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Turn again Whittington

Here comes the train again

Big cities are bad and bigger cities are worse. So thinks almost every Third World government, every World Bank adviser, every development expert. Pointing to hunger and illiteracy in the Third World's cities today, they argue that these cities cannot be allowed to keep on growing twice as fast as the population at large.

The cause of such 'uneven spatial distribution,' it is argued, is urban pull and rural push. This means that life is worse in the rural areas than in the cities and so people go from one to the other. And the solution, it is agreed, is 'investment in rural infrastructure to create alternative growth poles'. This means that you make life in the countryside better. Otherwise, they conclude, the Third World cities are going to double in size in less than twenty years and this will lead to a breakdown of urban capacity. This means that more people will be unemployed, unhealthy...

Tanzania's first published census in thirteen years casts doubt on this conventional wisdom. No country has done more than Tanzania to implement the advice of the experts. Unlike most other leaders, who have merely talked, Tanzania's President Nyerere has acted - making Ujamaa Villages the focus of Tanzania's development effort and even building a new capital, Dodoma, in the rural hinterland in an attempt to demagnetize Dar es Salaam. In theory this would have evened up the attractiveness of rural areas and cities and so reduced urban drift. But it hasn't happened. Tanzania's cities have grown more than twice as fast as the population in general, according to the new census, and the growth rate for Dar Es Salaam itself has been running at 19% a year. At that rate, a city doubles in size in less than 4 years.

Could it be that the 60,000 Tanzanians who have been trekking to Dar Es Salaam each year are trying to tell the experts something?

New Internationalist issue 083 magazine cover This article is from the January 1980 issue of New Internationalist.
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