Cities have been assigned the tag of engine of growth, due to their multifaceted role in industrialization and expansion of business. The historical data, trend and empirical analysis also point to the same conclusion. World Bank in 2020, highlighted that 80 percent of world GDP is being generated from cities. The UN-Habitat described that the leading factors of the believe in theory of cities as engine of growth are; 1) productivity and efficiency in production and services, 2) competitiveness enhancement through enhanced efficiency, 3) centers of knowledge and innovation owning to diversity and concentration, and 4) business opportunities through concentration and quality of life.
The believe in the theory and historical evidences compelled world to adopt the strategy of urbanization and creation of cities. The rationale behind the creation of cities was to tap the benefits of urbanization and cities. It triggered a race to urbanization. Countries adopted policies and tools to lead the race and trend. Developed world was way ahead than developing world due to their economic status technological development and financial resources. It led to a mass migration from rural areas to urban centers or conversion of towns into cities. The end of World War-II accelerated the process, as the economic growth took a new turn due to rapid industrialization. Now the cities host more than 4.2 billion people, which were only 750 million in 1950. The trend is still going on and it is expected that the contribution of cities to GDP will be enhanced in coming years and many cities will become trillion-dollar economy.
Howbeit, cities also brought multiple challenges and problems for humanity. On challenges side, it is becoming extremely difficult to fulfil the food and energy demand of cities. According to statistics cities account for 78 percent of world energy consumption and 80 precent of world food consumption. It is huge, especially in the context of land mass of cities which is around 2 percent only. On problem side, cities are responsible for 70 percent of GHG emissions. It is biggest factor of climate change, which is existential threat to world. Cities are also major contributor to deterioration of environmental indicators at large. The cities have become center of concentration of public service like education, health, transport and others. It led to grave divide of urban and rural areas.
E-commerce has emerged as an alternative to concentration of population in physical space. The enhanced connectivity through information technology can also be turned into platform of diversity, which can lead the innovation
Hence, there is need to look for new or alternative way of urbanization without comprising on the contribution to growth. The alternative model should be designed in such a way that it contributes to lower the GHG emissions, preservation of environmental indicators, human welfare, planet welfare and bridge the rural urban divide. Spatially hybrid urbanization has been emerged as one of such alternative.
The idea of spatially hybrid urbanization (SHU) has been derived by keeping in mind above discussed objectives. Though, the core objective of the SHU idea is “to work with existing non-urban settlements and convert them into urban centers by maintaining the non-urban characteristics without impacting the surroundings”. The deep dive into the idea highlighted that non-urban centers can be converted into urban centers by providing the services and livelihood opportunities at non-urban centers. The argument is also being substantiated by analyzing the historical trend of migration and reasons of migration. However, for successful conversion of non-urban centers we need to design the distribution of the services and livelihood opportunities in such a way it ensures the equity if not equality among the local settlements. Moreover, the accessibility of services and livelihoods should also be ensured.
Thus, the idea of SHU for conversion of non-urban centers into urban centers has been designed in a systematic way. The process of conversion will be completed in a phase wise manner (four phases). First phase should be dedicated to the profiling of area, mapping of livelihood opportunities, climatic condition and population density. The second phase will focus on mapping the availability and need of services like water, education, health, electricity, internet etc. Third phase should go for deep dive into livelihood opportunities like state of business, industry, resources, skills, future needs etc. Fourth and last phase should be to critically analyze the existing facilities of connectivity like internet, roads, transport etc. These all phases will help to identify the potential of settlements and map the requirements to convert the non-urban center into urban center.
Howbeit, the key question would be how the idea of SHU will contribute to achieve the four indicators highlighted by UN-Habitat as key factors, which turned the cities into engine of growth. The simple answer is the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its tools like information technology etc. We have already witnessed the glimpse of role of technology in distant business and connectivity. E-commerce has already changed the ways of doing business and Amazon and Alibaba emerged as new giants in business. E-commerce has emerged as an alternative to concentration of population in physical space. The enhanced connectivity through information technology can also be turned into platform of diversity, which can lead the innovation.
The use of technology during the COVID-19 helped to greater extent to lessen the impact on mobility and functioning of supply chains and production facilities. The provision of services also witnessed a new trend. Bedsides, the ways of meetings, conferences and daily interaction among the management, production facilities and employees also observed a gigantic shift. The virtual meetings and conferences are becoming norm. This gives us hope that SHU can be achieved if we applied the right set policy and implementation tools.
Lastly, it is well accepted that with every technology breakthrough the landscape of job markets and doing business changed. The provision and accessibility of services also followed the trend. There is also consensus among experts that every breakthrough also give impetus to urbanization and concentration of opportunities, services and people in cities. However, the present time technological breakthroughs can be used to reverse the process and create a new way of urbanization. We can use information technology to change the landscape of service like education, health etc. We can also venture to new ways of production and manage the supply chain.
Thus, it can be inferred that this is time to reconceptualize the urban centers and cities according to the changing circumstances. It is also required to tackle challenges and problems posed by present cities. Opportunity is here, now it depends on us, either we stick to old norms or venture in new ways of creation of urban centers. It is envisioned that SHU will help to tackle challenges and problems at certain level. It is expected that minimization of rural-urban divide will be first and immediate benefit. Spatially distribution of production facilities and services will also help to reduce the environmental problems. In nutshell, it will be a win-win proposition.
The writer is Director, Asia Study Center SDPI
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/721846/the-idea-of-spatially-hybrid-urbanization/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.