Deurbanize - Promote Rural Living
Urba is the Latin for town. Urban is anything of or about a town. Suburb is an outlying part of an urban area partway between urban and rural areas. Suburbs are usually associated with being dormatory (housing) areas (with green spaces) as support for the more central urban area.
In order to define and distinguish movements and divisions of populations within a given territory, there are four popular concepts that have been identified - 'urbanization', 'suburbanization', 'de-urbanization' and 're-urbanization'. Typologically speaking, during initial phase of 'urbanization', there occurs an import of rural traditions into the city centers. Deurbanisation, which is just opposite of urbanization, is defined as breakdown of urban areas into non-urban areas. Urban, suburban and rural areas can be defined by population density. So "deurbanisation" is the reverse process of turning heavy population density areas into lower density areas.
The world is rapidly urbanizing. The UN Population Division estimates that by 2017 half the world’s population will be urban. As indicated by Redman and Jones (2004):
“Cities occupy 4% or less of the world’s terrestrial surface, yet they are home to almost half the global population, consume close to three-quarters of the world’s natural resources, and generate three-quarters of its pollution and wastes. Moreover, the UN estimates that virtually all net global population and economic growth over the next 30 years will occur in cities, leading to a doubling of current populations. This growth will require unprecedented investment in new infrastructure and create extraordinary challenges for political and social institutions.”
Urbanization is particularly rapid in the developing world, where major economic restructuring in countries like China, and the lack of rural employment opportunities in many African and Asian countries, is provoking an exodus from rural areas to towns and cities. Although much of the focus has been on the growth, infrastructural and environmental problems of megacities (those over 10 million in population), the reality is that much urbanization is projected to take place in the small to medium sized cities (e.g., former provincial towns), and not just large cities.
This poses numerous challenges like environment, health, conversion of cropland, forest and wetlands to urban “built up” areas; inadequate provision of improved water and sanitation, particularly in slums and ghettos; waste removal; and air pollutant emissions from industry and transportation.
We can draw parallels to the economic decline of Rome with the impending economic decline of America. Another parallel could be drawn to take in the issue of deurbanization. Rome was preeminently an urban empire. It's power was founded on cities, particularly Rome itself. But when the price of slaves rose, labor shortages in the country caused an exodus from the cities to the country. Our modern cities conceivably could be facing a similar exodus. The first major causality of high oil prices will be the car. And that would include gas/diesel powered trucks. In any case, transporting food will become increasingly expensive. And driving several miles to a big supermarket will of course also present problems. Many people will want to grow their own food, or at least be close to places where food is readily available at decent prices. This would mean a flight to the country, as cities become more and more expensive to maintain.
Recent Trends In Deurbanization
1. Linked to recent industrial changes: companies have moved to lower cost areas.
2. Technological change - e.g. Internet etc - people can work
3. Idealistic views of the idyllic countryside where there are
less social problems such as crime, muggings and drugs etc.
4. Better quality of life.
When we talk of deurbanization in the context of post-petroleum civilization, we do not mean suburbanization which is more wasteful than urbanization itself. Example of suburbanization can be seen when in the 1960s, American factories began to be systematically removed from the central urban cores. This drove the development of suburban neighborhood design - allowing the urban elites to distance themselves both physically and socially from the working class. A precursor again to 'de-urbansiation.'
Resource Extravagance of Cities in Comparison to Rural Areas.
The urbanites inflict ecological damage not only on the urban areas they cement over but also on the hinterland from which they draw resources. Cities are centres of consumption and extremely resource-intensive. The large scale, centralized systems they require are almost without exception more stressful to the environment than small-scale, diversified, locally adapted production. Food and water, building materials, and energy must all be transported great distances via energy consuming infrastructures; their concentrated wastes must be hauled away in trucks and barges or incinerated at great cost to the environment.
Urbanites Divorced from the Soil.
The reason urbanites cause so much ecological devastation is because living in cities encourages people to keep demanding more and more commodities without appreciating the impacts of these demands on nature. Urbanites insist on cheap, flawless agricultural products and this exerts considerable pressure on farmers to use monocultural methods of agricultural production. By the very fact that they are locked away from the Earth in an artificial environment, urbanites lose sight of the Planet as a living entity with whom they must maintain an organic reciprocity. Destruction of nature will increase in scale as cities become even more extensive.
The Shortage Of Fossil Fuels Will Lead To The Decline Of The City
Some feel that in the long term, deurbanization is inevitable because as fossil fuels become scarcer, industrialized agriculture will not be able to feed the increasing number of urbanites, Eventually the proportion of farm to city population will have to reverse itself if humanity has to survive. Labour intensive organic farming cannot support the concentrated urban population centres that have been built up during the high energy, fossil fuel age.
In a post-industrial world, the self-sufficient agricultural village, rather than the urban factory or rural factory farm, will be the primary economic unit.
The use of the term ‘village’ is very significant, and comes with a definition. A village is human-scale: it is large enough so that all the needs of its inhabitants can be met, with complete specialization of tasks, but not so large that there are anonymous people; in a village, everybody is known, and strangers are instantly recognized and assessed. The actual size depends on the ‘carrying capacity’ of the surrounding ecosystem. Settlements smaller than villages are called ‘hamlets’; in a hamlet there are not enough people for a diversity of specialization of tasks, so culture is limited to necessities. A ‘town’ has enough people so that not everyone is known, and suspicions develop concerning the motivations of strangers. A town has outgrown the carrying capacity of the surrounding landscape, so a polarity of interests develops over the allotment and use of ever-scarcer resources. A ‘city’ is a blight on the landscape, and results in the complete impoverishment of the natural ecology. Strangers are numerous and a general feeling of distrust, anxiety, and fear prevails, leading to isolation and alienation. Civilization, the culture of cities, is an abstract human construction, and is completely divorced from natural processes. The goal of such a civilization is to maximize and concentrate arbitrary power, and this eventually leads to its own self-annihilation, in every case. With this review of human settlement patterns, it becomes obvious that the optimum blend of diversity and sustainability occurs at the village scale. It is there that humans have the opportunity to achieve maximum self-realization.
If Homo-sapiens want a sustainable future and survival into the indefinite future, they must reorganize themselves at the village scale.
In the words of E. Christopher Mare, “The global economy is so insidious — it has forced itself into every nook and crevice of the globe. Like a toxic slime, it has covered everything, and adversely affected the lives of everybody, extracting the life out of whole communities. What is truly tragic is that it has infected the minds of the people as well, so that they are not even aware of their debilitating collusion.”
Once a local economy becomes dependent on the global economic system, it has entered the murky, life-draining realm of un-sustainability, because the global economy itself is not sustainable.
Vedic system of Village organization is based on a concept called Varnashrama. Under this system, our life span (assumed to be 100 years) is divided into four ‘ashramas’ or life divisions known as brahmachari (celibate student), grihastha (married householder), vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasi (renounced). Similarly whole society is divided into four classes. Srila Prabhupada explains this, “The brahmanas study transcendental literature such as Bhagavad-gita and the Upanishads. And they lecture and instruct, as well as worship the Deity in the temple. They should have ideal character, and the other classes provide food and shelter out of appreciation for their guidance. The ksatriyas, taking advice from the brahmanas, govern the village and apportion land to the vaisyas, who use the land to produce grains, fruits, and vegetables and to raise cows for milk. The vaisyas give twenty-five percent of their produce or earnings to the ksatriyas, who utilize it for village projects. The sudras - the artisans and craftspeople - assist the other three classes.”
A Case Study
In early 70s, Hare Krishnas founded a farm community near New Orleans, named New Talavan. Hare Krishna guru, Srila Prabhupada advised the community to strive for self-sufficiency and grow their own grain, fruit, and vegetables. They should keep a few cows for milk-which they could then turn into yogurt, butter, and fresh natural cheese. They should use oxen to plow the fields and for local transport, grow sugar cane for sweetener and grow castor beans and use the oil to burn in lamps.
They should grow cotton, spin it into thread, and weave their own cloth on handlooms. For building materials, they should use logs and bricks. Finally, Srila Prabhupäda encouraged the residents of New Tälavan to build a magnificent temple at the center of the community, to provide spiritual nourishment.
Later that year, Srila Prabhupäda visited New Talavan and gave additional advice about how to organize the community. “Avoid machines. Keep everyone employed as a brahmana [teacher], ksatriya [administrator], vaisya [farm owner or merchant], or sudra [laborer]. Nobody should sit idle.” He was explaining the Vedic social system, with its natural divisions or classes that allow people to make the most of their special aptitudes and inclinations.
Better give up city. Make Vrindavan, like this. City life is abominable. If you don’t live in the city, you don’t require petrol, motor car.
~Srila Prabhupada (Room conversation, August 1, 1975, New Orleans)