Museologia Social e Urbanismo XIX

Chapter 3. Migration, mobility and urban-rural continuum

  1. What are the various reasons that make people migrate?
  2. What are the current gaps in the international, national and urban imaginations regarding migration, that affect the policy directions?

Sustainable cities require prosperous rural areas with sustainable agriculture and protected terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to thrive. Since cities are only capable of producing a small proportion of the ecological services that they need like food, water and clean air, their symbiotic relationship with the regions in which they are situated is critical for sustainability. Cities also provide economic, education and health, cultural and social opportunities for people who live in the countryside. Flows of goods, services and money between urban and rural areas are important contributors to rural livelihood security and prosperity.

Why is city living different from life in rural areas? First, how do countries define rural and the urban? You may be surprised to learn that there is no formal, common definition of the rural and the urban across the world. Most countries use their own definitions of the urban that is often a combination of population size, population density and occupational characteristics. These definitions are often fluid and some countries have become less or more urban simply by changing their definitions.

Second, urban and rural areas in many countries have different administrative systems, population registration processes are different, legal structures and very often laws are different, government taxation rules and entitlements are different. In some countries, people who live in rural áreas and have agricultural incomes are not taxed, in others, rural residents have to be registered and receive limited or no social security which is a privilege of urban citizens. In yet other contexts, villages receive rural development entitlements not on offer to their urban counterparts.

Third, there is a perceived difference in the quality of life in rural and urban areas. Many people believe that villages have a better quality of life because they’re cleaner, less congested and in greater proximity to nature. Yet these perceptions are not always true. In most cases, urban areas are more prosperous and offer better public services than rural areas. Much of the economic vibrancy of cities is what attracts migrants in the first place.

The opportunity for social mobility is also an important differentiator especially, in highly stratified societies where cities allow gender, ethnic and caste identities to be blurred.

All of these factors make for a very different living experience in cities and rural areas, in many cases encouraged by policy choices. A classic case is China’s Hukou or Household Registration System which for decades officially discouraged migrants from moving from rural areas to its more prosperous eastern coastal cities. Large metropolitan regions such as Shenzhen and Shanghai attracted workers from all across China. Healthcare, education and even housing was made difficult for rural migrants to access in urban areas, even if they had a job, largely to prevent mass migration and the overcrowding of cities.

But effectively, this national policy created a significant disparity between rural and urban areas, especially after the ‘iron rice bowl’ was broken in the 1990s, while urban citizens continued to get a range of entitlements. Changes are now being brought about in the system to make it less exclusionary. Such inequities are unsustainable, hence SDG 11 speaks of sustainable cities and human settlements linking urban and rural areas together across the continuum and as part of a system of places that are interconnected, share resources and provide a scaffolding for people and communities to move in search of new opportunities and aspirations. Na important question for us to consider is – ‘How important is migration in the context of cities and how does it affect both the cities and the regions that they’re located in?’ The movement of people from rural to urban areas is not a new phenomena. Migration is as old as human civilisation itself. People choose to move for environmental, political, economic and socio-cultural reasons.

Rural to urban migration is just one of the three drivers of urbanisation, accounting for about 25% of urban population growth. The other factors are natural population increases and the reclassification of rural áreas into urban ones. Young people are 40% more likely than older people to move from rural to urban areas or across urban areas.

They are a range of pull and push factors that influence migration dynamics. Pull factors include urban opportunities that attract mostly young, better-educated, enterprising people because of the prospects of jobs and better income as well as access to better health and education services and improved quality of life. Push factors include war and conflict as seen in Syria, famine and drought and extreme weather conditions as seen in the Sahel. Climate Change is anticipated to become a significant driver of involuntary migration in many parts of the world over the next few decades. Other push factors include rural economic distress, as in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s and poverty or poor living conditions in Northern Europe in the late 19th century that brought migrants to the Americas.

There are four major forms of migration within a country: Rural to Rural migration, which is the most common form of migration in many parts of the world, especially, as people move their location of residence economic opportunity; Rural to Urban migration- the most dramatic was 117 million Chinese moving from rural to urban areas to seek better employment opportunities between 2000 and 2010; Urban to Urban migration as people move from smaller to larger cities in search of opportunity and sometimes in the reverse direction as they retire or in search of better environments; Urban to Rural migration, which happens in cases of serious urban unrests or economic breakdown- a classic case is a nine-month long Mumbai mill workers strike in the 1980s which led to the shift of striking workers back to villages from which they had come from. But there are complex and counter-intuitive dynamics that underlie urban-rural migration. In the 1960s, the new post-colonial Kenyan government tried to address unemployment in Nairobi, by establishing an agreement with public and private employers to increase employment in exchange for a wage freeze by workers. In practice, rather surprisingly, urban unemployment increased rather than decreased. Harris and Todaro, demonstrated through their theoretical model that the rate of rural to urban migration is a function of the rural-urban wage differential and the ratio of jobs to jobseekers. While urban wages are usually higher than rural wages, urban incomes maybe less than rural incomes because not everyone can find work that they’re looking for in cities.

People will only migrate from the countryside to cities if their real income in the city is more than their income in the countryside. How do cities cope with migration? According to the World Migration Report 2015, the biggest challenge for urban governance is a need to ensure adequate infrastructure and service delivery to diverse and growing populations. This requires new and innovative policy approaches that recognise urban diversity as positive, and take an inclusive approach to all segments of society.

Migration and how it’s governed is thus at the frontline of urban planning and sustainable development and yet we have several instances where this is far from being accomplished. An example is Operation ‘Move the Rubbish’, a cleanup campaign in 2005 led by the President of Zimbabwe. Shanty towns on the outskirts of the capital Harare were demolished. Over 700,000 residents were displaced and at least 2.4 million people were indirectly affected. According to the government, the campaign was to improve Harare as it cleaned up illegal housing and informal employment while also reducing the risk of disease. In effect this only accelerated involuntary migration.

Parte B

Let us now turn to the issue of International migration. In 2015 the number of international migrants worldwide, that is, people residing in a country other than their country of birth was the highest ever-recorded at 244 million.

Close to 1 in 5 migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities according to the World Migration Report 2015. International migrants makeup over a third of the total population of cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London. At least 1 in 4 residents of Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born. The first point to note here, is that millions of people move in difficult circumstances even though migration is often subject to serious barriers. This is in a world, that encourages the mobility of capital and technology but not of people. 2015 saw the highest levels of force displacement globally, recorded since the Second World War with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people, across many regions of the world from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia. The second point to note is, that most of these migrants move to cities in other countries since they offer better  opportunities for work, social services and the chance to connect and cluster with their own ethnic groups.

Let’s look at a few examples: migration from Mexico to the United States has both positive and negative effects for both countries. In many cases, Mexican migrants take on menial jobs for lower pay in US cities providing them wages higher than in Mexico but effectively subsidising and supporting wealthier US enterprises and citizens. As economic growth slowed in the United States and unemployment soared, politicians have used migration as a tensions. Mexico has a significant agricultural economy. Many migrants come from rural backgrounds leaving a shortage of farmers in rural areas. The financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to na estimated 600 billion dollars in 2015, over two-thirds of which was sent to developing countries. The biggest source of foreign exchange in the Philippines is remittances from international migrant workers. In 2012, the country received 23 billion dollars of remittances largely from Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Migration can also be forced – within a country or between them because of war, civil strife or extreme poverty, lack of employment opportunities or even development or disaster-linked displacement. Most forced displacement globally, still occurs within national boundaries with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014: from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. National governments like France and the United Kingdom have adopted strong policies of immigrant assimilation, they encourage migrants to adapt to the customs, attitudes and culture of their host country often leading to other forms of identity conflict. Yet there are many examples of successful integration: In 1907, the Brazilian and Japanese governments signed a treaty allowing Japanese migration to Brazil, many people of Japanese origin centered in neighbourhoods near the centre of the Sao Paulo.

Since then, an influx of Korean and Chinese migrants contributed to the East Asian charm of these neighbourhoods. As more immigrant populations moved in, so did the neighbourhood’s commercial worth. These neighbourhoods are now popular among tourists and are na integral part of Paulista culture.


Sobre Pedro Pereira Leite

Cátedra UNESCO - Educação, Cidadania e Diversidade Cultural - Lisboa ULHT Investigador do Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra onde desenvolve o projeto de investigação "Heranças Globais: a inclusão dos saberes das comunidades como instrumento de desenvolvimento integrado dos território".(2012-2107) . O projeto tem como objetivo observar a relevâncias no uso da memória social em quatro territórios ligados por processos sociais comuns. A investigação desenvolve-se em Portugal e Espanha, na zona da Fronteira; em Moçambique e no Brasil. (FCT:SHRH/BPD/76601/2011). É diretor de Casa Muss-amb-iki - espaço de Memórias. Intervém no âmbito de pesquisa de redes sociais de memoria.
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