Dynamist Blog

Reversing Urbanization

Most projections of what the near future will look like assume the inexorable growth of Third World cities. But it's starting to look like they'll hit their limits--just as cities like Chicago (once the quintessential developing-nation urban center) did. As the cost of living and doing business in urban centers rises, production and people move to cheaper places. It happened here, to the striking benefit of the once-rural Sunbelt, and a couple of recent articles suggest it's happening in China and Brazil.

Here's the WaPost article on China:

Where once a paycheck, even under harsh conditions, was enough to entice tens of millions of people to leave their villages in China's interior and flock to factories on the coast, workers are beginning to turn their backs on the prospect of laboring in 100-degree heat, living in rat-infested dormitories and being cheated out of their earnings.

They are instead staying in their home villages to take advantage of rising farm wages -- up 15 to 40 percent in the past year as the government streamlines taxes and as growing domestic spending power raises the price of vegetables and meat. Or they are finding jobs closer to home in the factories sprouting up in inland cities along China's expanding road and rail networks.

At bus and train stations here, migrant workers carry belongings in plastic sacks, headed back to villages in the interior. "The wages are too low and the work is too hard," said a 21-year-old man from Guangxi province as he waited to board an all-night bus home. "It's a waste of time."

And here's the NYT on Brazil:

A year and a half ago, Isabel Fátima Bueno and her husband, Ricardo Del Arco Pereira, gave up on São Paulo, a city that has long been a magnet for job seekers from all over Brazil.

Mr. Pereira, an economist trained in corporate finance, had been unemployed more than a year and could not find work anywhere. With two young children at home, the couple struggled to make ends meet on Ms. Bueno's modest salary as an accountant at a trading company. That was tough; after all, Brazil's biggest city is also the country's most expensive.

So they packed their bags and moved to Birigüi, a city of 100,000 people in western São Paulo State with almost no unemployment, in contrast to an 18.5 percent jobless rate in São Paulo. In less than three months, both landed full-time administrative jobs at shoe factories, the town's main industry.

"Ricardo couldn't find a job, and my salary just wasn't enough to raise a family in São Paulo, so we had to go where there was more of a chance for both of us to get work," said Ms. Bueno, 35, who was born and raised in São Paulo. "It wasn't an easy choice, but it was the right choice."

They are far from alone. A growing number of Brazilians are finding it increasingly difficult to get good jobs in big metropolitan areas like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and are looking elsewhere.

Thanks to a boom in agriculture and the emergence in recent years of specialized industrial hubs in small and medium-size towns, Brazil's vast but still sparsely populated interior is generating jobs at a faster pace than urban centers for the first time in generations.

Consequently, rural Brazilians are far less inclined than those of past generations to uproot their families for an often uncertain city life.

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