Urbanization is one of the most common global phenomena in the world, and is said to occur in many phases. In the overwhelming majority of cases, urban lifestyles and infrastructure has spread to encompass most human settlements. It is very rare that the opposite occurs, and rural lifestyles and infrastructure spread and influence human settlement patterns. However, within the urbanization process, sometimes, and very rarely, there is a sizeable movement of human occupation away from the core of urban habitation towards the peri-urban and rural settlements. This process and phenomenon is termed as counter urbanization and is a rare phenomenon in modern civilization all over the world.
Counter Urbanization as a Phase within the Urbanization Process
Van Den Berg et al. (1982) noted that there are phases to migration in the urbanization process, who suggested a four phase model of urban development. They divided the settlement system in the urbanization process into phases depending on the stage of the migration process between the urban core, fringe, hinterland and rural areas. They then divided this migration process into four stages – urbanization, suburbanization, deurbanization and reurbanization.
In these four stages, the urbanization process first begins with the fast expansion of cities with industrial development in a primarily agricultural area. The surplus agricultural labour thus flows towards urban areas followed by the centralization of residence within urban areas. Industrial labour requires centralized localization and tends to take in rural migrants, while in rural areas primarily agricultural labour tends to be more dispersed or more sporadically scattered.
This initial process is followed by a process of suburbanization when the migration pattern shifts to a spatial spread of the urbanization process from the urban core to peripheral suburban areas. This may be the result of individual choices which due to the availability of modern amenities move towards a preference for residence in these suburban localities, breaking the tight movement towards centralization.
The next shift brings us to the focal point of our discussion – deurbanization, or counter urbanization which is a shift in population migration and agglomeration from the urban core and suburban areas out to the rural areas and hinterlands (S. Hosszu, 2009). Many causes can be attributed to this, such as overpopulation or dense populations in urban areas, overcrowding in commutes, urban amenities being available in these areas such as through online shopping, greater peace and safety in these areas, rising real estate and residential costs in urban areas, deeply congested and traffic ridden urban areas, industrial meltdowns or shifts, opportunities for people to work from home, etc (Get Revising, 2018).
These and many factors can influence people to move out of populated urban areas and migrate towards rural areas and hinterlands. This phenomenon is called counter urbanization. The fourth stage in Van Den Berg’s analysis is re-urbanization which occurs mostly in the most developed regions of the world. Re-urbanization is the movement of populations from rural areas back to urban areas implying a re-structuring of the cities, and can be observed in Nordic countries. Counter urbanization and re-urbanization are rare in most developing countries and it is only in the most developed countries that these can be observed more frequently.
Debating Counter Urbanization
Having said that counter urbanization is a rare phenomenon within developing countries, one of which is India, the question to ask is whether India needs more counter urbanization as opposed to urbanization. Although India is heavily and increasingly becoming incredibly urbanized, with the Indian economy heavily dependent on urban areas as centres for commerce, and the lack of a proper finance infrastructure hampering the availability of modern living in rural areas, would counter urbanization in this scenario be a good thing?
Although greater movement of populations from crowded urban areas to rural areas in India should sound like a good idea, counter urbanization can have certain effects in terms of changed living conditions and habitation. Counter urbanization can turn villages in rural areas to suburbanize, forming what can be called suburbanized villages. There can also be a loss of agricultural land due to a sizeable number of houses being built on green fields. Rural areas can thus become more congested and polluted, taking away the charm and purity of the countryside.
Gradually with the passage of time rural ideologies can come up and dominate aspects of life in a counter urbanized locality, such as community ideas predominating employment opportunities in these areas. In this scenario, other economic interests and activities such as foreign entities might find it difficult to operate or local erstwhile small businesses might rise or become threatened. The way of life based on traditions will mutate to evolve into something different.
However, counter urbanization can lead to many positively beneficial effects as well, such as quality of housing and modern amenities improving in rural areas. These homes can offer people the option of a countryside home away from the hectic and pollution-ridden life in urban areas (Get Revising, 2018). The depopulation of cities can on the other hand act to increase quality of life in these cities and overall pollution levels could decrease. Transportation and connectivity via electricity lines for example could improve between urban and rural areas, bring the overall fruits of modern amenities becoming available in rural areas as well along with inter-connecting populations overall.
Contrary to what one might assume, the percentages of populations migrating from rural to urban areas in India is lower than in other countries with similar GDPs. The India Human Development Survey in 2005 reported an annual rural to urban migration rate of 6.8 per cent in India. The Indian Demographic and Health Survey reported this figure at 5.3 per cent. The Demographic and Health Survey figure for Brazil in comparison is much higher – 13.9 per cent (Munshi & Rosenzweig, 2016). However, given that total population combined with overall population growth in India report astronomical figures compared to most other nations, even slight figures in percentages of rural to urban migration can have massive impacts in terms of overpopulation in Indian cities.
Excess migration of people from rural to urban areas in India leading to overpopulation in Indian cities can present immense problems. People living in congested areas in Indian cities can have problems in living conditions due to inadequate housing. There can be problems such as pollutions, causing sanitation crises. The traditional way of living can also gradually become eroded, particularly due to the largely educated masses living in urban areas, turning rural areas into parochial backwaters. This rapid urbanization can also deemphasize the agricultural sector, with the economy paying more focused attention on other sectors of the economy in comparison to the agricultural sector (UPSC, 2014).
In India, although the rates of annual migration from rural to urban areas i.e., urbanization is less than in many other countries, the trend definitely is towards urbanization given how especially finance in India hinges towards urban centres of commerce. In this counter urbanization might be a welcome development in terms of achieving a balance in between the flight of populations from rural areas to urban areas. Without counter urbanization and some semblance of suburbanization in rural areas, it can become very difficult for rural areas to gain access to modern amenities such as electricity, transportation networks and clean water. Although counter urbanization is not without negative effects, a move towards counter urbanization, if not too degrading to rural lifestyles and environments, might be a great boon to overall rural development.