Comparative Urban Development

  • Anurag Kumar SrivastavaEmail author
Living reference work entry



Urban development covers a set of policies, plans, strategies, and approaches to create infrastructure and deliver services for education, health, transportation, pollution control, waste management, markets, industries, enterprises, investment zones street pavements, housing, cultural heritage, and recreation in urban areas in a manner which ensures sustainability through optimum utilization of men, material and environmental resources.

Urbanization is the defining paradigm of twenty-first century. Urbanization seems to be unstoppable and inevitable; henceforth, it is necessary to make sure that urban infrastructure and urban services in regard to housing, transportation, health, education, and employment, etc., should be commensurate with increasing urbanization and growing complexities of urban development. Urbanization being a global phenomenon impacts countries irrespective of developed and developing; nonetheless it is highly imperative to identify the best practices, ways, strategies, approaches, and governance models which have been adopted in various countries.

However, as the contextual parameters of socio-economic, political, and environmental milieu differ in developing and developed countries, henceforth, adopting the comparative urban development perspectives will require integration of global practices in to local systems and policies for facilitating urban development. Urban development requires a sustainable development approach wherein our cities become truly smart and sustainable. They not only provide better life opportunities to the people in terms of job, enterprise, and education but also clean, green, and healthy environment.

For the first time in history, the majority of people live now in urban areas. The proportion of the world’s population which is staying in urban areas has been growing rapidly and a higher fraction of the total population lives within cities now that at any previous period in history. (United Nations 2008, Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Census). Since last two–three decades, the pace of urbanization has witnessed phenomenal increase in developing countries like India and China. The underlying force behind rapid urbanization is growing industrialization coupled with high rate of economic growth. India, for instance, has added more number of people to its urban population than rural population as per the census figures of 2011.

Today, 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. Urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, with approximately 90% of the increase to take place in Asian and African continent. (World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision).

The largest urban growth will take place in India, China, and Nigeria. These three countries will account for 37% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050. By 2050, India is projected to add 404 million urban dwellers, China 292 million, and Nigeria 212 million. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014. Asia, despite its lower level of urbanization, is home to 53% of the world’s urban population, followed by Europe with 14% and Latin America and the Caribbean with 13% (World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision).

Signifying Comparison

As per Woodrow Wilson “You cannot be scientific if you are not comparative”.

Robert Dahl elaborated that if Public Administration has to be comparative, it needs to address the few concerns one of which is being comparative for being scientific (Dahl 1947). Comparative study will further enhance the scope and applicability of the study for understanding the broader processes of urban development. The above statement of Dahl highlights the significance of comparison. Comparison is essential for achieving universality and for adopting the best practices and overcoming the shortcomings. It is by comparison the strength and weakness are analyzed in rationale perspectives. Inferences drawn from comparative understanding of urban development would be of immense significance to the larger perspective of urban development.

Emile Durkheim axiom that science begins with comparison highlights the significance of scientifically analyzing a large number of cities across different national boundaries. There are other significant explanations why comparison enables to clarify and better elucidate phenomenon such as comparison more specifically shows how variables work differently in a variety of settings, comparison provides better way to understand how the identification of anomalies within different social systems can be refined and eventually increase theoretical understanding.

Defining the Urban

However, there is no universal definition exists for urban. Therefore, defining what is urban has been a problematic task and there is no commonly accepted definition. Each country has described the term urban in its own way and which refers to cities, towns, villages, conurbations, or localities. There are a number of approaches which have been identified to determine what an urban area is. An economic approach would be based on administrative units and would define urban areas using a threshold for labor force (economically active population rates) in agriculture (United Nations 1974). A geographic approach is based upon the density. This kind of analysis takes population or houses in a territory in to the consideration.

In the absence of an agreed-upon definition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses three types of units of analysis when assessing the socio-economic performances of urban areas.
  1. (i)

    Urban areas. These refer to urban areas as they are defined by the national authorities of each country. However, often these urban areas are too small or too large to account for a city.

  2. (ii)

    Predominantly urban areas (PU). They are regions where the population living in high-density areas (150 inhabitants per square kilometer) represents at least half of the population in that region.

  3. (iii)

    Metropolitan areas (functional areas). These are the areas in which population density, net commuting rates, and type of region are kept in to account. These are typically large cities comprised by a number of administrative and adjacent areas where economic relations are intense.

It is quite evident that the definition of “urban” differs from country to country and, with change in the parameters of classification and evolving circumstances, can also differ within the same country, thereby making direct comparisons challenging. In a nutshell, an urban area can be defined by following criteria:
  1. (a)

    Administrative criteria or political boundaries: An area within the jurisdiction of a municipal corporation, municipality, or town committee.

  2. (b)

    Population: An area where the minimum population in a region is of 2000 people, although this differs globally between 200 and 50,000 along with higher population density per square kilometer.

  3. (c)

    Economic function: An area where a substantial majority of the population is primarily engaged in nonagricultural pursuits.

  4. (d)

    Existence of urban characteristics: An area where urban features like concrete streets, electric lighting, sewerage system are present.


Sources of Urban Growth

The growth of cities is the consequence of the relationship of a number of factors:
  1. (a)

    Natural growth – The predominance of births over deaths among urban populations.

  2. (b)

    Migration – In simple words is the movement of people from rural areas of the country to the urban areas in search of better life opportunities.

  3. (c)

    Conversion and reclassification of previously rural areas in to urban areas.


Recognizing the relative contributions of each of these factors to urban growth can facilitate proper planning and comprehensive policy formulation for shaping the urban development.

Comparative Perspectives

One of the most significant characteristics of urbanization that has the direct impact on people’s lives is that of movement of the population, due to push or pull factors. Contrary to common belief, migration does not take place from developing to developed countries or between countries, but within national borders. (Human Development Report 2009).

In India internal migration rates are estimated to be 4.1% which suggests that more than 40 million people move internally. In Bangladesh the rural to urban migrations has contributed more than 40% of the change in its urban population. In China more than 136 million people have moved. In Korea 63% of the population live in rural areas in 1963, but only 7% remained there by 2008. In Malaysia where 80% of the population was rural in 1950 but only 35% in 2005, Indonesia’s urban population nearly doubled since 1990 to 2005 (Beall et al. 2012).

Globalization and state devolution have also affected modes of urban governance. In Western Europe and the United States, cities have increasingly adopted corporatist modes of governance (Harding 1997). As far the Britain is concerned the shift from managerialism to corporatism has resulted from state restructuring, in which business sector participation in the governing process has become a usual feature. In the United States, the corporatist modes of urban governance have gained the momentum along with withdrawal of federal government. Increased dependence on corporate support for improving the cities is the dominant trend (Eisinger 1998; Clarke and Gaile 1998).

Corporatist engagements in German cities have become visible due to economic restructuring and inability of bureaucracy to respond to rapid transformation in the urban development prospects.

In France, the process of devolution has considerably transformed the relationship among national, regional, and local government officials. The officials are more inclined towards forging the collaboration with corporate and business entities for formulating and implementing urban development policies and programs particularly in regard to urban economic development (Michel 1998; Négrier 1999).

In India since 1992 the process of democratic decentralization has been initiated through which power and authority has been vested in elected urban local bodies. The urban local bodies have been accorded with constitutional status for effectively carrying out urban development.


The combined effect of globalization, migration, and urbanization usually accompanies social and economic development. Globalization and capitalist-driven market-based forces have created a spatial pattern of patchy and irregular urban economic development based on cities’ capability to invite industrial investment.

The cities that have been able to attract such investment have been transformed in to big metro cities or mega cities having the state-of-the-art urban infrastructure, transportation, housing, industrial complexes, and amenities.

Several cities are now on the path innovation and transformation to develop into smart cities in order to cope up with rising challenges of urbanization. Smart cities or futuristic cities are an emerging paradigm of urban development; the concept and model of smart cities has been adopted from European and Western countries in the developing countries to address the challenges of urban development. Smart cities have generated significant policy euphoria in especially in India; however, the feasibility of smart cities in developing requires cautious approach with empirical validation and due analysis.

Governments across the globe have adopted new strategies for administering urban development, such as devolution, democratic decentralization, public private partnership, and corporatist modes of governance. Cities have been competing for attracting both foreign and domestic investment with each other; henceforth, urban infrastructure, services, planning, polices, and governance become decisive and crucial.

Currently majority of the cities particularly in Asia subcontinent are heavily populated, highly polluted, and lack quality urban infrastructure and are characterized by financial and governance deficits. The internal migration has further accentuated the crisis pertaining to uncontrolled and unplanned urban development. In the context of developing countries, the absence of quality urban infrastructure, poor delivery of urban services, and governance deficit have resulted in concentration of slums, alarming level of pollutions, poor sanitation, hygiene, and health.

Rapid urban growth in current form and scale challenges the capacity of local, state, and national governments to deliver even the most basic urban services such as water, electricity, sanitation, housing, and health to the people.

It is in this context the significance of comparative urban development becomes imperative, in order to promote smart and self-sustainable urbanization by adopting good governance practices in a comparative framework. There are constraints on our understanding of knowledge about comparative urban development and sustainable development policies.

The urbanization, towards which the world appears to marching ahead, offers opportunities as well challenges. Urban realities, urban progression, and urban policies are considerably complex, multidimensional, and multifaceted which require interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, and cross national analysis to accomplish urban development.



  1. Beall J, Guha-Khasnobis B, Kanbur R (2012) Urbanization and development in Asia: multidimensional perspectives. Oxford University Press India, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  2. Clarke SE, Gaile GL (1998) The work of cities (Vol. 1). University of Minnesota PressGoogle Scholar
  3. Dahl RA (1947) The science of public administration: three problems. Public Adm Rev 7(1):1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Eisinger P (1998) City politics in an era of federal devolution. Urban Aff Rev 33(3):308–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harding A (1997) Urban regimes in a Europe of the cities? Eur Urban Reg Stud 4:291–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Michel H (1998) Government or governance? The case of the French local political system. West Eur Pol 21(3):146–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Négrier E (1999) The changing role of French local government. West Eur Pol 22(4):120–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. OECD (2002) Trends in urbanisation and urban policies in OECD countries: what lessons for China? Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ParisGoogle Scholar
  9. UNDP (2009) Human development report, 2009. Palgrave Macmillan, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. United Nations (2008) Principles and recommendations for population and housing censuses, Revision 2. UN, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. United Nations (2014) World urbanization prospects: the 2014 revision. UN, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Administration, School of Liberal StudiesPandit Deendayal Petroleum UniversityGandhinagarIndia