Urbanization and Development

The Big Questions

Lorraine Telfer-Taivainen

In October the London School of Economics and Political Science hosted the launch of Urbanization and Development: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Jo Beall, Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis, and Ravi Kanbur (published by Oxford University Press for UNU-WIDER). The event, attended by 150 researchers, policy makers and students, was moderated by Tim Dyson, professor of population studies at LSE.

Jo Beall (British Council) kicked off by giving the raison d'être for the UNU-WIDER research project, and asked ‘the big questions’. What is so special about the urban context? Why are urbanization and urban growth important for development at the present time? What are the limitations of our current state of knowledge about urbanization and development policy? What is the value added of a multidisciplinary perspective on the urban context for development research and policy? These are some of the key issues tackled in the new UNU-WIDER book.

Ravi Kanbur (Cornell University) took up from Jo Beall’s rich and illustrated overview and went on to delve deeper into the multidisciplinary studies underpinning the book, explaining why certain topics and areas had been selected and not others (‘the whys and the why nots’). He emphasized that research to date on urbanization and development should be considered as a work-in-progress and the book does not contain all the answers. But it does contain some very useful, complex, sometimes surprising, insights on urbanization, economic growth, and human development.

The questions from the floor were as diverse and as interesting as the audience. Is urban poverty worse than rural poverty? And if yes, then why? Why do people move to urban areas with high rates of unemployment? Why are town planners consulted so late in the process, if at all? What are the gender aspects of urbanization? How much of the global urban expansion is due to natural urban growth rather than rural-to-urban migration? What are the basic elements of successful and sustainable urbanization? Does sustainability have to wait, or should it not be introduced in the very early stages of managing urban growth?

These and many more questions triggered considerable discussion with differing opinions across the room on the complex topic of global urbanization and human development which today affects all our lives.

You can read more the issues raised by the book in an article by the editors in the September issue of Angle (Beyond the Urban Tipping Point, WIDER Angle September 2011). Further details of the UNU-WIDER series in Oxford University Press are here.

Lorraine Telfer-Taivainen is Publications and Information Assistant, UNU-WIDER.

WIDER Angle newsletter
October 2011
ISSN 1238-9544