Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Second Wave Urbanization

[Please note the following information is taken from my class notes for “Geography 352: Urbanization in the Global South” taught by Dr. Charles Greenburg in 2011.  The text for the class was Planet of Slums (2006) by Mike Davis.]

The modern world has experienced two major waves of urbanization.  The first occurred around the time of the industrial revolution from approximately 1750 to 1950.  During these 200 years, the amount of people living in cities around the world increased from 15 million to 423 million.

This first wave mostly affected Europe and North America.  Overseas migration to the New World relieved population increases in European cities.  Natives were slaughtered, immigrants took over, resources were extracted, etc etc etc.  Oops, I mean brave settlers explored the new frontier and conquered dangerous, untamed wilderness.

Sorry.  No more editorial; back to urbanization.  (If you read my blog you have to put up with my bias.  Ha, watch my view count drop to 2: my parents.)

The second wave of urbanization is occurring right now.  It began in 1950 and is predicted to continue until 2030.  In less than 100 years, scholars estimate that the world’s urban population will increase from 309 million to 3,900 million.  In 2007, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population was living in cities.  This proportion will only continue to increase.

That’s huge!  The speed and scale of urbanization happening right now is completely unprecedented!

The second wave is occurring mostly in developing countries – also known as LDCs (less developed countries), the third world, the global south, or post-colonial countries.

Today, there is no new land to exploit.  There are no large landmasses for the urban poor to feasibly take over.  The migrants have to make room where they can in already over-crowded cities.

But there is no room.  There isn’t enough formal housing.  There isn’t enough infrastructure for basic necessities.  People are migrating too fast for the state to catch up.

At least that’s what most governments say.  Whether facilities can be constructed fast enough is debatable.  It depends on priorities.  A couple new stadiums for the Olympics or World Cup?  Easily accomplished.  Housing for the poor?  Sorry, not enough funds.

As a result of rapid urbanization, slum and shantytown growth is also exploding (more to come later regarding the word “slum”).

The following is a direct quote from my class notes:
“Finding adequate housing is the biggest problem facing the urban poor.”

This is why I’m in South Africa right now.  Not to save the world or salve my privileged conscious (well, maybe a little bit), but to relieve some of the pressure facing Johannesburg’s urban poor.  Organizations like Madulammoho are working hard to keep pace with urbanization.  Yes, this NGO has expanded extremely rapidly since it began in 2005.  But look at the speed of migration!  We need to learn from mistakes and build new, adequate projects as fast as possible.  Because – not to sound too ominous – people will keep arriving regardless of whether or not the state is ready for them.

What are some other possible solutions?  Governments could change policies and regulations to reflect the new reality of rapid urbanization.  Instead of trying to stop migration – which has proved extremely difficult and expensive, if not impossible – they could explore alternative means for enabling people to build/find their own housing.  But that’s a whole other subject to tackle and, unfortunately, I’m not nearly knowledgeable on that topic to write about it yet.

Anyone else?  Thoughts?  I love hearing your opinions.


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