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Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity). The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre (http://cd.qq.com/a/20101018/000099.htm) in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (zaha-hadid.com).

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (observerindia.com) told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company (mckinsey.com) believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”

Resources

1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website: http://lsecities.net/publications/books/the-endless-city/

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planet_Of_Slums.html?id=FToaDLPB2jAC

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sysimages/Observer/Pix/pictures/2012/01/21/urban2.jpg

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website: http://arrivalcity.net/

5) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website: amazon.com

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-pacific-13800944

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/capitalsconnected-world/

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Will The Megacity Mean Mega-Privatization?

Annex Gleaner (Toronto, Canada), March 1997

As the provincial government tries to shoehorn six municipalities into one megacity, opponents of the plan worry that one of the results of amalgamation will be widespread privatization of public services.

References to contracting out and tendering municipal services in order to achieve savings run through the provincial government’s much-maligned report supporting a megacity, produced by consultants KPMG.

Many observers feel the new city will have no choice, while others argue privatization won’t be nearly as extensive as some fear. Still others think it is far from a foregone conclusion that a future amalgamated council will push privatization.

“Who knows if the council will have an interest in privatization?” says a senior bureaucrat at the City of Toronto, who did not want to go on record. “People are running around saying they will privatize everything, but who knows what the political make-up will be of the new council? They are assuming there will always be savings to be had from privatization – that doesn’t automatically follow. The financial pressures on the megacity can’t be avoided by privatization.”

Among the six current Metro municipalities, it is Etobicoke that has most fully embraced contracting out. The City of Etobicoke’s experiments with contracting out – 60 per cent of public works contracts are performed by private-sector companies – calls into question the estimates of substantial savings being bandied about by the provincial government.

According to the senior bureaucrat in charge of running that city, acting city manager and commissioner of public works Tom Denes, contracting out isn’t the tax-saving nirvana some believe.

“I think we are finding in contracting out,” says Denes, “that the higher the skills of the workforce, the less sense it makes to contract out. For example, it would be very expensive to contract out water treatment.”

Denes says the city’s pride and joy is its privatized garbage collection handled by Waste Management Inc. and BFI. The WMI contract is worth $6 million a year, down from the $7.5 million a year it was costing to publicly run garbage collection. The price is fixed for five years, when it must be negotiated again. While the city made $1.9 million selling its old trucks, councillors set up a $4 million fund so Etobicoke could go back to collecting garbage itself if private companies tried to gouge the city.

Denes, who has been meeting with counterparts at other cities and the provincial government, believes the new Toronto will be divided up into several districts which private garbage collectors will have to compete for.

“Based on what I know, if you were to divide the city up into waste contracts, it would be at least four areas,” claims Denes. “No company can handle the whole city. You just can’t find a company that could handle a megacity. It would become a monopoly.”

Denes thinks the likely suspects for contracting out would be any manual labour work and the TTC. He thinks a megacity would be mistaken to contract out skilled work like surveying, arguing that skilled workers would use their desirability to their advantage and charge high consulting fees.

“The US cities have all gone through these exercises. They are in fact contracting services back in,” says Denes.

While the Tories have been slipperier than a scoop of ice cream about their specific privatization plans, one thing is clear: An essential element of the Tory economic vision is a greater role for the private sector in delivering public services. The $100,000 KPMG report plays to this, making it clear contracting out is a key means to saving money in the new megacity. The report claims between $28 million and $43 million per year could be saved from contracting out computer operations and some management; between $38.5 million and $68 million by contracting out fraud investigations; between $29.6 million and $54.5 million by contracting out road and electrical maintenance, snow removal and data collection; between $21 million and $39.4 million by contracting out garbage pick-up and processing.

The report also offers this proviso: “There is no such thing as automatic, cost-free savings from organizational change. The implementation process must be tightly managed to produce the savings suggested here.”

Ron Moreau is the administrator for Local 43 of the Metro Toronto Civic Employees Union, which represents over 3,000 public works workers and ambulance drivers at Metro.

“How will the megacity and municipalities cope with pressure from the public to hold the line on taxes? Where will councils find the difference between spending and revenues?” asks Moreau. “The level of service will suffer. When you contract out, public policy is held hostage by private enterpise.”

Moreau threatens that labour will play hardball with the new city. Most of the contracts for Moreau’s members run out on Dec. 31 of this year.

“Assuming the government doesn’t tamper with the labour legislation on our books, the unions can be organized into two large locals, one clerical/technical, the other outside workers. They would have effective bargaining clout.”

One major player looking for government contracts in a megacity will be Laidlaw Inc. While the company recently sold its garbage collection operations to an American firm, USA Waste, it still has interests in operating school buses and ambulances. Laidlaw is a heavy contributor to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, according to records kept by the Commission on Election Financing. Laidlaw has also made an influential new friend: in January, it hired former Metro chief administrative officer Bob Richards as its vice-president.

Ward 13 city councillor John Adams is definitely in the privatization-if-necessary-but-not-necessarily-privatization camp. “I don’t see everything being contracted out, but more stuff being put out for competitive bids.”

Adams thinks contracting out could be a good tactic to help modernize garbage collection, for example. He points to the City of Toronto’s deal with WMI to collect garbage at apartment buildings. In that deal, costs were reduced by $2.5 million over a five-year contract, and the crews on trucks were reduced from two to one. Instead of an extra crew member, closed-circuit television cameras were installed on trucks to speed up pick-up. Adams points out the crews are still unionized, but instead of CUPE it is the Teamsters.

“The way we pick up garbage from households is back-breakingly stupid. I think we need to rethink how we do it, to use machines more than people’s backs.”

But Adams doesn’t believe a megacity is a money-saver. “There will be a leveling up of wages. How long will two firefighters work side-by-side for different salaries? You can bet the union will negotiate an increase at the first opportunity.”

Adams thinks a megacity will be more prone to the slick lobbying efforts of companies like Laidlaw because councillors will be dependent on political parties to get elected. “The provincial government will contract out municipal government to Laidlaw,” he says sarcastically.

More on megacities:

African Megacity Makeovers Tackle Rising Populations

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

Cities For All Shows How The World’s Poor Are Building Ties Across The Global South

Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

Safety At Stake

Southern Innovator Issue 4

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In 2010, David South Consulting was relaunched with a new logo and branding for the 21st century. It represented a new phase, as work became global and very high-profile and influential. The foundations have been laid for future growth and expansion.
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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Smart Cities Up Close | 2013

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Story: David South

Design and Layout: Solveig Rolfsdottir

Publication: Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization

Publisher: United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)

Date: 2013

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Smart Cities Up Close in Southern Innovator Issue 4.
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Southern Innovator Issue 4 contents.
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Meet Southern Innovator.
Issue 4
Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization is published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).
Editor and Writer, David South. 
Graphic Designer and Illustrator, Solveig Rolfsdottir. 

© David South Consulting 2017