"THE number of dwellers in big cities of more than half a million. grew from 96 million in 1920 to 351 million in 1960."
With this United Nations estimate, and a good deal more facts and figures beside it, Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson), the Catholic economist, points out a terrible thing that is happening in the world, a world-wide phenomenon of fantastic proportions.
While in many of the world's developed cities chaos and frustration mount, throughout the developing world masses of half-starved humanity are pouring into cities that are hopelessly ill-equipped to cope with them.
Whereas between 1920 and 1960 the big cities in the developed world grew about two and a half times, "in the developing regions, the increase has been more than eightfold." This increase can hardly be described as growth. To keep up with the estimated rate of population growth between 1960 and 1980, the developing world would need to "add to its urban equipment—housing, civic buildings, urban schools, hospitals and transport, urban places of employment — the equivalent of all the cities already built in the developed world over centuries of urban growth."
Barbara Ward calls this a "pathological acceleration" rather than a healthy sign of development, and it is not to be likened to the urbanisation of the nineteenth century, in which industrialisation led the way. In 19th century Europe, for all its misery, "the proportion of the population living in cities of over 20,000 was invariably smaller than the proportion of the working force engaged in manufacturing."
The proportions of this in the developing world today weigh very heavily in the opposite direction; "In Brazil in 1960 the proportions were 28.1 and 9.5; in Venezuela in 1961 a fantastic contrast of 47.2 and 8.8 per cent."
In such circumstances, the growth of the cities, far from being a response to expansion, threatens to swamp it; a situation that is not helped by the fact that such expansion is of the most useful kind. Highly capitalised projects, which may be in the interests of small groups and yield temporary profits to capitalisers abroad, are by no means necessarily in
the interests of the whole
society, still lacking the barest economic infra-structure.
"Of all the evils, worklessness is the worst.... A refinery Can cost £12 millions and employ no more than a few hundred people."
Barbara Ward writes of all this in a *pamphlet recently published by the Catholic Institute of International Relations.
What she makes very clear is the need for strong policies and courageous choices— choices that by no means necessarily coincide with the interests of investors, not to mention those of the "feudal classes who tend to salt away their savings in Switzerland."
Another hopeful sign is I think the appearance of this sort of literature. Apparently the government of the most developed nation in the world has adopted an attitude of "benign neglect" towards the problems of its own cities. Evidently governments cannot be relied upon to provide the impetus to meet these problems.
Meanwhile, most of us are simply punch-drunk with information. What does it really mean to us? So long as we can't relate it to faith, it won't help us do anything.
If we are to have some salt in the world we need more people like Barbara Ward; people to examine concrete situations, and to examine them comprehensively, in the light of faith; people to put the issues squarely before us.
Then we might stop wallowing in headlines and find to our surprise we are capable of doing something. Who else will?
* Poor World Cities, by Barbara Ward (Catholic Institute for International Relations. 2s. inc. postage from C.1.1.R., 38 King Street, London, WC2.)