Social Contradictions in Growing Cities: Dialogue and Discord
THE INCREASING SPEED OF CULTURAL CHANGE
Since the 1950s, rapid urbanization has been a catalyst of cultural change. As globalization proceeds, the urban transition is having an enormous impact on ideas, values and beliefs. Such transformations have not been as uniform or seamless as social scientists predicted. The widening gaps between social groups make inequality more visible. In this atmosphere, large cities can generate creativity and solidarity, but also make conflicts more acute.(64)
Rapidly growing cities, especially the larger ones, include various generations of migrants, each with a diversity of social and cultural backgrounds. Urban life thus exposes new arrivals to an assortment of cultural stimuli and presents them with new choices on a variety of issues, ranging from how their families are organized to what they do with their leisure time. In this sense, urbanization provides opportunities for broad cultural enrichment and is a prime mover of modernization. Through interaction of new urbanites with rural areas, it also accelerates social change across different regions.
At the same time, urbanites may lose contact with traditional norms and values. They may develop new aspirations, but not always the means to realize them. This, in turn, may lead to a sense of deracination and marginalization, accompanied by crises of identity, feelings of frustration and aggressive behaviour. Many people in developing countries also associate the processes of modernization and globalization with the imposition of Western values on their own cultures and resent them accordingly.(65)
URBANIZATION AND RELIGIOUS REVIVAL
The revival of religious adherence in its varied forms is one of the more noticeable cultural transformations accompanying urbanization. Rapid urbanization was expected to mean the triumph of rationality, secular values and the demystification of the world, as well as the relegation of religion to a secondary role. Instead, there has been a renewal in religious interest in many countries.
The growth of new religious movements is primarily an urban phenomenon,(66)for example, radical Islam in the Arab region, Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America and parts of Africa and the cult of Shivaji in parts of India. In China, where cities are growing at a breakneck pace, religious movements are fast gaining adherents.
Increased urbanization, coupled with slow economic development and globalization, has helped to increase religious diversity as part of the multiplication of subcultures in cities. Rather than revivals of a tradition, the new religious movements can be seen as adaptations of religion to new circumstances.
Research has tended to focus on extreme religious responses—which have indeed gained numerous followers—hence the tendency to lump them all under the rubric of “fundamentalism”. Yet religious revivalism has varied forms with different impacts, ranging from detached “new age” philosophy to immersion in the political process. Along this continuum, there are many manifestations of religious adherence. Together, they are rapidly changing political dynamics and the social identities of today’s global citizens.(67)
VIOLENCE AND INSECURITY IN CITIES
Inter-personal violence and insecurity is rising, particularly in urban areas of poorer countries. This exacts an enormous toll on individuals, communities and even nations, and is fast becoming a major security and public health issue.Violence tends to be greater in faster-growing and larger cities.
The daily living conditions of the urban poor have been strongly correlated with social exclusion and inequality, which tend to be more blatant and resented in cities.(68)They can heighten the potential for the emergence of conflict, crime or violence. The inadequacy of state institutions, particularly police and the justice system, affects the poor most severely. Women are the principal victims, particularly of sexual and domestic violence.
Increased violence is also associated with globalization and structural adjustment, which have aggravated inequality while reducing the capacity of the state to take remedial action. Criminal organizations have taken advantage of open markets to create a global criminal economy, promoting new forms of electronic fraud and international trafficking.(69)Globalization of the illicit drug industry, in particular, has a multiplying effect on violence and criminality.
Violence triggers a wide array of direct and indirect impacts on economic, political and social organization and has a huge impact on development: For instance, if the Latin American region had a crime rate similar to that of the rest of the world, its per capita gross domestic product might be “an astounding 25 per cent higher”.(70)
The organization of urban space is also affected by crime and violence. The affluent middle and upper classes wall themselves in and pay for private security. But the privatization of security itself can be a source of increased violence and disrespect for human rights.(71)
The impacts of crime, robbery, rape and assault on poorer communities are much more severe. The most damaging is perhaps the erosion of social capital—long-standing reciprocal trust among neighbours and community members—which is itself an effective protection against crime.(72)
It is particularly important to note that young people aged 15 to 24 commit the largest number of violent acts and are also the principal victims of violence. The coming “youth bulge” could signal an upsurge in violence unless preventive measures are taken now. Although women are vulnerable, especially to sexual violence and harassment, men are much more likely to become victims of violent crime (Figure 5). Young men are both the main perpetrators and the main victims of homicides.
As with many of the situations this Report describes, dealing effectively with urban violence calls for a longer-term outlook. The root causes of crime cannot be eliminated overnight. Policymakers must address violence not simply as an issue of social pathology, but as a fundamental constraint on poor people’s livelihoods.(73)Altering the trend towards increasing violence calls for effective responses to poverty, inequality and social exclusion.