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Seminar on New Forms of urbanization: Conceptualising and Measuring Human Settlement in the 21st Century

Rockefeller's Study and Conference Center
Bellagio, Italy, March 11-15, 2002

Organised by the IUSSP Working Group on urbanization


Introduction and acknowledgements

The WGu held its main activity in March 2002 at the Rockefeller Foundation's Study and Conference Centre at Bellagio, Italy, following a successful bid to the Foundation's International Conferences competition. The conference's central theme was 'New forms of urbanization: conceptualising and measuring human settlement in the twenty-first century'. Its primary aims were to review existing methods of collecting and presenting population data on human settlements, to examine ways of conceptualising the new and evolving forms of settlement, and to explore the possibilities for operationalising these new concepts, including through taking advantage of new technologies of data collection and handling.

The activity involved three full days discussing 19 pre-circulated papers invited from leading researchers and practitioners in the conceptualisation and measurement of urbanization. A total of 22 people participated in the meeting (click here for list of participants). unfortunately, five of the paper authors (involved in four of the 19 papers) were unable to attend on the dates given the WGu by Rockefeller. The participants included five invited purely as discussants. The conference comprised 12 sessions, including two final sessions devoted to feedback from the invited discussants and the consideration of conclusions and recommendations for the way ahead (click here for the conference programme).

This report begins by outlining the background and aims of the WGu and then goes on to provide brief descriptions of conference proceedings. It ends by summarising the main conclusions and recommendations from the conference. The latter includes its proposals for disseminating the results and for the next steps for IUSSP's involvement in this area.

Finally, the WGu is extremely grateful to all those who supported the conference. It is indebted to the Rockefeller Foundation for allowing free use of its Bellagio Centre and also for funding the travel costs of four participants from developing countries. The travel costs of other participants were covered by a grant to IUSSP from the A W Mellon Foundation. Special thanks are also due to the invited discussants and to those participants who, while not having English as their first language, were willing to be involved in these English-only discussions. Finally, the participants would like to record their thanks to the Bellagio Centre staff for their superb hospitality and attention to detail and to Elizabeth Omoluabi at IUSSP headquarters for her excellent administrative support.

It should be noted that neither the Rockefeller nor the Mellon Foundations are responsible for any of the views expressed in this report. Indeed, none of the recommendations were even the subject of a formal resolution at the conference. This report has been prepared for consideration by IUSSP Council, which will in due course decide on whether it will sanction any further activity in this area.

Background and aims of the WGu

The WGu was set up by IUSSP Council in 1999, following consideration of the report prepared by the Exploratory Mission on urbanization. Its purpose is to explore the dynamics of urbanization, with particular reference to the demographic components of urban growth. Its membership comprised Tony Champion (university of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, chair), Graeme Hugo (university of Adelaide, Australia) and Alfredo Lattes (CENEP, Buenos Aires).

urbanization was seen as a relatively neglected area in population studies, even more so in the past two decades than previously. Recent studies of urbanization had tended to focus on the social and economic aspects of the phenomenon rather than on its demographic dimensions. Also, studies had dwelt more on the consequences of urbanization than on its causes. Where demographic processes had been considered in the recent past, rural-urban migration was generally treated as the key element. By comparison, little attention had been given to the effects of differential fertility and mortality or to the role of 'in situ' urbanization resulting from the reclassification of rural settlements. It was also noted that, in some countries, international migration is now of considerable importance in altering urban populations.

The types of questions that the WGu was encouraged to consider included the following:

1) Measurement of urbanization:
does the use of different concepts and criteria lead to spurious results? how far does reclassification contribute to increasing urbanization levels? what contrasts exist between different sizes and types of urban areas?

2) Mortality in urban areas:
is urban mortality still declining or are health hazards increasing? are there significant contrasts between urban and rural areas? what differentials exist between different types of urban area?

3) Fertility in urban areas:
what relationship exists between urbanization and fertility? what mechanisms lead to falling fertility in urban areas? how does this vary between population group?

4) Migration and urban areas:
how is migration affecting the size and composition of urban populations? what is the relative importance of internal and international migration? what are the links with fertility and mortality in both short and long term?

At its initial planning meeting held at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in April 2000, the Working Group decided that its top priority should be the better measurement and understanding of urban population dynamics. On the one hand, this was seen to require the correct specification of national and regional urban systems, using concepts and criteria that capture the ways in which patterns of settlement are currently evolving. On the other, there was the need for data on population change and its demographic components for these spatial frameworks. At the same time, it was recognised that analysis of the latter can help to inform both the updating of spatial definitions and the selection of the criteria on which the definition operations should be based.

This focus was justified by the lack of recent attention. Though urban areas were known to be regularly updated in most countries, the concepts underpinning this definitional activity had not been reassessed in any fundamental way since the 1970s, when pioneering work was carried out by, among others, the IUSSP's Committee on urbanization and Population Redistribution chaired by Sidney Goldstein. This is in spite of the growing literature that demonstrates that the simple urban/rural dichotomy is becoming increasingly less useful, with the blurring of the two in both landscape and population terms.

Two further considerations underpinned the WGu's thinking. One concerned the opportunities opened up by the major improvements being made in small-area data availability and in the technical capabilities of computing/GIS processing. Compared to the past, these now permitted much more sophisticated approaches to defining places and making population estimates for them. Secondly, there had been changes in the information needs of users, these including not only governments at all scales and also an increasing range of non-government agencies and private-sector firms.

Given this very specific focus, the WGu's committee decided that the best approach for its main activity would be a limited-numbers 'think-tank' meeting. It was agreed to bid to the Rockefeller Foundation under its International Conferences competition, where groups of up to 25 participants spend a week at its Bellagio Centre. In the meantime, Tony Champion, on behalf of the WGu, was invited to convene one or more sessions at the IUSSP's General Population Conference in Salvador in August 2001: following a call for papers, two sessions were organised. In addition, in May 2001 the WGu's committee put out through the IUSSP newsletter and by email a call for expressions of interest in being involved in its work, which elicited submissions from over 90 members.

The aims and proceedings of the Bellagio meeting

The overall aim of the meeting was to work towards a new approach to studying urbanization trends that takes account of the major changes currently taking place in the nature and architecture of human settlement systems around the world.

The meeting was designed to address three fundamental questions, as follows. Firstly, given recent trends, are simple urban/rural classifications of population still adequate to capture the increasing complexity of the human settlement patterns? Assuming not, what are the types of human settlement which need to be differentiated in standard classifications of human settlement systems? Finally, how can these new concepts of human settlement systems be operationalised and used in standard data collection systems?

Within the context of these fundamental questions, five objectives were set for the meeting:
To conceptualise the basic dimensions of human settlement systems and establish whether or not it is now necessary to go beyond a simple urban-rural breakdown in standard population data collection systems. To test the idea that contemporary urban centres should no longer be defined only on the basis of the boundaries of their built up area but also in terms of the boundaries of the region they dominate. To investigate whether areas outside of cities need to be classified in meaningful ways (e.g. according to their degree of remoteness). To derive operational definitions of the new basic concepts of human settlements developed in the three tasks above. To investigate precisely how new technologies of data collection, storage, manipulation and analysis, especially spatial information systems (SIS), can assist in the operationalisation of these new concepts.

To achieve these aims and objectives, the meeting comprised 12 sessions which were grouped into six parts, as shown in the programme. The papers, having been pre-circulated, were taken as read and were briefly introduced and critiqued by the session discussant before debate was opened up to all participants . Abstracts of the 19 pre-circulated papers can be found here.

The first two sessions introduced the challenge set for the meeting, documented the lessons from past reviews and highlighted the limitations of available data in monitoring and projecting urbanization trends.

The second pair of sessions presented regional perspectives on settlement change, with the four papers looking at parts of the world arranged by historical experience of urbanization: More Developed Countries, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The third part of the meeting considered the wider issues that need to be addressed in developing new ways of conceptualizing settlement systems. One session approached this task from the urban end of the spectrum, with one paper taking an evolutionary approach to settlement systems and the other arguing for an 'urban systems' perspective. The other session examined the challenge from the rural end, one discussing the extent and nature of continuing distinctions between 'the urban' and 'the rural' from a North American perspective, the other thinking through the meaning of 'rurality' from a mainly European viewpoint.

The fourth part was composed of four case studies that went into more detail about the nature of new forms of urbanization. These dealt respectively with the transformation of the urban hierarchy in Mexico, developments in urban form and population distribution in Delhi's metropolitan area, urbanization patterns and processes in metropolitan Brazil and the role of in situ rural-urban transformation in China's recent urbanization. The case studies provided an insight into both the challenge posed by recent developments and into ways of handling the evolving forms of settlement for the purposes of statistical monitoring.

The fifth part of the meeting provided a bridge between the conceptual and the operational aspects of the challenge. The first of the four papers discussed here argued for the need to recognise multiple dimensions of settlement systems instead of trying to devise a single classification and provided examples of measures used to represent these separate dimensions. The second demonstrated the valuable role of new technology in identifying and classifying settlements, notably using satellite imagery and GIS. The third documented the experience of reviewing the USA's metropolitan area standards, while the final paper in this part looked more broadly at policy makers' needs for intelligence on metropolitan and settlement-system change across the world and at the opportunities and constraints relating to data supply.

Following these sessions that discussed the 19 pre-circulated papers, the final part of the meeting comprised two sessions that attempted to draw together the main conclusions of the meeting and set out recommendations for the future. At the first of these sessions, the five invited discussants (Michael Batty, Ram Bhagat, Terence McGee, Landis Mackellar and David Rain) gave their personal reactions to what they had heard in the meeting, while at the second session Graeme Hugo presented what he saw as the main conclusions emanating from the meeting. Both these sessions stimulated wide-ranging debate about conceptual and definitional issues, with the final session also including discussions about the practical steps to be taken in disseminating the findings of the meeting and in taking forward the WGu's wider aims of improving our understanding of the demography of human settlement.

Recommendations and follow-up activities

The two most fundamental conclusions of the conference were as follows. Firstly, participants reaffirmed the importance of 'place' in the analysis of population change and demographic behaviour. Secondly, there was general agreement that the conceptual and definitional bases currently used for the international monitoring and projection of urbanization and settlement-system change are becoming increasingly inadequate.

In the latter context, geographical frameworks need to go beyond the urban/rural dichotomy and the size groups of physically-defined agglomerations that have underpinned statistical reporting for the past half century. New approaches must be agreed and implemented that respond to the increasing blurring of traditional urban-rural distinctions and to the emergence of new forms of settlement including daily urban systems, polycentric urban regions and extended metropolitan regions.

At the same time, the needs of population data users for intelligence on sub-divisions of the larger settlement forms must be identified more clearly and accommodated more fully. Advantage needs to be taken of rapidly evolving opportunities for area-based data generation, such as those deriving from Geographical Information Systems and remote sensing.

Therefore, the main recommendation is for a complete reappraisal of conventional approaches that would capitalize on our newly-acquired abilities for handling massive amounts of intelligence on small 'building block' areas and on the spatial and functional relationships between them. Such an appraisal should be carried out by identifying and evaluating examples of new approaches devised by statistical agencies and academics from around the world.

In terms of concrete outcomes from the WGu's main activity, the initial position paper setting out the key issues to be addressed by the conference has been revised in the light of the comments and discussion at Bellagio. This has been submitted to the journal Population and Development Review.

The next step planned by the WGu's committee is the preparation of a more detailed statement of the conclusions drawn from the 18 hours of formal discussion at the Bellagio meeting and a fuller list of the recommendations arising from this. When this has been finalised in the light of feedback from the conference participants, a decision will be taken about whether to seek separate publication as a journal article, a free-standing hard-copy report and/or electronic publication on the IUSSP webpage.

Versions of both these papers will form part of the WGu's main planned output which is an edited book comprising 20 chapters. The intention is that this will be published in the IUSSP's International Studies in Demography series with Oxford University Press. To this end, a draft book proposal was submitted to IUSSP in February 2002. The papers are currently being revised with this in mind, with the manuscript scheduled for completion by September 2002.

Finally, a significant section of the recommendations agreed at the Bellagio meeting relates to the need for future research by and discussion with academics, statistical agencies and data users. With this aim in mind, the WGu committee is raising with the united Nations the possibility of holding a meeting in New York at which to present the Working Group's conclusions and recommendations and to discuss their implications for the collection and presentation of population data for national settlement systems.

Beyond this, it was agreed to recommend to IUSSP Council that an Exploratory Mission be set up to review the possibility of establishing a Committee that would take forward the WGu's recommendations for future work on the conceptualisation and definition of human settlement systems. A Committee would be able to take advantage of the data and interest generated by the 2000/2001 round of Population Censuses and would hopefully encourage fuller and more meaningful study of sub-national differentials in population dynamics and demographic behaviour than has been achieved in recent years. This work would seek to answer the questions on mortality, fertility and migration that the WGu's own Exploratory Mission recommended for attention (see above). It would also be able to draw more fully on the expertise of all the IUSSP members who expressed support for and interest in the WGu's brief.

Tony Champion

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