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Contemporary urbanisation processes

Contemporary urbanisation processes

Urbanisation Caracas


Contemporary urbanisation processes
Urbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects. Suburbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects.
Counter-urbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects.
Re-urbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects.
Planning and management issues.
Contrasting case studies within countries at different levels of economic development to demonstrate the above.

What you need to know:

Urbanisation: This is the name given to the increase in the percentage of a population living in towns and cities. It is generally caused by the movement of people from the countryside to urban areas e.g. Caracas in the above photograph highlight urbanisation and it’s associated issues.

People move into cities to seek economic opportunities. In rural areas, often on small family farms, it is difficult to improve one’s standard of living beyond basic sustenance. Deriving a living from farming is dependent on unpredictable environmental conditions, and in times of drought, flood or pestilence, survival becomes extremely problematic. This is brought about by push and pull factors (see Lee’s model of migration):

Lee's model

Lee’s model

Cities, in contrast, are known to be places where money and wealth are centralised and so PULL migrants towards them. Cities are perceived to be where fortunes are made and where social mobility is possible. Businesses, which generate jobs and capital, are usually located in urban areas. Whether the source is trade or tourism, it is also through the cities that foreign money flows into a country. These conditions are heightened during times of change from a pre-industrial society to an industrial one. It is at this time that many new commercial enterprises are made possible, thus creating new jobs in cities. It is also a result of industrialisation that farms become more mechanised, putting many labourers out of work.

There are better basic services as well as other specialist services that aren’t found in rural areas. There are more job opportunities and a greater variety of jobs. Health is another major factor. People, especially the elderly are often forced to move to cities where there are doctors and hospitals that can cater for their health needs. Other factors include a greater variety of entertainment (restaurants, movie theatres, theme parks, etc.) and a better quality of education, namely universities. Due to their high populations, urban areas can also have much more diverse social communities allowing others to find people like them when they might not be able to in rural areas.

Effects of Urbanisation:

Slums: these are areas where large populations of extremely poor people live in sub-standard conditions.

Urbanisation Kibera_Slum_Railway_Tracks_Nairobi_Kenya_July_2012

Common features of slums include:
– Land Insecurity: Slum dwellers are often ‘squatters’, living on land that they don’t officially own. The land is often owned by the government, and there is a constant danger that it may be sold out from under the occupants. These displacements cause increased poverty.
– Poor Living Conditions: The houses in slums are often made of any materials at hand, which could include mud, sticks, sheet metal, cartons, and other waste materials. Crowding is typically extreme, with entire families living in one-room structures, and very little space between one structure and the next. Sanitation is often very poor, which contributes to the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and bilharzia.

Urbanisation kibera_5_600
– Utilities such as electricity, water and sewage disposal are either not available or only available on a very unreliable basis.
– Unemployment – Since there are more people competing for jobs in the city than there are jobs available, unemployment is a constant problem.
– Crime – Slum conditions make maintenance of law and order extremely difficult, and patrolling the slums is not usually a priority for law enforcement officers. Common criminal activities include drug trafficking and abuse, weapons trafficking, burglary, and prostitution. Criminal elements are sometimes organised into gangs, and are sometimes independent.

Urbanisation Kibera_Nairobi_Kenya_Slum_July_2009

Accelerated Population Growth: Recent arrivals in the city often retain the rural habit of having large families. In the slums, where education about family planning is not readily available, this leads to the population ballooning far beyond the capacity of the environment to support it adequately.

Environmental Impacts: The growth of cities can have significant impact on the surrounding environment.
– Urban heat islands: Factors, including the paving over of formerly vegetated land and the high concentration of heat sources, tend to make cities warmer than surrounding countryside. This can be as much as 10° Celsius. Large cities become ‘regional heat islands’, which can alter local weather patterns.
– Air Pollution: Heavy vehicle traffic and energy production can cause a blanket of smog over many cities. This polluted air is both ugly and a public health problem.

Water Issues:
• Cities have more precipitation than surrounding areas, with pollutants and convection currents serving as magnets for raindrop formation.
• Once the water falls it is channelled into run-off systems which can reach rivers quickly and cause flooding down stream,
• The surface water flow picks up ground pollutants. This is added to that brought about by untreated industrial waste and sewage. These are all washed into nearby rivers.
– Destruction of Habitat: – The conversion of a natural area to an urban area means the destruction of whatever was there previously.

You need to have a case study of at least one example of urbanisation. In this case study you must have specific details based on the points made above.


suburbanisation gt-cambourne-se2

Suburbanisation has resulted in the outward growth of urban development that has engulfed surrounding villages and rural areas. In the UK, during the mid- to late-twentieth century, this was facilitated by the growth of public transport systems and the increased use of the private car. The presence of railway lines and arterial roads has enabled relatively wealthy commuters to live some distance away from their places of work.

The towns and cities of the UK demonstrate the effects of past suburbanisation. In the 1930s, there were few planning controls and urban growth took place alongside main roads – this was known as ribbon development.

suburbanisation Dubiny_fragment_wsi_12_07_2009_p

By the 1940s this growth, and the subsequent growth between the ‘ribbons’, became a cause for concern. This led to the creation of green belts – areas of open space and low-density land use around existing urban areas where further development was strictly controlled.

Read the article below “Why are we turning England into one big suburb?”:

Since 1950, suburban expansion has increased and has been better planned. During the 1950s and 1960s large-scale construction of council housing took place on the only land available which was the suburban fringe. In the 1970s, there was a move towards home ownership, which led to private housing estates being built, also on the urban fringe. Building in these areas allowed people to have more land for gardens and more public open space, compared with housing areas nearer the town centre.


The edge of town, where there is more land available for car parking and expansion, also became the favoured location for new offices, factories and shopping outlets. In a number of cases, the ‘strict control’ of the green belts was ignored (or at best modified) in the light of changing circumstances.

Suburbanised areas have experienced much change in recent years. Local shopping centres have been constructed, along with a large number of primary schools and a smaller number of secondary schools. Suburbanised areas also demonstrate other key elements of the rural/urban fringe, such as residual woodlands and parks, cemeteries, golf courses and playing fields. Many are now well-established housing areas, highly sought after in the property market.

You need to have a case study of at least one example of suburbanisation. In this case study you must have specific details based on the points made above.

Counter-urbanisation: Counter-urbanisation is the process where people migrate from major urban areas to more rural settlements. This is a phenomenon of cities in MEDCs


Causes: many of these are peoples’ perceptions and not necessarily based on fact.
– The perception that rural areas are safer, a better place to bring up children.
– The perception that rural schools are able to provide a better education.
– The growth in the internet and communications technology that has enabled ‘home-working’.
– The improvement of road communications and the growth in car ownership.

– Benefits
– An increase in rural employment opportunities
– An increase in the use of rural services which might otherwise decline.
– Gentrification by the incoming (wealthier?) people enable environmental improvements such as building conservation and renovation

– Increased cost of housing means local people cannot afford to buy homes in the area.
– Some services may be lost – newcomers may be more likely to shop in a supermarket in town than use local shops.
– The character of the village can be destroyed by inappropriate development
– Social tension – A farmer in a village may have different priorities from incomers. Their idea of rural tranquillity may not tally with the farmer’s aim of making a living
– Traffic congestion on rural roads

You need to have a case study of at least one example of counter-urbanisation. In this case study you must have specific details based on the points made above.

Case Study – St Ives (Cambridgeshire)

St Ives

St Ives

  • The town St. Ives is around 100km north of London, it lies on the A1123 , 8 km east of Huntingdon and just 25km northwest of Cambridgeshire.
  • The town is close to both the A1 trunk road and the main east coast railway line, making regular access to London easy.


Changing population of the area:

  • The majority of the land outside the town centre is rural farmland but over the recent years has been slowly changing into new housing developments.
  • Blocks of new apartments have been built in the town centre for more exclusive housing for people with highly paid jobs.
  • These builds are affecting the population structure of the town, one side is ageing and the other is becoming more youthful.
  • This is because the area has affordable housing and with the good transport links makes it the perfect location for commuters to London, these people generally move into the town centre for easy access to services and transport links to their works.
  • Other people moving into the area are commuters with young families or retirees, these move into the more rural part of town for a quieter life with more land, but they still have the fast access to services and work if they do so.
  • People in the St Ives have higher incomes and living standards than anywhere else in the UK, this is shown by the boom in property demand especially for large homes or riverside apartments and bungalows.


  • Commuting to London increased during the 1990’s and now 25% of St Ives population commute to work in London daily.
  • The railway line was electrified and journey times were reduced by a lot.
  • The station at Huntington, just outside St  Ives is a 50 minute journey away from Kings Cross in London which makes travelling to work easy.
  • An annual rail ticket costs £3,920 but because housing in London is so expensive the costs for this are saved with the housing in St Ives.

Services in the town:

  • Since commuting became so popular in the area services have changed to meet the demands of more new residents.
  • The area still has low order services such as greengrocers, butchers, bakers and supermarkets but many have expanded to meet the rise in demand for their goods as the population increases.
  • High order services such as restaurants, antique dealers and designer clothes shops have been opened in the area to meet the demands of the more wealthy people living in the area.
  • Estate agents have also been opened frequently over recent years to meet the demand of people wanting properties in the area, this has also caused the secondary school’s intake to rise.
St Ives

St Ives

Re-urbanisation: this is the movement of people back into urban areas.

Canary Wharf – London

Re-urbanisation 43363_CMS_IMAGE


It assumes that there has been some form of movement out from an urban area, possibly caused by inner city decline. The people are attracted back to the area either through some form of urban regeneration scheme or through the process of gentrification.

Case Study – the London Olympic (regeneration / re-urbanisation

London Olympics - before and after.

London Olympics – before and after.

The area (Olympic site) was an utter mess.

The area (Olympic site) was an utter mess.

The River Lee was an environmental disaster.

The River Lee was an environmental disaster.

The centre of the 2012 London Olympics actually used to be an industrial backwater.

The Olympic Park — which contains the Olympic Village, the Olympic Stadium, and seven other venues — sits on a plot of land in East London that Reuters described as “a patch of polluted wasteland” as recently as 2005.

But now the Stratford area of London has been uplifted by a host of improvements.

In addition to the gleaming venues, transportation infrastructure, and shopping, the 500-acre area has been improved with:

  • A new waterway. The River Lea has received a face lift after years of pollution. Invasive plant species were removed in favor of native wildlife.
  • New ground itself. The contaminated soil was entirely replaced with manufactured soil.
  • Massive green spaces. 300,000 wetland plants, 4,000 and 130,000 plants and bulbs make it the country’s largest urban park
  • New bridges made of gabion walls
  • A low-carbon energy facility that can power 10,000 homes

Read more:

You need to have a case study of at least one example of re-urbanisation (gentrification). In this case study you must have specific details based on the points made above.

3. Describe and comment on the pattern of urbanisation shown. (7 marks)


4. Explain the process of suburbanisation and describe its effects. (8 marks)

5. Account for the causes of counter-urbanisation. (8 marks)

6. Assess the effects of re-urbanisation on cities within countries that are at different levels of economic development. (10 marks)

7. ‘Cities the whole world over have the same problems and require the same solutions.’ To what extent do you agree with this view? (40 marks)

8. Using examples, assess the extent to which the level of economic development of a country affects planning and management in urban areas. (40 marks)


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