The New Global Face of “Urban”



Mumbai-center-street-market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Newsflash…the world “urban” doesn’t mean “Black”. You’re welcome.
To elaborate (which I am wont to do), “urban” refers to city life in general…areas with higher population density and a proliferation of industry. And the trend of Mass Urbanization on a global scale is necessarily changing what the culture of urban life looks like.

Did you know:

  • Today, half the world’s population (i.e. 3 billion) lives in urban areas.
  • Three million people move to cities in the developing world every week – mostly from subsistence farms (OECD 2010).
  • Global urban populations will grow by nearly 2 billion in the next 20 years, and by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population will be in cities in the developing world (Nielsen 2011).

America and the developed world’s concept of “urban” is rooted in an ethnocentric perspective based on a very specific sociocultural trajectory.  We are younger cultures who’s modern urban centers came of age during the industrial Renaissance, at a slow and steady pace without the technology-induced hyper speed with which emerging markets have embraced capitalism

From our western point of view, we see Urban life as having a very distinct cultural context:

  • Melting Pot Cities: a multi-ethnic collection of citizens from diverse backgrounds and geographies who are all both challenged and enriched by one another’s presence
  • Distinct racial divides between the haves and have-nots (in America specifically): in particular, urban “ghetto” culture is characterized by African American and Hispanic minorities
  • A more class-warfare driven concept of street culture and youth culture in particular: e.g., Rap / Hip-Hop music, street art and graffiti, and celebration of athletic prowess like Basketball as a “golden ticket” to upward mobility

Bit if you look at the more likely cultural realities of the mass-migrants to urban areas from a more rural and disconnected upbringing in emerging markets, there is a distinct difference. In particular, you see a stronger cultural tension between that geography’s deep culture and the culture that is more timely, topical and surface level

New urbanites in emerging markets are likely:

  • Carrying with them internalized “deep culture” from an upbringing steeped in centuries old traditions: such as deeply held spiritual traditions and family centric values in Eastern cultures
  • Following an accelerated learning curve (compared to the historical trajectory experienced in the developed world)and urban acculturation path: due to the rapid spread of globalization / capitalism and augmented by the proliferation and adoption of communication technology.  People can see both the pros and cons of how capitalism and rapid growth has affected human culture for better or worse…and they are adjusting their consumer behavior according to that information and their assessment of their personal priorities
  • Experiencing a far more homogeneous ethnic context than in the developed world: like in India or Asia where most people in urban centers look-alike and come from similar, if not identical, cultural backgrounds and traditions

It’s a very different kind of city life indeed.  An interesting way to look at the world as we attempt to consider how very different our insulated American context is.  A bit heady stuff for everyday consumption, but something my “big business” clients pay me to think about.  And that means a free education and philosophical inspiration for YOU.

Again…you’re welcome.


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