Unit 9c. Urbanization and Inequality



The goal of this lab is to explore inequality and urbanization. Worldwide, many cities are divided into rich and poor, and centuries of technology have done little to close this gap. Millions of poor people moving to the city from rural areas are unable to settle in the "legal" areas in cities and are thus marginalized to environmentally unstable areas with little infrastructure that have high levels of pollution and disease.


Figure 9.c.1

Urbanization in Thailand


In the week prior to this discourse, students should be broken up into two groups to facilitate using the jigsaw puzzle technique. Each group will be assigned one of the following two readings from the WorldWatch Institute.



Before Coming to Class

  • Group 1 should read Chapter 7 in State of the World 2003, Uniting Divided Cities p. 130-151.  This article explores how urbanization is increasing and governments are unable to cope, resulting in mass poverty and slum formation.  The article also discusses ways to avoid the urbanization poverty trap and secure homes and jobs in an increasingly urbanized world.
  • Group 2 should read Chapter 8 in State of the World 1999, Exploring a New Vision for Cities p. 133-150.  This article examines ways to improve water supply and quality in urban areas.  In addition, this article discusses urban waste, goods and transportation, as well as ways to build more sustainable cities and neighborhoods.


We will explore the phenomenon of urbanization by using these articles as a framework for an enthusiastic discourse about the source of this problem, and solutions to improve lives for the many people trapped in this situation.



Figure 9.c.2

Children in an African slum


In Class Activity

Students should come to class having read the article assigned to their group. For the first part of the class, students that read the same article should get together and distill the most important themes, concepts and problems in their paper. Once this has been accomplished, mixed groups should be assembled. Make sure that each mixed group has at least one reader from each of the assigned papers.


The mixed groups should then compare and contrast the two papers and come to general conclusions about trends in urbanization based on information provided in the articles. The following questions may be of use to guide the discussion. During the mixed group discussion groups should come up with a chart of “push” and “pull” factors that draw people to urban areas and potential solutions to the problem on a poster board or on a transparency for the overhead projector.


In the third part of the class, each group should present their ideas on urbanization to the class. Then in the last part of the section, the whole class should discuss the plans together.


Question 9.c.1

In the coming decades, most people on Earth will reside in cities and the greatest share of resources will be consumed in these areas. What policies should be implemented to encourage sustainability in our current and future cities?


Question 9.c.2

What are some of the positive social and ecological aspects of concentrating the human population into urban areas? What are some of the disadvantages?


Question 9.c.3

What responsibility does the government have to provide infrastructure and suitable living environments for poor people? What policies and programs could be implemented to better serve the poor?


Question 9.c.4

More than one billion people worldwide currently reside in slums. What role does current and future demography in developed and developing nations play in slum formation and proliferation?


Question 9.c.5

What are the drivers for worldwide population growth in urban slums? What advantages and disadvantages to slums provide to their residents?


Question 9.c.6

What role does governmental and social corruption play in nations with growing levels of urban poor? How can corruption be minimized?


Question 9.c.7

The irony of many slums is that residents often pay the highest prices for essential goods such as water and education. What causes this disparity? How could things be improved?


Question 9.c.8

How are infectious diseases and public health related to slums? How do we improve in this area?


Question 9.c.9

How is global security and employment related to the well-being of the urban poor and slum dwellers?


Question 9.c.10

What intervention points do you see that could alter this downward spiral of inequality and urbanization? Why is it important to involve local people in the process?




Figure 9.c.3

Family in a slum


Figure 9.c.5

Gathering firewood











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