We’ve talked a lot about patron-client relationships on this blog, and about the importance of global flows associated with national security objectives. But it would be a mistake to suggest that urban expansion was in some way related to superpower patronage. (Notably, even though sub-Saharan Africa wasn’t a high priority for superpower investment, that region’s urban population increased by 800%.)
In reality, the wide variation in urbanization levels among countries of the less developed world wasn’t linked to a superpower model of urban growth or to superpower influence in general. Instead, accelerated urban growth in the less developed countries reflected a prevailing trend based on the following factors:
- natural population increase linked to improvements in health care
- changes in classification whereby expanded village boundaries caused an increase in the portion of the population considered to be urban
- an actual increase in village population (within pre-existing boundaries) so that some villages became urban by definition
- migration from the countryside to the city.
As a result of the confluence of the above factors, by Cold War’s end in 1990, 32 countries in the less developed world had achieved an urbanization level of 67% or more, a level 1.5 times the global average of 42%. Brazil — host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup — was one of the most urbanized. In 1990, that country’s urbanization level was 77%.
Models of Urban Change
Even though superpower patronage didn’t necessarily dictate the pace of urban growth, Cold War associated global flows are likely to have influenced the development of urban form in some client areas. Still, since both socialist and capitalist cities are quite heterogenous, the application of an “ideal type” model, while widely employed, is problematic. Regardless, many argue that the impact of communism is quite visible in the organization of the Soviet or socialist city, just as they assert that the world or global city clearly reflects the influence of liberal grand strategy.
Clearly not every city will conform to a capitalist or socialist model. Isfahan (Iran) is such a case.
From 1945 until the revolution of 1978-1979, the city exhibited a duality, shaped in part by the bazaar and in part by more western influences. For many residents and merchants, the bazaar complex and related spaces formed the center of public life with bazaar and adjacent residential areas physically integrated. Others were attracted by newly constructed subdivisions and shopping arcades built on the western model.
Since the revolution, Isfahan has been influenced by some of the tenets of western urban planning, particularly in areas destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War. However, Islamic influences remain strong and the city continues to reflect the importance of the bazaar economy.
Look for our next post when we’ll talk about Soviet Cities.