The Village within the City—Rurality in the Era of Globalization

Harini Nagendra, Bangalore. 
10 December 2013

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.

Popular descriptions of urbanization these days often describe humanity as having entered a “new urban era“, with more people living in cities today than they do in rural areas. Urban areas have a large footprint of impact on the rural countryside, and the line between the urban and the rural is particularly challenging to make in many parts of the world, where peri-urban areas, and even remote rural villages are dominated by the footprint of urban residents who extract resources from villages, pollute far away rivers and deforest remote landscapes, send remittances back to rural homes, and alter rural lifestyles towards more urban, consumptive behavior (Photograph 1).

Farmers in a rural Indian village spread a millet crop on the road, so that urban motorists can drive their vehicles onto the dried ears, crushing them to make it easy to remove the loosened grains. Thus, rural areas take advantage of their connection with cities to reduce the manual labor involved with manual threshing of crops. Photo: Harini Nagendra
Photograph 1: Farmers in a rural Indian village spread a millet crop on the road, so that urban motorists can drive their vehicles onto the dried ears, crushing them to make it easy to remove the loosened grains. Thus, rural areas take advantage of their connection with cities to reduce the manual labor involved with manual threshing of crops. Photo: Harini Nagendra

Policy makers and planners rely on hard distinctions between the urban and rural to devise strategies for urban planning, but such strategies are complicated by the fluidity between the rural and the urban.

Much attention has been given to differentiating the expanded footprint of the city on rural landscapes, through approaches such as the mapping of urban-rural gradients, that extend from the city center out past peri-urban and suburban landscapes to the rural environment. But equally common, though much less discussed, is the phenomenon of rurality within a city. The expansion of cities in many predominantly rural landscapes in Asia, Africa and Latin America has resulted in the city engulfing whole villages within its boundary, amoeba-like. These villages then exist within the city, often becoming converted to peri-urban slums with rural huts complete with livestock, co-existing next to affluent high rise apartments inhabited by software engineers. These areas tend to become the locus for rural migrants, leading to congestion in these areas coupled with high poverty and difficult living conditions. Such villages in the city are becoming increasingly common across Indian cities. Yetcity planners tend largely to ignore these areas, or at the most, term them urban slums. The dichotomous approach of the urban planner and the limitation of the discrete view of the urban vs the rural truly breaks down in such contexts.

In the Indian city of Bangalore, this is clearly apparent in areas within the city center, as well as at the periphery, where the influence of the rural is obvious. Many of the former villages located within Bangalore’s limits are easy to recognize based on obvious physical features such as the presence of rural style houses with thatched sloping roofs, the presence of Ashwath Kattes (Photograph 2), raised platforms around a sacred tree that create a central place for people to meet and talk, and the presence of livestock including cows and pigs in the heart of the city (Photograph 3).

Photograph 2: Ashwath kattes provide the central focus for a traditional village festival or jatre held annually in a village in Bangalore city limits. Attended by hundreds of participants from local villages, these festivals hold great cultural significance for these communities. Yet at the same time these traditional cultural practices are not immune to the forces of urbanization and globalization, with mass produced plastic toys being sold here alongside hand crafted wooden toys, and global icecream brands sold adjacent to local handmade snack foods. Photo: Harini Nagendra
Photograph 2: Ashwath kattes provide the central focus for a traditional village festival or jatre held annually in a village in Bangalore city limits. Attended by hundreds of participants from local villages, these festivals hold great cultural significance for these communities. Yet at the same time these traditional cultural practices are not immune to the forces of urbanization and globalization, with mass produced plastic toys being sold here alongside hand crafted wooden toys, and global icecream brands sold adjacent to local handmade snack foods. Photo: Harini Nagendra
Photograph 3: Livestock and people co-exist in one of Bangalore’s oldest neighborhoods, Basavanagudi, established as far back as 1897. Photo: Harini Nagendra
Photograph 3: Livestock and people co-exist in one of Bangalore’s oldest neighborhoods, Basavanagudi, established as far back as 1897. Photo: Harini Nagendra

Thus, cities do not only undergo a one-way path towards increased globalization and homogeneity of lifestyles and livelihoods. Cities in many parts of the world, as far flung as Beijing, Mexico City, Kampala and Bangalore, exhibit forms of rurality that are uniquely, intensely local. We need new ways to conceptualize, examine, illustrate and manage such scenarios. Urban studies need to move well beyond discrete conceptualizations of the rural vs the urban — even, I would argue, beyond approaches that attempt to characterize urban vs rural gradients in linear term — towards more continuous, multi-variable approaches that can truly capture and illustrate the multi-faceted nature of rurality within the city in a manner that captures some of its true complexity, and provide a way to still retain the unique charm of the local within the rapidly globalizing city.

Harini Nagendra
Bangalore

 

On The Nature of Cities

Harini Nagendra

About the Writer:
Harini Nagendra

Harini Nagendra is a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India, and the author of "Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future" (Oxford University Press, 2016). She uses social and ecological approaches coupled with remote sensing to examine the factors shaping the sustainability of forests and cities in the south Asian context.

Harini Nagendra

Harini Nagendra

Harini Nagendra is a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India, and the author of "Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future" (Oxford University Press, 2016). She is an ecologist who uses satellite remote sensing coupled with field studies of biodiversity, archival research, institutional analysis, and community interviews to examine the factors shaping the social-ecological sustainability of forests and cities in the south Asian context. She has conducted research and taught at multiple institutions, including most recently as a Hubert H Humphrey Distinguished Visiting Professor at Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2013. She received a 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award for her research and practice on issues of the urban commons, and a 2007 Cozzarelli Prize with Elinor Ostrom from the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences for research on sustainability.

3 thoughts on “The Village within the City—Rurality in the Era of Globalization

  1. Would you share your thoughts on what is described as the Desakota (village-town) in a 2008 Research Gap Assessment by The Desakota Study Team. Apparently, some of the authors from this study including Mark Pelling, Marcus Moench and Dipak Gyawali tried to establish Desakota Science as a way of studying the characteristics of peri-urban regions in developing countries, but it does not seem to have taken root in academic circles.

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