11.18.2008

BIG CITIES ARE GOOD

Here's a story that should be closely followed by globally-minded urban Christians: "Lump Together and Like It: The Problems and Benefits of Urbanization on a Vast Scale." The Economist reports on the World Bank's latest World Development Report concerning the trend towards mega-cities in developing nations.

The typical image we conjure up when it comes to such places is teeming masses, filthy squalor, and social unrest. Indeed, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Sao Paulo all have populations around 19 million (!), slums abound, and the possibility of class warfare is ever present. So are really large concentrations of mostly poor people a bad thing to be combated through policy?

Not so fast, argues the World Bank and the Economist. Density is good for trade, and (it may be obvious to me but it escapes a lot of otherwise rational people) economic gain is an important component to improving the lives of these currently impoverished people. Income gaps tend to narrow over time - and, although not reported in this article, fertility rates tend to slow as people no longer have to have six kids to account for high infant mortality rates and high agricultural labor needs.

So what developing countries need to do about bulging metropolitan areas is not necessarily to fight against the growth but to manage and harness it. "Manage" as in investing in schools, land markets, and transportation infrastructure. "Harness" as in figure out a way to translate exponential economic growth into relief and opportunities for even larger rural poor populations.

The fact of the matter is, whether in the US or abroad, there is a very real anti-urban bias that colors peoples' perceptions. Unfortunately, it is often us Christians that hold and perpetuate such a slant. Let's hope that it becomes more so us Christians who are on the forefront of helping cities around the world manage and harness the unique dynamics of urban settings, for the benefit of hundreds of millions who currently enjoy very little in the realm of quality of life.
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