Over the past two decades , urbanization in the Third World increased exponentially. Scholars have provided numerous explanations for this growth. Cities and Development in the Third World attends to one aspect of Third World urbanization, development. Though certainly not theoretical in the sense of Michael Foucault or Antoni Gramsci, editors Robert B. Potter and Ademola T. Salau seek to reorient the study of cities in developing nations, encouraging historians and others to consider the importance of informal economies, reject Western imposed ideas/modes of development placing greater faith in indigenous solutions, and acknowledge the role of national and local states in Third world development.
Published in 1990, Cities and Development reflects the influence of contemporary events and shifts in the profession. Several themes that emerged prominently by the mid 1990s among many historians are in evidence here. Potter’s contribution “Cities, Convergence, Divergence and Third World Development” encourages scholars to “avoid false schisms” like the urban/rural dichotomy. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, urban historians sought to do just this. Roy’s City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty serves as only one recent example as Roy explored squatter settlements and distress migration spatial and political relations. Additionally, H.A.C. Main’s “Housing Problems and Squatting Solutions in Metropolitan Kano” provides an African example of one of Roy’s central points, that squatter settlements provide governments with political constituencies and mobilization while also supplying labor to the local economy. However, Roy’s work like several others differ from Potter and Salau’s collection in that Cities and Development with the possible exception of Potter’s second contribution, “Shelter in Urban Barbados, West indies: Vernacular Architecture, Land Tenure and Self Help”, focuses strictly on economic, demographic, and political developments. Cultural aspects or gender considerations receive virtually no attention. Still, in other ways, Potter and Salau’s work reinforces other developments among transnational writers. For example, as David Harvey and Arjun Appadurai (whom at least one writer cites here) have cautioned writers, developers, and others must resist imposing Western oriented answers. Ademola T. Salau’s first contribution, “Urbanization, Housing and Social Services in Nigeria: The Challenge of Meeting Basic Needs” argues that state sponsored affordable housing programs suffer from high cost, low quality results, resulting in housing for civil servants but not the poor it was originally intended. Salau suggests that the private sector and local indigenous methods/systems prove far superior in both cost and quality. Careful not to advocate laissez faire capitalism, Salau acknowledges that such economic systems fail to equitably distribute resources like housing.
From a broader viewpoint, Cities and Development’s authors illustrate the pervasive urban bias that development plans emphasize. The crisis of rural economies has not been the focus of most government efforts. Moreover, as Roy and several articles in Globalizing Cities note, the colonial histories of various Third World cities remain deeply influenced by their former occupiers. K. Sita and M. Chatterjee, utilize this framework to examine “metropolitan dominance in India” while David Drakakis Smith points out the negative influences economically and health wise colonialism had on “urban food distribution systems.”
The importance of the informal economy serves as another theme. Potter observes that “this component of cities in the less developed world was at first viewed in negative and basically pejorative terms, as providing poor and low paid jobs, and implicitly accepting low productivity levels, and thereby sanctioning poverty. However, the sheer range and volume of informal sector jobs, covering all aspects of consumption, production an exchange, have force a gradual re-evaluation. Thus, the family small scale sector is now looked upon more favorably as providing jobs where the state appears to be powerless to do the same.” Potter’s quote points to the very economic developments that Roy emphasizes have contributed to the “feminization of livliehood.”
Finally, transnational historians might take Potter and Salua to task. Though the work covers a wide geographic range, much of it remains nation state bound. Articles maintain an interiority in their analysis. Multinationals, and international economic organizations such as the IMF receive scant attention. Additionally, as already noted, cultural aspects or gender considerations remain absent.