Pessimistic analysts of the urban scene throughout the post World War II Third World focused on growing rural-urban disparities and the stunted growth of smaller cities. They emphasized the negative consequences of primacy and overurbanization.
More positive observers viewed the city as an ‘engine of growth,’ arguing that the metropolis provided increasing returns to scale by lowering the cost of service delivery and infrastructure.
Some asserted that contact with the activities and values of a dominant — or primate — city provided “the impetus to industrialization in ‘backward areas.'”
Nevertheless, according to Janet Abu-Lughod, logic dictates
that there is some range of optimal spatial distribution which lies somewhere between a concentration so great that it becomes totally unmanageable and unliveable and a dispersal so scattered that the units cannot be integrated through communication into a coherent national order.
Such a balance is clearly difficult to achieve, however, and regional imbalance intensified as migrants from rural areas flowed into mid- and large-sized cities in search of a better future.
A good example of a receiving city is Tehran, the primate capital of Iran.
Tehran, like many cities in the developing world, was a strong magnet for migrants since it contained almost half of all the large industrial establishments in Iran and had a large tertiary sector devoted to the national government and defense establishment. By the 1970s, over 50% of Tehran’s total population was made up of individuals who had migrated.
Many urbanists argue that regional inequality (such as existed in Iran) is linked to the capitalist expansion which occurred during the Cold War period, often under the umbrella of the multinational corporation. It is commonly asserted that the growth of large-scale industry provided an opportunity for rural workers to find employment in urban areas as the production of mass produced goods in the city displaced small-scale domestic producers in the countryside.
This argument alone, though, doesn’t reflect the subtleties at play during the post World War II period. It doesn’t explain why a socialist city like Havana remained a primate city despite government actions to ensure the contrary or why a capitalist city like Taipei didn’t become a primate despite rapid industrialization and a substantial influx of migrants.
Analyses of the forces associated with the onset of rural-urban migration generally overlook stresses on urban areas that might be connected to the Cold War military build-up. While the rural-urban migration discussed above is often linked to rapid industrialization and the expansion of capitalism, the frequent focus on the association of the multinational corporation with these activities ignores urban tensions related to the Cold War conflict.
Photograph by Kamyar Adl.