Urban Sprawl and Sustainability. What Gives?

Figure 1urbanization in Africa. Image source: visualhunt.com

Urbanization alone will not automatically and naturally translate into an improvement of living conditions and economic growth. It requires a number of accompaniments if it is to gear positive change in terms of growth and development of a country. Research by the UN shows that 50% of Africa’s population will be living in urban areas by the year 2040. One of the mistakes that most urban planners make in their work is treating urbanization as a crisis rather than a tremendous opportunity to better a society’s economic growth. This is the reason as to why they provide short term solutions that are not effective or productive.

Understanding Urbanization

What drives urbanization? This question has answers that seem impossible to solve. The reality of the matter is that it involves more push than pull factors. The push factors include poverty, unemployment, civil wars, climate change, and famine. The perception that there are better economic and social opportunities in the cities is one of the major pull factors.

Figure 2an urbanized African city. Image source: flickr.com

The first thing governments and urban planners should recognize is that urbanization is here to stay. Most countries in Africa are already overwhelmed by urbanization and struggle to cope with it. They fail to focus on the positive effects. Picture the number of social services ranging from schools to hospitals available in an urbanized area. They tend to be higher and easily accessible compared to those in rural areas. In a world that is full of creativity and innovations, urbanization plays a key role as most resources needed for growth to take place are within the urban areas.

Treating urbanization as a crisis leads to short term implementations of curbing it. In Kenya, for example, reclaiming of public land from the people by the government so as to curb urbanization has led to the growth of informal settlements and slums such as Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga. Africa must understand that no region in the world has prospered without developing their cities. What we should now work on is making urbanization work towards yielding positive results rather than negative results. However, urbanization alone is not sufficient to regenerate the future of most countries.

Most African societies are rich in natural resources, such as oil and minerals. This offers them a huge source of revenue that serves as tremendous potential in the growth of a city. Government investment in urban infrastructure will not only create employment opportunities but also open markets for both Producers and consumers. Rapid population growth offers a great consumer market for investment. Foreign investors, for example, are looking into Africa as a source of its future growth as most countries in the west have remained stagnant in term of population growth. This will create more opportunities for Africa while at the same time growing its economy. The governments should formulate a policy that integrates management and city planning.

Lessons From China

Figure 3 china and urbanization image source: flickr.com

Some lessons can be borrowed from China to help make urbanization yield positive results. China raised its capital investment which entails housing and infrastructure from 35 percent of GDP in 1980 to 48 percent in 2011. This was accompanied by a rapid increase in urban population from 18 percent in 1978 to 52 percent in 2012. In deviance, capital investment in Africa has stagnated at 20 percent of GDP for over four decades. China’s transformation was championed by urbanization in its large cities. They played a role in raising investment and job opportunities by drawing low-skilled manufacturing industries which profited from economies of scale and market connections.

African governments and should work with communities to improve their situation from the ground. New skill sets of working with the community should be improvised instead of doing things for the community. There should be co-operation for example between stakeholders’ interests and that of the people in the cities for any sort of transition to take place. Businesses should be provided with capital that enables them to create quality jobs for people moving into urban centers. This will improve the ‘Working Environmental condition.’

More capital should be geared towards household and private investment in housing. Strengthening the foundations and systems that make urban areas competitive and sustainable and rational. This will greatly enhance the ‘Living environment. If inhabitants have sources of income, productivity in their professions and socialization with housing which is of good quality, access to a good working and living environment, Urbanization is highly welcome.

Rural areas are affected by urbanization as well despite its growth in terms of population. They experience a massive drain in terms of the youth as they move more compared to the old in the urban areas. The government should be able to come up with strategic and applicable methods to strengthen the linkages between the rural and urban areas. For example, a farmer in the rural area should be able to access the market for their produce in urban areas. This will act as an incentive for those seeking opportunities in urban areas. Moreover, it will lead to the growth and development of rural areas as well.

There should be a shift in perception of urbanization concept and solutions offered so as to control it. This will help in developing an economic strategy that deals with urbanization.


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