What makes an area urban?

Context: Urban areas in India need to be clearly defined by the policymakers.

What are the factors to determine whether an area is urban or not?

An urban area is a function of various factors, like –

a) population size, b) land surface, c) primary occupation, d) the level of development

Why defining urban areas is necessary?

It is not only necessary to define “urban” in order to understand urbanization, but also to understand the rural-urban divide.

This is all the more important in the context of in-situ urbanization, where non-agricultural opportunities are promoted in rural areas, and economic linkages are strengthened.

Further, almost 55% of the population live in cities now and nearly 70% is projected to be living in cities by 2050. This merits that definitional aspect of an urban area is clearly defined.

Also, the lines between rural and urban spaces are not as clear as one might think, thereby urging for a definition.

For instance, in the 19th and early 20th century the United States, a rural area, would have been classified as urban if the streets were laid out in a grid. Such clear transitions are hard to find today.

An urban area’s distinguishing characteristics are tied to its strategic role in the larger community, its value as a civilising force, and its role in enabling the market.

What is the Rural – urban continuum that has emerged lately?

Unlike before, living in rural areas today does not mean exclusion from urban life. The processes of integrative development have meant that rural and urban have become more a part of a continuum than a dichotomy.

Among the Scandinavian countries, rural and urban spaces are classified on the basis of each other.

– For example, population density and distance from urban centres are seen as the criteria to define rural areas.

In Denmark, which has close to 88% of the population living in cities, there are three classes of rural areas with distinctions between a) urban-adjacent, b) intermediate and c) remote rural areas. There’s also a further classification system that compiles the socio-economic profiles of its municipalities.

How the Census defines an urban area?

According to the census definition, a habitation is classified as urban (excluding municipalities, corporations, cantonment boards, and notified town area committees) if it has a) a population of at least 5,000 people, b) at least 75% of the male working population employed in non-agricultural pursuits, and c) the population density is at least 400 people per square kilometre.

These are also called Census Towns.

What are various constitutional provisions related to the issue?

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments also enshrine the categorisation of areas into a) district, b) intermediate level, and c) village, as well as the d) creation of municipalities.

The 74th Amendment Act (1992) defines three types of municipalities:

Nagar Panchayat for transitional areas (rural to urban)

Municipal Council for smaller urban areas

Municipal Corporation for larger urban areas.

The demographic and other criteria determining which sort of municipality is formed vary greatly from state to state.

As a result, it is up to the state legislatures to select which municipality will be formed for each urban area.

What are the Urbanization trends in India?

The Census of 2011 revealed a decline in India’s rural population for the first time.

Cities like Bengaluru that have emerged as innovation hubs have grown between 2001 and 2011, subsuming many non-urban areas.

This is only expected to grow with the next Census.

Source: This post is based on the article “What makes an area urban?” published in The Indian Express on 23rd June 22.

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