RURAL DEVELOPMENT A strategy for urban heritage management in the Asia-Pacific region


Orthodox predictions of rapid urbanisation between now and 2050 are based on linear projections of nineteenth and twentieth century models of rural to urban transition, involving mass concentrations of industrial and other workers dependent on physical hubs and systems of communication and exchange that pre-date today’s information and communications technologies (ICT). International outsourcing and exchange at the larger scale and locally based working at the smaller scale are already significant features of the socio-economic landscape in many regions of the world and are on an escalating increase. Physical location is no longer a critical factor in many fields. Major cities will continue as locations of choice for many, but not of necessity for the majority.

For the global prediction of 70 to 75 per cent urban proportionality by 2050 to be realised, India, currently predicted to be the most populous nation by 2022, will need to reverse its current two-thirds to one-third rural to urban population ratio. Recent projections for China, thereafter the second most populous nation, suggest that its current urban population bias may have reached an optimum, including if that nation is to continue to feed itself. The phenomenon of ‘ghost cities’ supports this appraisal.

Taking its cue from the case of India, this chapter questions the inevitability as well as the sustainability of continuous urbanisation and presents a counter paradigm, in which ICT and the unlimited opportunities it affords for universal education and digital marketing allied to innovations in localised renewable energies and in fields such as permaculture, will amplify options for more distributed forms of development, expand individual and community lifestyle choices, and reinforce the global to local environmental agenda. It argues that a territorially balanced approach, prioritising the multiple advantages and opportunities of rural transition including regionally diffused urban settlements compared to concentrations in mega cities, has the potential to alleviate the pressures of migration and development that threaten surviving urban heritage across the Asia-Pacific region, and should be positioned as a central platform for the management of Historic Urban Landscapes. In parallel, this chapter critiques aspects of heritage conservation orthodoxy and argues for a repositioning of the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape initiative to embrace an inclusive understanding of urban heritage as a prerequisite for its wider recognition and safeguarding in the region.

Questioning the established paradigm of urbanisation

Trends in urbanisation: the Indian context

This twenty-first century is widely depicted as the ‘urban century’. Indeed, the term is included in the sub-title of the first volume authored to promote the 2011 UNESCO Recommendation (UNESCO 2011a), The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century (Bandarin and van Oers 2012). The generalisation, however, is misleading. Urbanisation is conditioned by multiple variables in place, time and cultural context. At the scale and diversity of India, the potential exists to leap-frog the received wisdom and historical patterns of urbanism that have led to the destruction of so much urban heritage elsewhere (Figure 24.1).

Population statistics and forecasts

In 2007, the urban proportion of the world population rose above 50 per cent for the first time. In 2011, the total global population reached 7 billion; in 2017, 7.5 billion. Current predictions include that overall population numbers will exceed 8 billion by 2030, with an urban proportion

Bhopal, Peer Gate area, India

Figure 24.1 Bhopal, Peer Gate area, India. Mirroring destruction elsewhere, urban heritage is currently under serious threat in cities throughout India. Here, a Moghul-influenced former courtyard house has lost its original inner complex and the right-hand portion has been demolished pending redevelopment.

Source: Carsten Hermannof 60 per cent, and reach between 9 and 10 billion by 2050, with an urban proportion of between 70 and 75 per cent. From this it can be seen that the overall urban population is projected to double in real terms by 2050 and the rural population to remain static or slightly reduce. This computes to up to 3.5 billion new urban dwellers between now and 2050, averaging over 100 million each year.

In December 2018, the population of India reached 1.36 billion, of which 33 per cent is urban and 67 per cent rural (India Population n.d.), the latter being distributed across upwards of 600,000 villages.1 An equivalent urban-rural proportionality applies to the Indian sub-continent as a whole,2 as well as other countries in the region including Myanmar and Vietnam. For China, also in December 2018, the overall population reached 1.41 billion, of which 59 per cent is urban and 41 per cent rural (China Population n.d.). Latest predictions are that the population of India will surpass that of China by 2022 (United Nations 2015: 4).

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