Incisive study of worldwide rural-to-urban migration, its complex social mechanisms and the consequences of institutional neglect.
Globe and Mail European bureau chief Saunders reveals how responses to the greatest migration in world history will either secure socio-economic stability or sink it into a galaxy of civil unrest and revolution. Every year, approximately two billion people migrate from rural villages to “arrival cities” across the world. Often constructed in haste and desperation, and in the margins of the main city, arrival cities are highly susceptible to social instability. Successful ones, like New York’s Chinatown, overcome this adversity to later become highly desirable places to live, reversing the internal-urban migratory patterns. This reversal, often derogatorily referred to as “gentrification,” is a result of an arrival city’s success, not its failure. With thousands of arrival cities across the world, success leads to a flourishing middle class, failure to violence, gang activity and sometimes revolution and civil war. Left ignored, essential social services can be provided by migrant-driven ethnic movements, like the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, who provide substantial community services, but accomplish the tasks through criminal practices like bulldozing slums, neglecting the most basic sanitary needs. These movements, however, only take hold when governments take rural migrants for granted, allowing dangerous and divisive politics to fill the vacuum. Rural-urban migrants need stable networks to provide fundamentals like security and equity, including a system of urban remittance on which many villages depend. Governments that recognize this and help provide for such essentials as home ownership, land titles, schools, hospitals, security forces and transportation services can interrupt the mechanisms of social upheaval that lead to violence and revolution. Never speculative, Saunders dexterously weaves personal case studies—some of which are practically unspeakable and ultimately overwhelming—with the broader institutional context.
An essential work for those who pay attention to the effects of globalization—which is, or at least should be, nearly everyone.