Where Are the Jobs?
Most migrants came to cities confident that they would find decent prospects for employment. They were disappointed when faced with a gap between reality and their expectations.
In many cases, expansion in the industrialized sector of the economy was just not able to keep pace with population growth, especially when the multinational corporation was involved. Most often, in fact, the capital-intensive technology employed by the multinational corporation was at odds with pressures to absorb the labor surplus. The result was the emergence of a labor aristocracy, causing a cleavage between groups linked with the foreign-owned sector and the rest of the population.
During the Cold War
. . . the nightmare seemed to have become reality as city populations passed the one-million mark and as their industrial and commercial energy appeared to cause moral degradation along with severe deterioration of the quality of life. Cities came to be seen as arenas of corruption and pollution in contrast to the image of small towns where life seemed neighborly and free of original sin. If the Latin American master image was the city-as-parasite, the North American one was the city-as-cancer. The parasite fed on the body social of the whole nation, the cancer poisoned the conditions for amiable, petit-bourgeois urban life.
Where Are the Houses?
Marginal housing, likewise, was a visible manifestation of the problems associated with regional imbalance. Most of the newcomers couldn’t afford the new dwellings that were cropping up. This construction was built to the western specifications favored by planners and required by legal codes. A proliferation of squatter settlements and associated problems was quick to materialize. Squatter housing took on on many different forms and was dependent upon available materials. It was often the only option.
Other forms of makeshift housing were also common. Kazemi vividly describes a kind of alternative housing in Tehran which enabled entrepreneurial owners to “bilk the migrant poor.”
In one section of the city, several rooms were discovered with long cloths hanging from the ceiling to the floor for partitioning of the space. Upon questioning, it became apparent that each partitioned area was rented by the hour to individual, itinerant migrant laborers who had nowhere to sleep. By paying a nominal hourly fee, the migrants were able to find a few hours of unencumbered rest before their next attempt to search for employment. When these migrants find temporary employment in construction, they normally camp out at the site, either in tents or inside the partly completed buildings.
Poor housing conditions contributed to the environmental and quality-of-life issues endemic to growing Third World urban centers during the Cold War timeframe. These challenges included concerns over air pollution, water quality, noise pollution, and rising crime. Many cities couldn’t supply even the most basic of public services.
Importantly, the problematic situation transcended urban boundaries for over 90% of raw sewage from urban areas in the developing world ends up in streams and oceans.
In addition to these obvious environmental issues, various quality-of-life problems were in evidence.
As the New York Times reported, the prevalence of rural-urban migration meant that:
Cities are increasingly populated by young, unemployed men, creating a climate for rising crime, political violence, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including the virus that causes AIDS.
By the 1970s, these issues were acquiring greater visibility. It was obvious that a large population did not provide an easy future but, instead, strained public services and infrastructure.
Other problems were also surfacing, connected not to the local — but to the international — economy. We’ll talk about changing issues in our next post about Cold War Cities.
Photograph by Carole O’Brien.