A Communications Theory of Urban Growth

By Richard L. Meier; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview
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The great achievements in technology that resulted in the urbanization of the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth century--railroads, water and air transport, fertilizers, medicine, power production, chemical synthesis, and the like-- have already been transferred to the rest of the world to some degree. However, the net effect has not, with at best a handful of exceptions, followed the patterns established in countries with European culture. A higher level of living has not been achieved as a consequence of this technological borrowing. Instead we find the increases in output being converted into extra population. It is true that urbanization has proceeded in the newly developing areas, and intermediate stages between Oriental and African tradition and modern technology have been incorporated within these cities. Nevertheless the overall results have thus far been discouraging. 1

The cities do generate wealth, but its distribution to the population as a whole has been greatly speeded up over what appears to have occurred in the past. The surplus population from the rural areas is drawn to the urban areas to partake of the benefits even before the wealth appears. The death rate in the rural areas seems to be reduced as quickly as the productive processes are introduced. Thus the actual level of poverty and economic insecurity remains about the some, while the awareness of the large gap that separates present conditions from those that exist elsewhere increases.

The population growth has already been so great in some areas, and the density has increased so much, it is evident that some super-cities, measured in terms of population rather than influence, wealth, and power, will be created in the latter part of the twentieth century. The problems of unifying and organizing such cities are intense but until very recently, because of a paucity of data, have not been considered as being beyond the experience of contemporary Western cities, and so have not been studied in a realistic light. For that reason, we must lay a proper groundwork before communications questions can be taken up.

The relevant facts and implications of the population trends have been assessed repeatedly at the national level over the past few years. The significance of these trends for cities has not been analyzed, although many of the immediate implications (i.e. , for the next two decades) are being taken up by Kingsley Davis and collaborators in Berkeley. 2

China presently has about 700,000,000 inhabitants and is growing at a rate exceeding 2 per cent per year. If this growth proceeds--thus far the most enterprising methods for disseminating family limitation information and materials have been tried

The social and cultural dynamics of this conversion of the potentials from discoveries in science and technology into sheer numbers is spelled out in my book Modern Science and the Human Fertility Problem, John Wiley, New York, 1959, Chapters 1, 3, and 4.
A series of studies is forthcoming from the Institute for International Urban Research, University of California. Cf. K. Davis, "The Origin and Growth of Urbanization in the World," American Journal of Sociology, 60, 1955, 429-37; K. Davis and H. H. Golden, "Urbanization and the Development of Pre-Industrial Areas," Economic Development and Cultural Change, 3, 1954.


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