Urbanization and environment

This was my speech for a competition, the topic was “Urbanization improves environment” and i was speaking for the proposition.

Urbanization this term has economic as well as social significance. Economic because it brings about a structural change in the way people function and seek jobs and this influences the economic activity of individual units of the population and the economy. Social significance is the natural outcome of the economic significance, as Karl Marx once explained, that a change in the economic system and structure has its social repercussions as well. Urbanization today is a natural and independent process; the percentage of population migrating to the urban areas is rising inexorably irrespective of the developments taking place in the rural areas. According Warren Thomson an American demographer as the economy expands its people move from the rural to the urban, now this movement may not necessarily be geographic movement of going to urban cities but a change in the basic character of a place where people live, a change from the rural character to the urban character. So taking into account this principle urbanization in my view is an inevitable process and a natural outcome of development.

Coming to environment, environment isn’t just air, water, land and resources, it also includes man, his activities and his material welfare. The two major factors determining the environment in the urban setting, is the population and the economic development. One of the distinguishing factors of urbanization is capital formation. Goods are made to sell and money is earned to buy, but certain amount of consumption has to be kept away for future use. Current consumption has to be used for creation of capital in future. As Prof Shahuraja has put it “It is necessary to break away from the vicious circle of poverty and initiate the virtuous circle of prosperity. To improve the environment investments in education and health are important and this happen only through capital formation. The rural economy tends to be self sufficient, now self sufficiency is not bad per se but to move to a productive level interaction between resources and saving of resources is necessary and it happens only through urbanization. Also urbanization facilitates mobilization of huge investments to initiate and implement new policies. As the economist Rosenstein Rodan has said in his theory “the big push” that for a plane to take off it requires a certain minimum ground speed, anything less than that and the plane won’t take off, similarly for improving the environment we need a certain minimum investment to be mobilized, anything less than that is inadequate.

Now speaking of development it is not just the addition of physical capital but also human capital Urbanization facilitates the training of human capital we may have the best of equipments and machinery but to match that, we need equally good human capital. We need skilled human capital for economic growth and development and we need sensible human capital to maintain social tranquility and political stability. Urbanization gives importance to education and practical training. Education ultimately has the power to pull the poor people from the lower end of the poverty line and push them to the upper and through urbanization education assumes importance. Urbanization also increases the prospect of revenue generation and revenue collection for the government. And this revenue is utilized to give essential services like education and health at a subsidized rate. So essential services like good health care and education are given at a subsidized rate.

Coming to the point of natural environment, at the outset I must say that man has always been in a conflict with nature. Man, in pursuing his interests and the interest of the community at large has had no choice but to alter the physical structure of nature. A water power project requires the construction of a dam and a reservoir and this may have an impact on the physical environment, it may even force a number of people to relocate themselves. But on the other hand, it’s difficult to exist without electricity. If environment is for the people even development is FOR the people. If we are sacrificing the natural environment to some extents we are creating value at the same time. Development always comes with a price, we have to ensure that the cost of any project or plan does not outweigh the benefits; if this balance can be maintained then we can certainly have sustainable development.

Now let’s examine the commodity of land under urbanization. It so happens that in the rural areas the population is scattered over a vast region of land, almost every piece of land is utilized either for living or for cultivation. And as we all know that the supply of land is scarce in relation to the demand, so effective utilization of land is very important since it’s a very important natural resource. Now urbanization concentrates the population into smaller land areas, leaving more land undistributed and therefore protecting it and making it available for other important activities like farming, and other agricultural activities.

Resources are constantly needed by cities. And one of the outputs of resources is waste and this waste has to be properly handled to prevent any serious damages to the environment. The waste hierarchy system plays an important role in waste minimization, it refers to the three “R’s” reduce, reuse and recycle. The aim of the waste hierarchy system is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste. Another method is the extended producer responsibility, in this system the producer has to be accountable for the entire life cycle of the product, so firms which manufacture are required to be responsible for the products during manufacture and even after their useful life. Also the standard sanitation technology in urban areas collects waste water and treats it so that it can be left in the sea or lakes. So urbanization provides safer and better water and provides better sanitation facilities. So the crux of the matter is that although urbanization harms the environment and creates waste it ALSO ensures its proper handling and disposal, infact the input of resources and output of waste has been described as the metabolism of cities.

And finally at a social and cultural level urbanization improves environment because it increases the credence given to status of education or other merit based achievements and reduces the credence given to birth status which originally existed. So urbanization does improve the social, economic, political and cultural environment and it does sustain the natural environment.