Rapid Urbanization : An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Urban Transition in Developing Countries

Abstract: This thesis is concerned with the challenges posed by the contemporary urban narrative in developing countries. It is premised on the notion of the urban transition, which posits that as a country develops it undergoes a transformation from a predominantly rural society to a predominantly urban one. Throughout most of history, the urban transition was largely a phenomenon confined to what are considered todays developed countries; however, sometime around the middle of the 20th century, this began to change and the urban transition began to takeoff in developing countries. The contemporary urban narrative differentiates itself from historical accounts in that it is unfolding at an unprecedented pace and scale, placing significant pressure on urban areas. With the pressures of rapid urbanization and rapid urban growth already outstripping the capacities of local governments, planning and managing the urban transition is arguably one of the most important topics of the 21st century. In an attempt to identify approaches for managing the unprecedented pace and scale of the contemporary urban narrative, this thesis sets out to investigate the forces underpinning it. It has been organized into two parts: the first part comprises a comprehensive cover essay setting out the overarching research agenda and the second part comprises a series of five articles that make up the empirical analysis. Both sections can be read independently or constitute a single entity.The main contribution of this thesis is the introduction of a multidisciplinary framework for conceptualizing the urban transition in developing countries and its application to several case studies. The so-called ‘Rapid Urban Growth Triad’ situates the components of urban growth (rural to urban migration, urban natural population increase and reclassification of rural areas as urban) within their dominant theoretical discourses. As such, it views urban natural population increase as a demographic factor effected by changes in fertility and mortality patterns, rural to urban migration as an economic factor resulting from rural push and urban pull dynamics, and reclassification of rural areas as urban as a political/ administrative factor which occurs through the annexation of neighboring settlements, rural areas upgraded as urban, settlements crossing defined population thresholds and changes in urban definition. The framework offers explanatory power to the previously neglected components of urban growth and serves as a diagnostic for examining the urban transition under a range of circumstances.Utilizing the new conceptual framework as the primary mode of analysis, this thesis employs several demographic accounting techniques to disaggregate urbanization into its individual components of urban growth and computes their individual contributions to the overall urban increment. China, Nigeria and India have been selected as notable case studies, as these three countries are expected to account for the largest increase in urban population over the coming decades. The findings indicate that rural to urban migration has been the dominant component of urban growth in China, while urban natural population increase has been the dominant component in Nigeria and India; furthermore, in all three case studies, reclassification has made a more sizable contribution than initially understood. Moreover, it was found that in some instances the policies being prescribed to manage the urban transition did not match the identified sources of growth, suggesting a potential policy mismatch. This thesis also reveals several dynamics pertaining to the unprecedented pace and scale of the urban transition and the relationship between urbanization and economic growth. Collectively, these findings offer a more nuanced account of the urban transition in developing countries.Despite the urban transition being a universal event that unfolds in nearly all countries of the world, this thesis finds that it does not necessarily unfold in a uniform manner, suggesting the notion of multiple urbanization trajectories. These findings have implications for existing policies, which tend to be based on a rather outmoded understanding of the urban transition. Ultimately, this thesis calls for more informed (evidenced-based) approaches for understanding and managing the urban transition in developing countries.