Cities/Urban / 04.09.2015

By Anjum Altaf Anyone wanting to understand urbanization needs to get past two major misunderstandings. First, urbanization is not about individual cities – neither solving their problems nor enhancing their potential for growth. The end result of urbanization is indeed an increase in the population of cities but the term itself refers to the movement of people from rural to urban locations. But which urban locations do (or should) people move to? That is a more important question.  What are the choices that exist and what determines the attractiveness of one location over another? Should public policy attempt to influence the spatial distribution of population by altering the attractiveness of different types of locations? Second, the pattern of urbanization is not predetermined. People move primarily to seek work and therefore any change in the distribution of employment opportunities should alter the pattern of migration. Different industrial or economic policies...

Cities/Urban / 12.06.2013

By Anjum Altaf One of my insights into Pakistan’s socioeconomic evolution was due inadvertently to my father when, as a student of economics, I encountered his changed post-retirement pattern of time use. It was the nature of the change that was surprising. I saw him rise early to monitor the water level in the rooftop storage tank, climb down to check the underground one, turn on the electric motor, then switch it off after an appropriate interval. Often the motor would malfunction and he would arrange to have it fixed. Less frequently, someone would be called to clean the tanks. Over time the pipes to and from the tanks acquired a byzantine complexity with various valves catering to the vagaries of the public supply. A hand pump sprouted in the backyard as a last resort and its water sent for regular testing. Water consumed a big part of our...

Cities / 12.06.2013

By Anjum Altaf One of my insights into Pakistan’s socioeconomic evolution was due inadvertently to my father when, as a student of economics, I encountered his changed post-retirement pattern of time use. It was the nature of the change that was surprising. I saw him rise early to monitor the water level in the rooftop storage tank, climb down to check the underground one, turn on the electric motor, then switch it off after an appropriate interval. Often the motor would malfunction and he would arrange to have it fixed. Less frequently, someone would be called to clean the tanks. Over time the pipes to and from the tanks acquired a byzantine complexity with various valves catering to the vagaries of the public supply. A hand pump sprouted in the backyard as a last resort and its water sent for regular testing. Water consumed a big part of our...

Development / 05.06.2013

By Anjum Altaf Is poverty a violation of human rights? I was asked recently to speak on the subject and faced the following dilemma: If I convinced the audience it was, would that imply the most effective way to eliminate poverty would be to confer human rights on the poor? Two questions follow immediately: First, if that were indeed the case, why haven’t rights been conferred already? Second, over the entire course of recorded history, has poverty ever been alleviated in this manner? Likely answers to both suggest it would be more fruitful to start with poverty than with rights. Poverty has always been with us while the discourse of rights is very recent. Studying the experiences of poverty elimination could possibly better illuminate the overlap with rights and yield appropriate conclusions for consideration. We can begin with the period when sovereignty rested in heaven and monarchs ruled with...

Cities/Urban / 26.05.2013

A Citizens' Initiative By Anjum Altaf The presence of international borders that are closed is unfortunate in many ways. However, to a social scientist they present the possibility of fascinating natural experiments in which locations close to each other but separated by the border can be studied to advantage. For example, the Punjab border separates Kasur in Pakistan from Ferozepur in India by a distance of 39 miles. One would not expect much to change over such a short distance except for policies that are decided at the national or regional levels, e.g., those related to land, taxation, subsidies, etc. If we study the two cities in depth perhaps we might be able to infer the impact of such policy differences on the prospects of the cities and the lives of their residents. It was such a thought experiment that prompted me to propose a study along these...

Cities/Urban / 20.05.2013

By Anjum Altaf The politics of urbanization could be less or more important than its economics. It depends on the context. In relatively stable societies, economics shapes politics – these are places where one can meaningfully say “it’s the economy, stupid.” Even seemingly bizarre foreign policies can be related to economics as one might infer from the title of Lenin’s classic text Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In less stable societies, the economy is hostage to politics. Think of Pakistan’s quixotic foreign policy adventures that have no conceivable relationship to national considerations and have driven the economy into the ground. The politics, in turn, is orchestrated by narrow, parochial and privileged economic interests as those who can discern can readily make out. It is in this framework that the politics of urbanization in Pakistan is more fascinating than its economics.
Cities/Urban / 07.05.2013

By Anjum Altaf We ought to care about urbanization because it will shape our lives, for better or for worse, and often in surprising ways. An obvious starter is that all developed countries are predominantly urban. Of course one can ask whether it was development that led to urbanization or the other way around. The historical evidence is clear: cities produced jobs that pulled less productive labor from rural areas. That, in a nutshell, was the story of the Industrial Revolution. The most unremarked replication in recent times has been in South Korea, going from 5 percent urban in 1925 to 80 percent by 2000. At the same time the country transitioned from an aid recipient to a member of the industrialized world, a donor in its own right.
South Asia / 05.11.2010

By Anjum Altaf I see the future in India being shaped by the intersection of three major tendencies playing out in the context of one major trend, the difference between a tendency and a trend being that the former is reversible and the latter not. And there is one joker in the pack. The three tendencies are increased empowerment of some of the poor via the democratic process, the recourse by the marginalized to rebellion, and the attraction of the middle classes to soft authoritarianism. The trend is urbanization. And the joker in the pack is economic growth. Let me speculate on how these forces might make themselves felt over the next decade or so.
Cities/Urban / 22.09.2010

By Anjum Altaf There has been a radical shift in the global consensus on urbanization. Till very recently India shared the anti-urban bias of most developing countries – the conclusion of a major 2004 study was that “most problems should be easier to manage if urban population growth is slowed.” Now urbanization is in fashion and cities are being touted as engines of growth. A 2010 McKinsey report begins with the statement that ‘urbanization is critical to India’s development’ and the government has launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to support this vision. India’s urban population is projected to increase from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million in 2030.  With this post I hope to initiate a discussion of some of the likely dimensions and implications of this increase. Would cities really play a dynamic role in economic growth or would they become concentrations...