During the renaissance times, medieval Venice was famously attracting traders to its coastline and was experiencing the highest point in its riches. The spice and salt trade were international, thriving to be a global city. These waves also washed up the Jews across its shore, mostly intellectuals who were fascinated by the promising life of a career and others who were escaping the religious constrictions from their native cities. Slowly, this city soon experienced blocks of ghettos that plummeted to poverty and disease amongst the increasing riches of its economy, because of the state’s intolerant behaviour towards the influx of the poor. Venice saw its downfall with the actions of its religious leaders eradicating the poor completely from the landscape of the city.
It is a common misunderstanding that developed, rich or successful cities are like clean linen, free from the blot that is poverty. But any city, according to Plato, “however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor and the other of the rich.” Urban growth and urbanization brings with it opportunities for people to grow and develop, further taking the city forward with its economic success. Then why shouldn’t this opportunity be shared equally with those from the rural villages? These opportunities are the very magnet for the villagers to arrive to the inner city in search for better jobs, i.e. a better lifestyle. The advantages of a city-life are numerous, but with it bringing an enormous flow of population that unfortunately, has no means of affording appropriate housing in the city. This very dilemma is the cause of slums and shantytowns.
1. The Urban Poverty and Globalization
The first thought for the middle-class city dweller is to find solutions that would help eradicate this poverty. This would include running down the slums, displacing its inhabitants to the outer edge of the city, or provide them with residences smaller than the ones they lived in by implementing various generic urban renewal and housing programs. On the face of it, it seems to be a solution that would work for the middle-class population. However, not only does it work against the rural poor, but also the rest of the city. “The presence of poverty in cities… reflects urban strength and not weakness. Limiting their growth would cause significantly more hardships than gain, and urban growth is a great way to reduce rural poverty.”
Factors such as globalization and development of cities post-industrialization has given reasons such as infrastructure for the flocking of the poor in to the inner cities. The metro rail system in Delhi has seen unprecedent success because of its ability to cater to large amounts of population daily. If studied closely, the space outside all the stations is always buzzing with informal squatters selling street food, or the rickshaw pullers waiting for their next customer. This informal economy consists of the very people from the villages who come to megacities in hope of earning better; this is the only economy where they can thrive without any formal education or skill. They are very well able to identify the magnets in the city which attract the largest population daily and take advantage of the situation. Challenging common thought, the city does not make people poor; “…cities attract poor people with the prospect of improving their lot in life.”
In contradiction, our focus should instead be towards the cities that are not poor. Detroit was abandoned once its booming automobile city went bust. With no other jobs left in the city, the white inhabitants who could afford to, suburbanized and left the deteriorating town to the poor African-Americans who had come to the city in exciting search for jobs. Crime rose abruptly, and the streets were empty after an intense period of unemployment. Moreover, suburbanization to the outer edges of the cities kept creating the phenomenon of the doughnut effect, leaving its core empty and without progress.
Thus, if a city keeps improving and achieves economic success, it will keep attracting the poor to its centre. “The absence of poor people in an area is a signal that it lacks something important, like affordable housing or public transportation or jobs for the least skilled.” This action of constant influx of the poor as well as immigrants with the simultaneous success of city is the root of the urban poverty paradox. Therefore, “…if a city improves life for poor people currently living there by improving public schools or mass transit, that city will attract more poor people.”
2. City Elements Attracting the Poor
What, then, are the elements in the city that have been attracting the poor and expanding the city into a megacity? More than the material prosperity, these factors also include people based resources and an emotional connect.
Developing cities like Kolkata in India are looked at as city of deprivation with the poverty at 11%. In comparison to developed cities, this depicts a high percentage of the poor but contrasting it with 24% poverty in the rural villages of West Bengal will paint a different picture. With no basic amenities of continuous clean water supply, electricity and hygiene systems, the developing city of Kolkata seems opportunistic with its extensive transport systems, connectivity throughout the city and affordable housing supply. Moreover, with suburbanization on the rise because of the power of the affluent to afford daily travel, the central historic city gets vacant with its old houses and streets up for sale which get passed down to the poor. This proves advantageous as they get to stay in the city centre and avoid the cost of travelling for their jobs.
Like in the case of the Delhi Metro, when American cities built new transit stops, it saw a rise of poverty percentages around these areas. This was because of the benefits the poor took of the infrastructure provided to them to get around the city. Independency is not a flaw, but an advantage of the urban city. The relationship of infrastructure and rising population is a cycle that keeps moving. For example, more schools would have to be built to accommodate the rising rates of families in the cities. This would then be an attractor to the villagers who would also like to give the best of the upbringing to their children by moving into the city.
2.2. Urban Density
“The world’s most important market is the labour market, in which one person rents his human capital to people with financial capital.” High urban density makes trading possible between the labour and the capitalists. The city is able to offer a wide range of jobs that the poor are free to explore. This job-hopping cannot be possible in the rural villages in the example of the agriculture economy, and thus does not make sense to stop the migration of the villagers into the city. In the case of Detroit and its automobile industry, the moment inhabitants plummeted to unemployment, the city saw a sharp decline. A study by economists on the crisis of unemployment shows that “unemployment rates were almost 3% higher… in places that lacked a diverse range of employers.” The reason it could not support itself in the situation of crisis is because there were no other jobs that could have taken the lead in terms of employment. Likewise, an urbanizing city offers numerous opportunities of mixed employers that can face the ups and downs of the marketplace, if faced with such a situation.
The materiality that cities bring with itself is something that aides the poor progress, but the overall happiness in being in a place of dynamism and constant change is a surprising addition to that development. So much so that despite being in the poorest countries, people are happier living in the cities than the rural villages. According to Edward L. Glaesar, where he had access to the self-reported happiness survey, constituting to a sample of 25 poorer countries whose per capita GDP are below $10,000, “the share of urban people saying that they were very happy was higher in eighteen countries and lower in seven”. This contrasted with the unhappy people of nonurban areas in sixteen countries out of twenty-five. If life in a rural village was quiet and stagnant, then the city offers health, riches and knowledge, all of which are important for the country to participate in the global economy.
2.4.Human Resources and Shared Knowledge
“And unlike the hinterlands, urban slums often serve as springboards to middle-class prosperity.” Living in a dense urban city often helps with the transfer of knowledge and exchange of ideas from one person to the other through the verbal means. Communication is at its highest when an area is concentrated with people, which means no talent goes unnoticed. An urban city’s role in today’s knowledge economy is to help give the poor a kickstart into a better life. The city should not be judged by the poverty that lurks in its historical narrow street, but “by their track record in helping poorer people move up.” The urban city fails when it remains stagnant, like the rural village, in maintaining the place of poverty just that; a settlement of the poor.
3. Challenges of the Urban Poverty
Urban poverty, however, does not paint a pretty picture. No matter the number of success stories that emerge from the many slums or favelas, these are tough places to live in. More than its own challenges, it further stresses the existing city infrastructure that gets divided between the pre-settled middle-class strata of the society. While the flow of migrants will be a hopeful change from their previous rural life, “it won’t necessarily improve the quality of life… for people who are already living in those areas.” This leads to stringent policy making decisions in the cities by the government to control certain factors of city expansion since the movement and flow of migrants cannot stop. Unfortunately, rural poverty also brings with itself crime and unmanageable behaviour that causes a divide amongst them and the urban inhabitants. Along with this occurs to building of slums and spatial division which reinstates the segregation based on their economic forces that pull the rich and the poor apart.
Uncontrolled growth of the slums leads to concentration of poverty in various pockets, especially near historical places which are also of great importance to the culture and heritage of the city. Over-crowdedness leads to threat to life either due to the question of safety living in highly concentrated and narrow spaces or the ease of spread of fire or disease. This creates an image of their existence in the city as unwanted and troublesome. Due to these evil factors, the developmental changes might seem slow and almost stagnant, “but that is a reason to continue fighting for our cities, not to place our hope in rural life, especially in the developing world.” Urban poverty growth can help the nation participate in global development and not in isolation. “Brazil, China and India are likely to become far wealthier over the next fifty years, and the wealth will be created in cities that are connected to the rest of the world.”
4. The Case of Boombai/ Slumbai
Mumbai’s example as the most populous city in India can be understood from its attractive and prosperous economic opportunities available to the migrants and workers all over India. The city of Mumbai as a port has an optimum sea approach, making it one of the largest port on the Indian Ocean, contributing to it’s title of the economic capital of India. But this boastful and productive city also deals with the rising slum inhabitants of 6.5 million which contribute to more than 3000 informal settlements. This is equivalent to 54% of the total population. p.joshi, UDRI, 2006; 154.
As discussed earlier, the state of Mumbai and its formal and informal equilibrium has been achieved by the unstable economic cycles of capitalism and its irregular national income distribution. With the economic boom comes in large populations of skilled and unskilled workers, constituting two different roles and benefits in the globalization of markets. This phenomenon is responsible for the rapid creation of suburbs and slums in urban voids and marginal spaces.
Because of the challenges of the city in providing affordable priced housing, the lower economic strata settle in informal dwellings which is in close proximity to their potential workspaces. It is here that the poverty and luxury of the city converts into the same space and become part of the same urban tissue. In order to achieve education and the best entrepreneurship lessons in the business, workers are ready to compromise on the basic health and living conditions that could be found as an easy living in their villages from where they came. Yet, potters and weavers dedicatedly sit in ill-lit rooms, working away daily to become a part of the globalization process.
Cities will be enjoyable to all when cities are able to face the challenges of influx of poverty in the city. This means catering to increasing population every year through the means of infrastructure, urban density and related policy making.