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Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

302 VII. Asia in New

302 VII. Asia in New Geographies of Theory All this means that rural dwellers can be in instant communication with relatives or friends who have moved elsewhere, can learn of national and international political developments, and can readily access information about market prices for goods they produce, making them less vulnerable to cheating by middlemen. Megacities and the ong>Urbanong>-rural Distinction Another important development discussed in my 1997 paper was the growth of megacities. This has proceeded apace since then, including the tendency for mega-urban regions to coalesce or form linear patterns. The rural dwellers living close to or in the interstices between major megacities are those whose “rural” status is most in question. This has been discussed in a number of studies on Indonesia. The World Bank 7 drawing on methodology proposed by Uchida and Nelson 8 list a large number of megacities in Java, ranging in population from 26.8 million (Jakarta) and 10.5 million (Surabaya) to three more above 5 million and another 13 above 1 million. The according of very large populations to some cities by this method will raise eyebrows among those familiar with Indonesia: 6.5 million for Cirebon, 3.8 million for Kediri, 3.0 million for Mataram, for example. The reason these small cities are accorded such large populations by this method is that densely populated rural areas within one hour’s commute of agglomerations are considered part of the urban agglomeration. This does touch on one reality, namely proximity to a city, but does not consider what kind of work these rural dwellers are doing, or whether they do often (or ever) avail themselves of the proximity to the city by actually going there. Still, the World Bank findings are consistent with evidence that urban corridors are tending to develop along transportation links between a number of large cities in Java. Firman 9 argues that the main urban corridors are those linking Jakarta to Bandung, Cirebon to Semarang, Semarang to Yogyakarta, and Surabaya to Malang. And Jones and Mulyana 10 argue that “to some degree, an urban corridor can be detected running all the way from Jakarta to Surabaya, across northern coastal regions between Jakarta and Semarang (with an offshoot to Bandung), through Yogyakarta and Solo to Surabaya. To the west of Jakarta, too, it is not unrealistic to perceive an extension of the urban corridor through Serang and Cilegon to Merak, across the sea to Bandar Lampung in Sumatra”. It is the rural dwellers living in or close to these expanding urban corridors whose lives are probably most affected by this proximity.

303 THE THOROUGHGOING URBANIZATION OF EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA REVISITED In Indonesia, rural areas closer to large cities tend to score better on all the indicators than those more isolated from large cities. This is consistent with McGee’s theory. 11 The zones of intense—and often rather unsightly and messy—interaction between what are traditionally thought of as urban and rural areas (called desa-kota by McGee and referred to as “mixeduse urban-rural penumbra” by Rimmer and Dick 12 ) are those where the traditional conceptualization of urban and rural really break down. I am aware that a great deal of sophisticated theoretical discussion revolves around the Lefebvre-originated “urbanization theory without an outside” literature. This literature pays attention to the processes of neoliberal capitalism and the way they impact spatial processes. Studies in this genre “cast doubt on established understandings of the urban as a bounded, nodal, and relatively self-enclosed socio-spatial condition in favor of more territorially differentiated, morphologically variable, multiscalar, and processual conceptualizations”. 13 This body of theory aims to supersede the urban/non-urban divide that has long characterized urban research, and the privileging of the city in studies of urban processes, and in that sense is highly relevant to the discussion in this paper. I agree entirely with Brenner when he takes aim at the blind spots in data-centered urbanization concepts embodied, for example, in the “urban agglomeration” data presented by the United Nations Population Division, though I think he goes a bit far in claiming that the idea that an “urban age” has “recently dawned due to the putative shift of the majority of the world’s population from the countryside to the city … presupposes a narrow, ahistorical and population-centric concept of the city that does not grasp the extraordinary scale and diversity of agglomeration processes that are associated with contemporary forms of urban development around the world”. 14 As a perhaps simple-minded demographer, I am unwilling to give up entirely on quantitative approaches to this issue. I think there are two important demographic points to be made. The first is that the proportion of population in Asian countries who live in isolated and poor rural communities is constantly shrinking, with movement to the cities or in search of work overseas. In Laos, the government is deliberately moving isolated mountain communities to consolidated settlements, in the interest of making them accessible to government-provided services and facilities. Whether they want to be so moved is a moot point—see James Scott’s 2009 book, The Art of Not Being Governed. 15 So although the differences at the extremes remain stark, the proportion of the population living either in cities and towns or in more accessible peri-urban and rural areas that are tightly drawn into the “urbanized” economy and society is constantly increasing.