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Formal and Informal Peri-urban Developments in the Cities of the Global South

Responding to ever-increasing population numbers, many new cities are being planned in the Global South. Even though the transport characteristics of these cities are different from those of cities in Global North, many are still reliant on conventional auto-centric, Western city planning.
An example of applying Western-style planning in developing countries is the edge city concept emerging in China, India, and the United Arab Emirates. City outskirts brim with gated and boxed mid-rise glass office towers surrounded by gardens and parking lots. Shopping malls, wholesale supermarkets, and high-tech industry hubs have located to city peripheries and add to congestion. A study of the travel impacts of 900 households that shifted from organically evolved, mixed-use areas in Shanghai’s urban core to isolated superblocks on the peripheries revealed a 50 percent increase in vehicle kilometers traveled by the households and an alarming shift from non-motorized to motorized travel.

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These developments not only relinquish the advantages of traditional place-based, pedestrian-oriented morphology and pattern of the old city cores, but also hinder future economic growth based on knowledge and innovation. Human-to-human interaction increases knowledge, innovation, and economic opportunity. This happens only when cities are more connected and provide the time and places for human interactions.

Although outward city expansion to cope with population growth is unavoidable, is this the only solution? The assumption that the dense inner-city areas cannot support further infill is not necessarily true. In most cases, applying a uniform floor area ratio fails to capitalize on premium locations. Cities such as Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have developed living environments with efficient, high-quality services by adopting different density ranges for different areas and taking into consideration the varied socioeconomic features. A responsive urban form achieved through articulated densities instead of average density opens up the possibility of vertical expansion in place of peri-urban sprawl.

While some residents choose to live in planned peri-urban developments, others are forced to live in unplanned, informal peri-urban locations. The cities of the Global South are characterized by increasing numbers of people forcibly evicted from city centers, and living in informal settlements on the urban periphery. The urban poor who occupy the city sub-urban rail/road rights of way must be resettled to accommodate major roadworks. Squatters on land in the city core that was previously considered undevelopable have also been forcibly shifted. This has an adverse effect on the urban poor in several ways. First, the relocation decreases the average income of the relocated families by 30-50 percent, which must now be spent on transport. Second, a resettlement 10-15 kilometers away from job locations results in a shift from walking to motorized transport. Inadequate access to public transport compounds the transport issues. Flexible transportation and a housing model that is well connected to public transport are essential to respond to the woes of the peri-urban slum dwellers.

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