Around the world, cities are growing. This puts immense pressure on resources and requires a re-think of cityscapes to accommodate, provide for the food, energy and water needs of urban inhabitants. But the pressures inherent to growing cities does not only put strain on the cities themselves, but also poses a potential threat in rising tensions between cities and rural areas.
As populations surge from rural to urban areas, the world’s political geography is being transformed. The network of connections between cities and rural areas is being strained – potentially to the breaking point. Widening divergences can be discerned in terms of values, age, education, power and wealth.
Divergent values between urban and rural areas are already fuelling polarization and electoral volatility in many countries around the world. There is increasing resentment of the imbalance of power and prosperity, and divergent values often lead to growing animosity towards those who think differently.
Long term planning is clearly vital if we are to mitigate the risks of rural decline and growing cities, and to prevent tensions from arising between the urban and rural populations. It is vital that we plan for both the influx of people to our ever growing cities, and aid rural areas at risk of decline. We must do so if we are to soften the urban-rural divide and mitigate the dangers posed by such stark division.
Stronger transportation, infrastructure and communication links are essential for sustainability. So too are a more equitable division of resources, finances and amenities. Fiscal creativity will be required to find ways to recentralize revenue-raising powers or more widely distribute the productivity gains that come from growing urbanization.
Growing cities can be positive, as people gathering can generate real wealth and increase production. But those growing cities will be under strain – and so too will the rural areas those new city-dwellers leave behind.
Whether we live in an urban or rural location, it is important to bridge the gaps, understand the other, and work out how best cities and countryside regions can work together, and separately, to meet their very different and distinct needs.