of government.
The Habitat Agenda1 carries forward and supports these policies and strategies of the rural-urban continuum view. It states: "Policies and programmes for the sustainable development of rural areas that integrate rural regions into the national economy require strong local and national institutions for the planning and management of human settlements that place emphasis on rural-urban linkages and treat villages and cities as two ends of a human settlements continuum" (para. 163). It urges Governments to adopt " an integrated approach to promote balanced and mutually supportive urban-rural development.." (para. 169). At the same time, the Habitat Agenda also recognizes the importance of a number of recent developments, including: (i) acceptance of the inevitability of urbanization and recognition of the benefits and opportunities associated with that process; (ii) recognition of the need for sustainable development, in both environmental and socio-economic terms; (iii) acceptance of enablement (including the related principles of decentralization and empowerment) as a framework for the implementation of human settlements programmes; and (iv) cognisance of the growing importance of globalization, including the effects of advanced global communication technologies.
1 UNCHS (habitat) 1997: The Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda. HS/441/97E
The colloquium on Urban-Rural Synergies which was held as a parallel event to the Seventeenth Session of the Commission on Human Settlement in May 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya, sought to advance this debate by addressing the following key questions, among others: What is the meaning of "rural-urban interdependence"? What should rural-urban relationships be? Are these relationships synergies or inter-linkages? What symbiotic contributions does one make to the other? What are the prospects of this relationship in an increasingly urbanizing and globalizing world and what are the cultural and environmental ramifications of urban-rural relationships? What are the challenges of rural-urban synergies for sustainable socio-economic development? What are the strengths of the rural versus urban poverty arguments? What should be the desirable direction for national development policy-making on urbanization and rural development? What strategies and instruments should be employed for such policy-making and implementation?
This publication presents the direct verbatim views of the lead speakers as well as comments and questions by participants in the colloquium. It serves to underline the importance of this issue in sustainable human settlements development.
Subsequent to the discussions at this colloquium and to discussions at the Seventeenth Session of the Commission on Human Settlements, Resolution 17/10 was adopted which "requests that urban-rural interdependence be taken into consideration in the execution of the work programme of the Centre for the next biennium, given the strong synergy between urban and rural areas".