Theories of Urbanization

Urbanization refers to the population shift from rural to urban residency, the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas, and the ways in which each society adapts to this change. Urbanization is an irreversible process. Urban region or city had first been noted in the Indus valley civilization in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC 116 in India. Hence one can say that there are several urban theories and some of which go back to the time of initial civilization. Most urban theories are derived ones some of which are: 
1. Suburbanization 
2. The dependency theory 
3. Theory of spatial disparities 
4. Migration theories 
a) Buffer’s theory of migration 
b) Stouffer’s law of intervening opportunities 
c) Migration theory of neo-classical economists 
d) Push and pull theories of migration 
e) Urban bias theory 
5. Lewis two sector model 
6. Concentric zone theory 
7. Bid rent theory 
8. Modern theory of urbanization 
9. Theory of evolutionary ladder of development 
10. Writh’s essay on “Urbanization: A typology of Changes”

1. Suburbanization 

Suburbanization means “beyond the city” thus it refers to peripheral areas of large cities around the world. As cities grow, it expands towards outskirt areas and thus peripheral or suburban areas develop and grow. Cities expand towards peripheral area due to high density, increasing urban land price, pollution and well developed transport and communication facilities. It is the responsibility of urban government to provide basic amenities in these areas as these suburban areas may not necessarily have a separate political unit. 

2. Dependency Theory 

The dependency theory argues that urban regions could establish expand and develop only if agriculture is well developed. The developing countries are sources of input for developed countries. Hence developing countries receive larger foreign investment in agriculture as well as non-agricultural sectors. Developed agriculture pushed rural farmer and labourer while developing industries attract labourer due to large employment scope in urban areas.

3. Theory of Spatial Disparities 

Spatial disparities theory states that disparities are created due to variation in geographically advantaged and disadvantaged regions, political importance of a city, economically favorable policies etc. Spatial forms divided the society. The problem of spatial disparities further leads to migration which creates pressure on urban amenities. 

4. Migration Theories 

Migration can be both a problem and a solution for various urban regions. There are several migration theories, some of them are discussed below. 

a) Buffer Theory of Migration 

Buffer theory of migration stated that “the workers who are imported on temporary base due to creation of short fall of labourer will return” However, it is not appropriate to make such assumption that labourer will go back. Migration cannot applicable always as adjustment mechanism. Hence, the Buffer’s migration law is not practical. 

b) Stouffer’s Law of Intervening Opportunities 

It states that “The number of persons going a given distance is directly proportional to the number of opportunities at that distance and inversely proportional to the number of intervening opportunities”. Stouffer explained that between the final destination and departure place if there are good opportunities them the migrant will settle down in between rather than their planned final destination. Stouffer argues that the volume of migration had less to do with distance and population than with the availability of opportunities in each location. 

c) Migration Theory of Neo-Classical Economists 

Neo- Classical economist argues that the main reason for labour migration is wage difference between two geographic locations. These wage difference are usually due to labour demand and supply in specific geography. 

d) Push and Pull Factors Theory 

The push and pull theory is based on various push and pull factors. Push factors are those things/ factors which are unfavorable about the specific area that one lives in and hence push them to move away from that particular area. Pull factors are those things that attract one to another area due to various reasons. Push factors can be less of employment opportunities, natural disaster, war, pollution, poor, housing etc. and pull factors can be better employment opportunities, better living conditions, healthy environment etc. 

e) Urban Bias Theory 

It is emphasizing on political perspective of urban regions. This theory argues that government policies favour the urban regions. While the amenities are provided on a larger scale in urban areas but the larger proportion of the population is found in rural areas of a country. Hence, there is migration from rural to urban areas. 

5. Lewis Two Sector Model 

Industrialization with the support of specialization supports urbanization process. Lewis presents two sector model of development with high productivity of modern urban industrial sectors. Lewis assumes that abundant labourer in agriculture can be absorbed in labour scarce industrial units. However agricultural migrants cannot always support and help these industries to grow. Hence the major limitation of Lewis model is the assumption that rural and agricultural labourer are having skills and ability to get employment in urban industries. 

6. Concentric Zone Theory 

Ernest Burgess with Chicago sociologist Robert Park put forward concentric zone theory of urbanization 

7. The Bid Rent Theory 

The Bid Rent Theory (BRT) theory is theory of geographical economy. It is based on geographical location rather than productivity of land. It refers to price and demand for real estate. The BRT explained that different land users would compete with one another for land close to the city centre. This theory is based upon the reasoning that the more is the accessible area (i.e. the greater the concentration of customers). It is higher the chance of earning more profit. Hence, to have land in inner city or central business district land users are willing to pay high price. This price of land paid by various users is known as “Bid Rent”.
 Bid rent theory

The above graph clearly indicates that commercial sectors are ready to pay higher rent so that they can establish near central business district as it is more accessible to larger population. Industry prefers next outer ring where rent is comparably low and still easily connected with commercial sector and with market. Residents and residential areas can be away from central business district. They can be in the outer most ring or peripheral areas. Bid rent and concentric zone theory assumed that inner city is wealthy and peripheral area is poorer. However, many cities around the world indicate the trend which is otherwise.

8. Modern Theory of Urbanization 

Modern theory was developed in the mid 20th century. It presented an idea that economic development is possible only if industries develop and expand by the introduction and use of advanced methods of production and use of modern technologies. According to modern school, the view which is shared by the classical economist, there cannot be urbanization without industrialization. 

9. Theory of Evolutionary Ladder of Development 

To understand stages of urbanization, Walter Rostow’s evolutionary ladder of development and Warren Thomas demographic transaction can be combined and presented as: 
a) Traditional Society (Pre-modern) 
b) Pre-take off (Industrialization / Transitional) 
c) Take off stage (Mature industrial / Industrial) 
d) Stage of Maturity (Post industrial) 
e) High Mass Consumption 
In the first and second stage, society is a traditional one. Larger proportion of population lives in rural areas. Third stage is ‘take off’ stage modern and new technologies are employed by industries to increase production. Manufacturing becomes important. This changes and growth however is concentrated in few regions only. Demographically, in this stage the death rate falls and birth rate still remains high. In terms of urbanization, a large proportion of population migrates to areas where manufacturing activities are concentrated for employment. 
The fourth stage ‘drive to maturity’ in this stage there is spread of technology into all parts of the economy. The demographic transition associated with the stage sees declined death rates, while birth rates drop at a faster than death rates. Urbanization at this point continues to progress since more and more people move to urban centers for jobs. 
The final stage is known as ‘high mass consumption’ and is characterized by the economy forcing on durable consumer goods like car instead of production of heavy industries like heavy machines with high personal incomes. Focus is no durable economic activities rate than basic need. The final stage of demography indicates negative or zero population growth. At this point, urbanization begins to level off because at this stage countries experience development that has reached 80% urban population mark. 

10. Writh’s Essay on Urbanism as a Way of Life 

Louis Writh’s in his essay “Urbanism as a way of life” emphasis as that urbanism is a matter of physical residence and urbanization is a social phenomenon. Moreover, Writh also questions the most common indicator adopted for the measurement of urbanization around the world i.e. population numbers.


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