Book Launch for Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and Its Implications in the Developing World
Over the next twenty years, most developing countries will become more urban than rural. The benefits from urbanization cannot be overlooked, but the speed and sheer scale of this transformation presents many challenges. In many developing countries, at least one in four urban residents is already thought to be living in absolute poverty. A new cast of policy makers is emerging to take on the responsibilities of urban governance, as many national governments decentralize and devolve their functions into the hands of untested municipal and regional governments. The upcoming volume, Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and Its Implications in the Developing World, edited by Mark Montgomery, Richard Stren, Barney Cohen, and Holly Reed, from the Panel on Urban Population Dynamics of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses these issues and explores the implications of various urban contexts for marriage, fertility, health, and education. In an event sponsored by the Comparative Urban Studies Project and the Environment Change and Security Project, editors Mark Montgomery and Richard Stren gave a comprehensive presentation of the principle themes covered in the book.
Mark Montgomery began the presentation with a brief overview of demographic trends. He emphasized the need for policy makers to focus on smaller cities due to evidence of higher growth rates, an infrastructure gap, and disparities in other services in relation to larger cities. This information indicates that poverty rates may be much higher in small to medium sized cities than large cities. Dr. Montgomery also touched on issues of fertility and reproductive health in his presentation. He stated, "In general, the urban poor appear to be better off than rural villagers, but not as well off as other urban residents." However, levels of reproductive health among the urban poor are often comparable, as residents do not utilize the additional services available in the urban environment. Conditions in urban slums can also be worse than in rural villages. For example the Dhaka Slum in Bangladesh and the urban slums in Karachi, Pakistan reveal cases where infant and maternal mortality rates are respectively higher than their rural counterparts.
Richard Stren continued the presentation with an interesting discussion of urban governance. He identified five major challenges of city management: capacity and services, financial resources, security, and authority. Since many cities are growing faster than government capacity and infrastructure, government's ability to provide adequate housing and services is limited. As local governments take on new responsibilities under the laws of decentralization, they lack the human and financial resources to provide the necessary services. This may be contributed to a lag in the reassignment of funds from the central government to the local level. The challenge of diversity presents an interesting trend of "splintering urbanism" that leads to social segregation and fragmentation in large cities. Security has evolved into a high priority issue since 9/11, however it undoubtedly pre-dates this era and solutions are sought through a social capital approach. The lack of information on how mid-sized cities are governed proves problematic for solving the challenges facing local authorities today. In conclusion, Dr. Stren expressed a need for spatially disaggregated data, particularly for smaller cities and urban neighborhoods, and a need to incorporate local governance into models and proposals for urban change.
The meeting concluded with a short question and answer session in which participants inquired about why urban areas have been so neglected in the development agenda and the need to redefine the way we look at poverty. In response Dr. Stren indicated an urban bias stating, "There is a sense in the development community that urban people have what they need." Although cities present a number of challenges, these challenges can be turned into opportunities to improve the quality of life for the urban poor. Cities Transformed is a comprehensive work, which should be of interest to all involved in city-level research, policy, planning, and investment decisions.