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2.1. Urbanization in the Third World: development and trends

The process of increasing urbanization in the developing world has received considerable academic scrutiny (for example, Leonard et al. 1989; Gilbert and Gugler, 1992, Hardoy et al. 1992). It is a process of societal change intimately linked with global economics, history, geography and politics. Only superficial mention of these issues is possible in the present study, but as factors defining the context in which urban forestry has taken and is taking place, some appreciation of them is necessary.

Rates of urbanization

Figures compiled by the United Nations (1991)1 indicate that in mid-1990, 45% (2.4 billion) of the people of the world were living in towns or cities, and that this will have increased to 51% in the year 2000 and 65% in the year 2025. Levels of urbanization of course vary greatly around the world. In the more developed countries, much urbanization has already taken place; already in mid-1990 some 73% of the population of more developed regions was classified as urban, compared with 37% in less developed countries. It is in these latter areas that towns and cities are currently growing most rapidly, with huge increases since the 1950s. As two well known geographers comment,

“Fuelled by changes in the countryside, high rates of fertility, falling death rates and rapid cityward migration, most Third World countries have been transformed from rural to urban societies in two or three decades. The larger cities have been expanding rapidly, often doubling in size every fifteen years.” (Gilbert and Gugler, 1992:7).

The average annual growth rate of urban populations in developing countries for the period 1990–1995 is calculated to be 4.2% per annum, compared with 0.8% in developed countries. Already nearly two-thirds of the world's urban dwellers live in less developed regions, and this will have increased to 70% by the year 2000.

1 All figures quoted in this section are taken from this source, unless otherwise stated.

Broad geographical differences

Within different parts of the Third World the pace at which urbanization is increasing, and the time at which the process began to accelerate, varies considerably. Broadly speaking, urbanization began earlier in Latin America, where already in 1990 72% of the entire population were urban dwellers. This compares with an overall 34% of the total population of Africa which was urbanized in 1990, and 33% in Asia. Within each region of the Third World, urbanization rates also vary, although to a lesser extent in Latin America than elsewhere. In the former, urbanization is highest in South America (75%), and lowest in the Caribbean (60%), where some countries (such as Haiti and Saint Vincent) are still predominately rural. In Africa, the countries in the East have the lowest percentage of urban dwellers (22%), while those in the Southern block have the highest (55%). Asia's population figures are strongly influenced by China, which has an urbanization level of 33%, but it is only in Western Asia that more than half (63%) of the population lives in urban settlements.

If current (1990–1995) annual rates of urbanization are compared, it may be seen that the process is most rapid in Africa (4.9%), particularly in the Eastern part of the continent (6.4%). It is also high in Asia (4.5%), where China's current rate of urbanization is calculated to be 6.6%. Urbanization in Latin America has already slowed to an annual rate of 2.6%, after a peak rate in the 1950s (when it also averaged a 4.5% annual growth of its urban population).

A historical perspective

Just as the rate and extent of urbanization vary considerably in the Third World, the nature and character of urban settlements also vary according to the individual culture, politics and past of different countries. This is reflected in urban forestry practices, with some countries having a long history of urban tree cultivation. For example, it is known from the writings of Marco Polo that extensive roadside tree plantings were a feature of 13th century China (Pollard, 1977). In Mexico City, the forest of Chapultepec was first established by the Aztecs as temple gardens (Benavides Menza, 1992), while in India a number of urban parks were established by sultans and maharajas (an example being the Lal Bagh park in Bangalore - Shyam Sunder, 1985).

Many countries of the Third World share a history of colonialism which exerted a profound effect on the process of urbanization. Although the influence of different colonial powers on different indigenous communities varied, certain broad phases of colonialism may be distinguished. They are an early mercantile period (beginning in the 1500s or later), a period of industrial colonialism (the 1850s onwards), followed by late colonialism (1920s onwards) and then independence (late 1940s to 1960s). The dates are given as an indication, and pertain most closely to Asia.2

Outside influence during the mercantile period was mainly confined to existing urban settlements, particularly ports, where residential areas tended to be already segregated along ethnic or occupational lines. During the industrial period, colonial control was exerted at all levels of the urban hierarchy, and a tendency towards urban primacy emerged (one “primate” city dominating all others). Often labourers from outside the local area were imported to work in assembly or production. Social, economic and spatial separation was generally reinforced, so that different areas of a city took on a particular character. According to Drakakis-Smith (1987:19),

“…the new colonial planners refined and accentuated [segregation] by astute use of town-planning regulations. Many of the health and building regulations were enforced only in the European districts which were effectively separated from non-European zones by the cordon sanitaire of open spaces provided by parks, race courses and railway lines, reinforced by judiciously placed military cantonments.”

Thus the incorporation of trees into the urban environment was used as part of a colonial policy of residential segregation, reinforced by avenue trees in the European areas. According to Onganga (1992) in the minds of many local Kenyans, at least, this has left urban amenity trees negatively associated with the colonial past.

Late colonialism generally saw little structural change in cities, although they were expanding in size not only through natural increase, but also migration - both of the indigenous population from rural areas, and of Europeans from war-torn and depressed Europe. With Independence, rural to urban migration increased dramatically. In some countries, continuing contacts with former colonial powers, then short of labour, resulted in a flow of workers to Europe during the 1960s. This, however, was short lived; by the end of the 1960s, the world economic system began to change radically, and labour in the North was becoming more organized and expensive. Many European and North American companies began to relocate in Third World cities, where labour was cheaper. It is this phenomenon, the New International Division of Labour, which has had the most sweeping effect upon the nature of Third World cities today. For the purposes of the present discussion, a number of key points may be noted.

2 In Latin America, independence generally took place much earlier - for example, in 1821 in Mexico.

Demographic trends in the urbanization process

In examining the potential of urban forestry for improving the well-being of Third World urban dwellers, some appreciation is needed as to who these people are, and in what conditions they live. The income levels of urban residents in developing countries typically range between extremes; a minority possessing vast wealth, a larger group of middle-class, waged employees, and a majority of poor people, who often derive whatever income they gain from the informal sector. An attempt has been made in this document to focus as far as possible on this latter group, both as the people in greatest need, and as the majority of urban dwellers - although they are far from a homogeneous group. Many of the poor are relatively recent arrivals to urban living, whereas the urban elite have often been living in the town/city for generations. Commonly, people of roughly the same income level tend to live together in discrete areas of a town or city, but it should not be assumed that these areas are mutually exclusive. For example, in many Third World cities large numbers of poor people may be found living in affluent areas as residential labour.

Rural-urban migration

Third World rural-urban migration has been prompted by a variety of events - not so much the ‘pull’ of city life in itself, but often the ‘push’ of economic circumstances in the countryside, such as debt, insufficient land to feed the family, or natural disasters. Gilbert and Gugler (1992:79) itemise four principal migration strategies:

The first two strategies were common in earlier times, when jobs were readily available. They were also far more common in Asia and Africa than Latin America. As a result, cities in Asia and Africa tended to have a disproportionally high ratio of men to women, whereas in Latin America, women have always been more numerous in the urban population. In the last two decades, the preponderance of men over women has declined rapidly in most cities throughout the world, as family separation has become less common. One factor playing a part in this has been the increased availability of work for women in factories, although other influences have also been involved (Gilbert and Gugler, 1992).

Temporary migration, even if long term, meant that there were strong ties between urban and rural dwellers. With the increase in permanent urban settlement, these may be lessening, although to a different extent in different locations. In Africa, where large scale urbanization is a relatively recent phenomenon, rural links are still considered to be particularly strong. Many families still rely on farms in their area of origin for at least part of their food, and other ‘country products’ (such as woven articles, medicines, spices, etc.).

Accommodation in the town/city
Residential areas in most Third World cities have always been segregated; original divisions along ethnic lines are now often expressed chiefly (if broadly) in terms of income. This is considered in section three. Here brief comment will be made on the process of settlement for new arrivals.

The majority of those arriving in a town/city have few assets. Those who have none at all may live on the streets for an indeterminate period, but most gravitate either towards high density, low cost housing within the urban centre (particularly if they have contacts or relations there), or establish themselves in squatter settlements on the urban periphery. Whether known as squatter camps, shanty towns, or ‘self-help housing’, these are now a common feature of cities in most parts of the Third World. A precise definition of them is not easy, but generally at least two of the following elements apply. These are that the occupants are poor; the dwellings were built by the families that originally or now occupy them; the settlement as originally founded was at least partially illegal, and lacked planning permission; and that when it was established, most forms of infrastructure were lacking (and may still be so) (Gilbert and Gugler, 1992:123). Another characteristic of self-help housing settlements are that they are frequently located on highly unsuitable land, this being the only space that is not already settled and/or is accessible to the poor. Sites have included “…marsh and lake bed preserves in Mexico City; shallow bays and inlets in Salvador, Bahia (Brazil), and Manila; estuaries in Dacca; steep hillsides in La Paz; and polluted lagoons in Cartagena” (Campbell, 1989:177). Such areas may be highly dangerous ones in which to live; indeed, in a figure that must have already been exceeded, Leonard (1989:27–28) has claimed that,

“Close to 100 million very poor people in the developing world live on the periphery of urban areas in settings where they may be threatened periodically by environmental disasters created or abetted by their own living conditions.”

Within the category of self-help housing there are various sub-types, notably:

Research has shown that the response of poor people to their housing in such situations is both rational and often innovative. The work of Turner (1976), for example, demonstrated that poor people go through several phases of effective acclimatization to city life. They begin as very low income ‘bridgeheaders’, when access to casual work is the most crucial consideration, and they accept any nearby shelter. At a later stage (perhaps five years on, but the time period will vary), when they have saved a little money and gained a more secure income, they become ‘consolidators’, attempting to establish their position through legal tenure of their residence. Successful families, ‘status seekers’, may move to new accommodation, or seek to improve their existing homes if the area is being upgraded. Turner's model is of value in indicating that even very disadvantaged groups in urban society exercise choice. The main problem with it is that it does not take into account socio-political, cultural and other differences between cities; poor people all over the world do not act in exactly the same way (Van Lindhert and Van Western, 1991:1010). For example, tenure structures in Third World cities exhibit strong regional differences (Gilbert and Gugler, 1992). In certain parts of Asia, renting is very common; in Chinese cities, almost every household rents accommodation from the state or state enterprises. In India, levels of renting versus ownership vary from city to city. In many African cities the majority of residents live in rented housing, and may continue to do so even once they can afford to purchase a property. A reason often cited for this is the perception among African urban dwellers that their real home lies in the rural area of their origin, to which they will eventually return. However, this may also be gradually changing.

From this very superficial review, a number of issues of potential relevance to urban tree use by Third World urban dwellers may be identified. These are presented more as avenues for further enquiry rather than known fact; aspects raised are explored in other parts of the text.

Recent poor migrants
People who have recently arrived in a city, and who are in the process of establishing themselves in temporary accommodation, are most unlikely to have any interest in cultivating trees. However, they may possibly benefit from existing trees in a variety of ways. In section four (box 4.4) it is noted that street trees can provide shade for small businesses, a place to meet and relax, and even a religious function. Urban trees may also provide fuel (in the form of leaves, twigs and dead branches), perhaps material to construct temporary shelters, and fruit or other edible products.

Those who are beginning to settle
People living in rented accommodation with no security of tenure will probably not be interested in tree cultivation, since it is a long term investment. However, the longer they stay, and the more secure they feel, the more likely they are to investigate possibilities for growing their own food in the locality, and perhaps planting some trees for a variety of purposes. For example, Sanyal (1985) found that on average migrants to Lusaka, Zambia took 10 years before they began to invest in urban agriculture.

Well-established urban dwellers
People who own the property on which they live, and land around it, may be most interested in tree cultivation for both ornamental and material purposes. Feeling well-established, they may also particularly appreciate the enhancement of their neighbourhood through amenity tree plantings on public access land. In any case, as noted in section three, there is generally more space for such activities in higher income residential areas.

The increasing world-wide tendency for whole families to take up residence in cities for a prolonged period of time militates towards a greater interest in cultivating available land, both for food and other products.

The roles of men and women in Third World cities have been changing over the past few decades, with women playing an increasing part in urban life. This could reflect on tree cultivation and use in a variety of ways. Gender aspects of urban forestry, as far as known, are discussed in section five.

Weakening links with rural areas?
It is often assumed that a desire to cultivate homegardens is associated with people retaining strong rural affinities, which decrease as they are assimilated into urban life. Studies suggest this is not so, and that indeed urban agriculture is considered a perfectly normal feature of urban existence (Sanyal, 1985; Lee-Smith et al. 1987; Smit, 1992). It may be hypothesised that a weakening of links with rural areas is actually increasing interest in cultivating land in the city, as fewer products are regularly supplied from the ‘home village’.

Siting of settlements
Many squatter communities are living on marginal land, such as steep slopes prone to erosion and mudslides. There is considerable need to stabilise such slopes, in which tree cultivation might have a possible role.

Patterns of tree cultivation over time
The pattern of tree cultivation in Third World cities has clearly changed over time, and is no doubt still changing as the population expands, and the character of different residential areas is modified. An example of a simple scenario that may be envisaged at the urban fringe is given in box 2.1. Although based on no one city in particular, it provides a model for testing. More complicated patterns of changing tree cultivation and management over time are likely in different parts of a town/city.

Box 2.1One possible scenario of changes over time in tree cultivation and management at the urban fringe
1. Urban area some distance away. High indigenous tree cover, exploited by urban residents for fuel and timber, as well as for livestock grazing and other uses.
2. Gradual decline in tree cover as the city expands, and resource utilization increases. Self-help dwellings start to be erected, and more trees are cut to build them.
3. The area is cleared of trees to erect more dwellings and establish occupation. Settlement becomes increasingly dense.
4. Small patches of land on which no building has taken place are cultivated with annual crops for family food, and possibly sale.
5. The municipal authorities begin to recognise the settlement as such. Assistance may be provided for services such as drainage and drinking water. As residents become more secure (either de faco or de jure), they plant longer term crops, including food trees. They may also enhance their home plots by planting trees for shade and ornament.
6. More services are created, such as a local school, and permanent roads. Government bodies or community self-help groups plant trees around the school and along the roads to enhance the landscape.

2.2. Growing environmental concerns

With the rapid growth of Third World towns and cities, there have been huge accompanying environmental problems, the growth of unserviced self-help housing on marginal land being only one among them. As this example illustrates, it is often the poorest urban dwellers who bear the brunt of environmental problems; indeed, Hardoy et al. (1992:101) comment that if one could map such problems in any given city, they would strongly coincide with the poor areas. Yet the problems of simply meeting the basic needs of their urban populations leave many governments in the Third World unable to devote adequate resources to environmental issues. White (1992:115) comments,

“Only at the richer end of this spectrum [of cities of the South] are the environmental issues… even on the agenda. For most cities of the South the agenda of the 1990s is the same as the agenda of the 1960s - the provision of jobs, food, cooking fuel, water and shelter.”

While this statement holds much overall truth, some attempts to improve urban environments are being made in many developing countries, and the whole issue is more widely acknowledged and debated than a decade ago. The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1991) focused global attention on environmental problems, and many of those that are found in Third World cities feature in Agenda 21, one of the Summit's documents.

Whether trees have a role in improving Third World urban environments is explored (as far as information is available) in section four, in which the role of trees in providing urban dwellers with material benefits, and thus contributing in another sense to sustainable development, is also discussed. First, however, the present existence of trees, and potential for their increased cultivation, is considered in terms of town/city layout.

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