Concrete Jungles, Human Zoos, or Social Safety Nets – Part 1

The city has been described as a concrete jungle: a term that often refers to a dangerous and unpleasant place, a place marked by intense competition and struggle for survival.  In his controversial book, The Human Zoo, British zoologist Desmond Morris (1969) argues that the city seems to be not so much a concrete jungle as it does a human zoo.  Morris argues that many of the social instabilities we face are largely a product of the artificial, impersonal confines of our urban surroundings.  Indeed, our behavior, according to Morris, often startlingly resembles that of captive animals.  Animals do not normally exhibit stress, random violence, and erratic behavior until they are confined.  Similarly, the human propensity toward antisocial and sociopathic behavior is intensified in today’s cities. Morris argues that we are biologically still tribal and ill-equipped to thrive in the impersonal urban sprawl.

Is the city a concrete jungle or merely a human zoo?  This article argues that the city is neither.  It proposes that people create social safety nets in the midst of the seemingly chaotic urban environment.  Those social safety nets, moreover, create space between people in the form of segments, all the while giving a sense of belonging and meaning in the city.  As a result, segmentation of the city needs to be viewed from a multi-dimensional strategy approach in order to impact the plethora of social safety nets created within the urban context.

With the above in mind, this article begins looking at urbanization in Asia Pacific.  Secondly, it looks at how social safety nets in the city are often discovered along the lines of seven different dimensions.  Third, it explains and considers the vantage points of a multi-dimensional strategy approach to the city.  Fourth, it delineates several questions that one should ask in understanding how people make space between one another in the city.  Last, it briefly highlights implications that come from a multi-dimensional strategy approach to the city.

Urbanization in Asia Pacific

The Asia Pacific region is experiencing the triple dynamics of economic growth, urbanization and poverty.  It accounts for 34% of the global urban population and is also home for over 40% of slums population (United Nation Centre for Human Settlements 2001).  Recent trends reveal over 44 million people move to Asia Pacific cities every year (almost 100 individuals per minute) requiring 20,000 new dwellings and 150 miles of new highways every day (Mukai, Lim, Li, and Chenette 1997).

Consequently, Asia Pacific cities are centers of both hope and despair that are densely populated.  For instance, some cities offer job opportunities.  In some situations, the unprecedented urbanization process makes it increasingly difficult for limited natural, governmental, and human resources to cope with the pressures of the society, leaving cities being filled with slums, poverty, and disease.

The overarching issue, and the most contentious, seems to be the ongoing tug-of-war between remaining a more traditional people and becoming a more modern, metropolitan people.  In most Asia Pacific cities, there are certain segments in society that are pulling in both directions.  Those who would prefer to remain very traditional, staunchly religious, and oppose all things secular are pulling in one direction.  There are also those pulling in the other direction who desire to press ahead, become more modern and secular, and embrace change.  As a result, one can find Asia Pacific cities that exhibit only indigenous flavors while at the same time find others that are divided with what inhabitants see as indigenous and western or modern urban forms.

If present trends continue, we will soon see most Asia Pacific people being urban dwellers.  Growth trends reveal that by the year 2015, Asia Pacific will have 17 cities with populations of 10 million or more and by the year 2030 more than one half of Asia Pacific’s overall population will reside in urban settings.  The following chart provides demographic growth indicators for selected countries in Asia Pacific:

Demographic Indicators for Selected Asia Pacific Countries

 

Total population

Urban population

Country

2000

2020

Change

2000

2020

Change

 

Million

Million

Australia

19.2

22.4

3.2

17.4

21.4

4.0

Brunei

0.3

0.5

0.1

0.2

0.4

0.1

Cambodia

30.8

35.4

4.6

24.2

29.4

5.1

Indonesia

224.1

287.9

63.8

91.9

168.2

76.3

Japan

126.9

124.1

-2.8

99.9

102.5

2.6

Korea

47.3

51.5

4.3

38.7

46.0

7.3

Malaysia

23.3

34.4

11.1

13.4

23.6

10.2

Myanmar

99.9

124.7

24.7

74.3

98.8

24.4

New Zealand

3.8

4.5

0.7

3.3

4.0

0.7

Philippines

79.7

111.3

31.6

46.7

79.5

32.8

Singapore

4.2

7.5

3.4

4.2

7.5

3.4

Thailand

62.4

71.9

9.5

12.4

19.2

6.9

Vietnam

78.5

99.9

21.4

18.9

34.7

15.8

Asia-Pacific region

800.4

976.0

175.6

445.5

635.2

189.7

Source: UN data (medium fertility scenario) from U.S. Census database.

 

Urbanism in Asia Pacific  What happens when people move to the city?

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