Socialist or Capitalist: Rapid Population Growth
For the first half of the Cold War period, many Third World governments considered problems associated with rapid urban expansion — migration trends and patterns of population distribution — to be among their most serious concerns. Certainly the impact of population growth was lasting.
By 1990, 171 cities in the less developed world had a population of one million or more, contrasting with 31 in 1950. Two-thirds of the estimated 1990 population in cities of 5 million or more lived in Third World regions.
The Fast Growth of Cities Raises Alarm
Both superpowers viewed rapidly growing cities with alarm. The Soviets were particularly critical, arguing that the large metropolis was an undesirable consequence of capitalist penetration. This was linked to widespread peasant dislocation. The following factors — all related to capitalist penetration — were cited as causal:
- the introduction of individual land ownership
- the development of cash crops for export
- increased modernization of the countryside
- technological change.
Nevertheless, as we have seen in earlier posts, clients of the USSR — Cuba, Syria, and North Korea, for example — were as prone to “over urbanization” as were clients of the United States. The Soviets contended that their urban model discouraged in-migration because it focused on decentralizing industry and encouraged development in small towns located in more peripheral areas of the country. In theory, this type of development reduced the size of large cities, balanced the urban system, and supplied each part of the country with urban services. It did this by:
- upgrading existing industrial sites into local service and/or administrative centers
- constructing whole new towns — usually in connection with industrial plants.
These new industrial towns gave planners the opportunity to build ideal socialist cities which differ from their capitalist counterparts in not allowing private ownership of land. In contrast, countries influenced by the western model were said to invest resources in giant cities at the expense of smaller cities and rural areas.
Fostering Rural-Urban Migration
Still, regardless of region or patron, the location of large-scale industry in the cities, increased population pressure on the land, and the inability of family lands to provide for all members of the households created an impetus toward rural-urban migration.
Moreover, as migrants poured into urban areas, associated problems developed:
- regional imbalance
- labor market inequality
- housing problems
- quality-of-life concerns..
As urban development continued, the problems became more severe, leading to mounting debate centered on neo-Mathusian predictions of over-population. Much of the dialogue centered on concern over rural-urban migration. We’ll talk about that in next post on Cold War Cities.