Page 1


from the


Dear Readers, Buildings are rising up around us, new roads are connecting people to previously inaccessible locations, and there is a mass movement of rural-urban migration. With the United Nations projecting 68% of the population to live in urban areas by 2050, the world is looking vastly different each year. Amid this rapidly evolving world, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Issue XV.III: Urbanism and the Changing Structure of Cities. Throughout this issue, our writers explore the growth of urban areas and the subsequent implications - economic, political, social, and environmental - across the globe. To begin, Sean Stead-Fecser takes a close look at the issue of favelas, or slums, in Rio de Janeiro while Annie Xie explores Venezuela’s current refugee crisis. Sophie Huang then discusses sustainability within Canada’s real estate market in the form of LEED-certified buildings. In the realm of transportation, Alec Langlois provides a critique of private transit and Elon Musk’s Boring Company, and David Lazzam looks at dockless bike programs in China and urban transportation alternatives. Both Harry Fang’s and Ethan Mitchell’s articles explore China’s cities; Harry provides insight into megacities while Ethan delves into China’s use of modern technology and political repression. Anshul Pattoo then covers Hong Kong’s urban development amid its status as a “Special Administrative Region” in China and Angela Feng’s article takes a look at yet another migration crisis in Bangladesh. We are also excited to share two external submissions in this issue. Tanisha Amarakoon looks at urbanization in Sri Lanka while Damian McCracken covers the Yellow Vest Movement in France. In my article, I take a look into the trouble with building greener cities in the midst of an air pollution crisis in Eastern Europe and Balkan countries. Lastly, two articles cover the Middle East and Africa. Serene Nekoui’s article is about Chinese investment in East Africa and Sinead O’Hara explores Cairo’s Garbage City, Manshiyat Naser. 2 ISSUE XV.III

A common narrative readers may notice throughout this issue is one of change, and the need to adapt in the midst of it all. This is a sentiment that particularly resonates with the print issue of the Observer as we establish our role in a digital age. That being said, as our own way of adapting to this changing world, it is with great excitement that I introduce you to our first tech-integrated issue. Before you read Issue XV.III, I encourage each of you to download the HP Reveal application on your mobile devices and following ‘theobserver’ for an augmented reality experience. Our writers have attached pictures, videos, and links to their articles as a way to enhance the understanding of the topics covered. These attachments will appear upon scanning the article using the application. If you are interested in receiving updates about The Observer, you can follow us on Facebook (The Observer - Queen’s University) or Instagram (theobserver.qiaa). As always, please do not hesitate to email should you have any remarks or concerns.

Happy reading! Sincerely,

Monique Sereneo Editor-in-Chief Applied Economics ‘19 3

T a b l e o f C o n t e nts THE AMERICAS


Rio’s Favelas and Why They’re a Problem Sean Stead-Fecser


Escape from a Ruined Nation: Venezuela’s Refugees Crisis Annie Xie


Building for the Future: Incorporating Sustainability in Real Estate Sophie Huang


Elon Musk’s Transit Projects confirm the Loopiness of Private Transit Alec Langlois


The Yellow Vest Movement: A Consequence of the Urban-Rural Divide in France Damian McCracken


It’s Not Easy Building Green: Solving Macedonia’s Air Pollution Crisis Monique Sereneo

Middle East and Africa

Asia 16 18

Fixing the Cycle: Urban Transportation Alternatives in the Face of China’s Bike Graveyards David Lazzam


北上广深 – The Megacities Leading China Harry Fang


Cities of the Future


The Enigmatic Relationship between Hong Kong and China Anshul Pattoo


Dhaka’s Environmental Migration Crisis Angela Feng


Discrepancies In Defining ‘Urbanization’: Is Sri Lanka Really Rural? Tanisha Amarakoon

Ethan Mitchell



China Makes its Mark: Investments in Eastern Africa Serene Nekoui Manshiyat Naser: One Person’s Garbage is Another’s Paycheck Sinead O’Hara

Print Editorial Team Monique Sereneo Art Vijayaratnam Alexander Bernst Harrison Giovannetti Mae-Lin DeLange Jacob Ahearn David Lazzam

EditoR-in-Chief Layout Editor Assistant Editor Assistant Editor Assistant Editor Assistant Editor Assistant Editor

WRITErs for this issue Alec Langlois Angela Feng Annie Xie Anshul Pattoo Damian McCracken Ethan Mitchell Harry Fang Sean Stead-Fecser Serene Nekoui Sinead O’Hara Sophie Huang Tanisha Amarakoon The views expressed by the authors are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial board or of the Queen’s International Affairs Association. 5

The Americas

Rio’s Favelas and Why They’re a Problem By: Sean Stead-Fecser

Rio De Janeiro’s community of slums and makeshift and unofficial housing neighbourhoods, or as they are called in Rio ‘favelas’ makeup about a quarter of the population of Rio, with over 1.5 million people living in them. These favelas have had no government interference with no housing codes or regulations. The favelas are representative of a larger problem dealing with the vast economic disparity in Brazil. Brazil’s government needs to confront their economic inequality first if they want to deal with their over 1000 neighbourhoods of favelas as people who live there simply cannot afford to live anywhere else. The first favelas originated in the late 1800s when the Canudos War ended and Brazilian soldiers marched to Rio to receive their payment for their service and were not given anything. The soldiers stayed in Rio to form the favelas by building makeshift houses since they did not have payment from the government to buy or rent an established house. Since then, millions of homes and shops have been made without any government supervision or presence. There is no city code that these makeshift homes have been made to follow, resulting in many houses being structurally unsound. Since no urban or city planner was hired to organize the city, the streets are reminiscent of a maze. Electricity and plumbing have presented serious problems in many areas, while running water can be scarce. Electricity is often stolen from overhead hanging wires, which over the years has proven to be an unsustainable and dangerously unsafe source, presenting a high risk of electrocution to those who work on it. Plumbing is generally very basic and practically nonexistent in some areas, with some waste simply being thrown on the street. Since the favelas are based on a hill, this sewage slowly washes down into the ocean. Other times, the sewage collection forms a massive cesspool and is not dealt with

properly. Unfortunately, only around 50 percent of Rio’s residents have access to sewage collection. These factors mean that the residents’ public health and safety in the favelas cannot always be ensured. To escalate this situation, there is practically no sense of a government presence in the favelas, since many favelas are overrun by gangs and drug cartels. Having risen continuously since 2016, the violence and crime rate in Brazil today is considerably high. In 2018, it was estimated that were over 15,000 cases of pedestrian theft and over 10,000 cases of car theft in Rio alone. Brazil’s homicide rate is at 30.8 per 100,000 in 2017. For the sake of comparison, the United States homicide rate was at 5.3 per 100,000 in 2017. Comparatively, the statistics demonstrate that it is very dangerous in Rio largely due to the increasing economic inequality which escalates the need for crime due to the lack of well paying jobs.

Rather than dealing with the sources of poverty, Rio’s government has chosen to deal with the consequences of poverty. One action contributing to this violence is the pacification policy Rio’s government has implemented to combat crime in the city. This policy aims to halt violence in certain favelas in Rio by implementing Police Pacification Units (UPP) employed specifically to eradicate favelas that have had a history of persistent recurring violence which were most populated by drug trafficking. These special police forces were tasked with providing public services, but also using necessary force to eradicate drug trafficking in the area. This did work for some areas by lowering crime rates and in some favelas, even getting rid of drug trafficking almost entirely. For the most part, the UPP were implemented in smaller favelas across Rio. Many criticise that their police force would not be able to handle the more populated favelas, since their best police force were only able to eradicate crime in a few smaller communities. Rather than dealing with the sources of poverty, Rio’s government has chosen to deal 7

with the consequences of poverty. If they are truly concerned about the dealing with the crime rate, they would implement social services to alleviate their poverty so people would not have to resort to crime to survive. Having proper education, food security and improved infrastructure would greatly improve the lives of those in the favelas. Furthermore, many residents make claims that police brutality is very present problem in Rio , especially in the favelas. Rio’s statistics of deaths from police brutality demonstrate that from January to November 2018 over 1,444 people died at the hand of the police. This number is the highest recorded since the government started keeping track in 1998. The high police brutality rate can be attributed to the recent militarization of the police. The Public Security Institute (ISP) which was in use for security measures during the 2016 Olympics, now has control over the city’s police force. The military in Brazil has not controlled the police force since 1988 when the country was run by a military dictatorship. Several residents in the favelas have expressed their disagreement with the government’s recent decision for their militarized police force. Joelma Milanes, a resident of the Salguiero

Favela, retells the story when she found her son lying dead with several others after a police operation. Milanes explains that “The people who should be protecting us are killing us. They do what they want.” The support of police militarization comes from the wealthy and middle class in Rio, who are scared by rising crime rates. A resident of the Maré favela, Vitor do Vale says “It did not improve security. It made it worse in Maré. Our security is very debilitated and the government does not understand that more violence will make it worse.” Vale echoes a statement made by many favela residents, that the attacks brought on by the police will only bring more brutality. Given these statistics, and the heavy crime rate in Rio, this demonstrates that the rich elite in Rio are more concerned with decreasing crime rates rather than decreasing poverty rates, which is the source of crime. If the Brazilian government were to introduce more long-term social programs, poverty alleviation would not seem so daunting. If the Brazilian government were to simply deal with the causes of poverty and not the consequences, the people of Brazil would thus benefit from true effective grass-root change.


Escape from a Ruined Nation: Venezuela’s Refugees Crisis By: Annie Xie

In the last three years, the world has seen 3 million Venezuelans flee from the country’s economic disaster and political turmoil. Recently, neighboring countries like Peru and Brazil government have been pushing for more restrictive border policies. However, unlike these nations, Colombia’s government has taken a different approach to the Venezuelan migration crisis. With 5000 refugees crossing everyday, the Columbian border remains open and with wide arms. Venezuela, once known as the happiest country back in 2008, has fallen into economic turmoil due to government corruption and hyperinflation. The country’s economy has collapsed: stores hold empty shelves unable to sell groceries and patients are turned away from hos-

pitals unable to receive healthcare. Venezuelan currency holds so little monetary value that citizens have used it as fuel for fires and even as material in making clothes and bags. Without food, money, or medicine, thousands flee their country to surrounding nations like Colombia in hopes of a better future.

More than one thousand refugees are migrating everyday, yet why is it that only one country has opened its arms, and borders, to those in need? Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, has seen its poverty rate rise, yet the Colombian people and politicians continue to welcome and assist refugees. Carrying only their few belongings on their backs, Venezuelans travel on foot in hopes of finding refuge. Colombia has provided shelter by setting up camps and providing healthcare and food to incoming refugees. To understand why Venezuelans can cross Colombian borders so easily, one must consider the fact that only a few decades ago, the mass migration flowed in the opposite direction. When the Colombian 9

people were caught in the country’s civil war, many fled to Venezuela for safety. However, the number of refugees crossing into the country is beginning to reach the capacity. For the last few years, South American countries have allowed for Venezuelans to immigrate into their countries relatively easily. Colombia in particular has taken in the most refugees, with an estimate of over one million. However, with limited jobs and supplies running low, it is unlikely that this influx of people will continue. More and more citizens of the neighboring countries are beginning to take on an unwelcoming attitude toward the Venezuelans as they compete for jobs and resources. Xenophobic actions have been seen when Brazilian citizens drove over 1000 Venezuelan refugees back across the border and set fire to their belongings. A travelling refugee, Joana Perez stated in an interview, “I’m scared. I don’t know where to sleep tonight or if there will be another attack. We lost everything. ” With hyperinflation expected to reach one million percent this year in Venezuela, it can only

be expected that the number of refugees migrating will increase as well. More than one thousand refugees are migrating everyday, yet why is it that only one country has opened its arms, and borders, to those in need? The mass migration is taking a toll on all of Venezuela’s neighboring countries and in particular Colombia, who’s resources are being stretched thin. One has to wonder how long the country will be able to continue to provide this humanitarian aid. The US has made provided some humanitarian aid in the form of monetary donations however, the country still adheres to its strict immigration policy. Canada has also pledged $53 million dollars to help the refugees and has accepted immigrating refugees. With Colombia’s cities reaching their capacities and the Venezuelan country crumbling, the future of the South American countries looks bleak and uncertain. Without further assistance, this refugee crisis will not only turn out to be history’s largest migration, but also the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.


Building for the Future: Incorporating Sustainability in Real Estate By: Sophie Huang

Sustainable development and housing affordability are often considered separate subjects in city-building discourse, but building for the future can be tied to relieving important stressors in a housing affordability crisis. While our culture is placing responsibility on consumers to make environmentally responsible choices, corporations also need to take the lead in making big decisions that ultimately affect the environment the most. Ensuring sustainability in real estate has become increasingly important. In Montreal, a new real estate development shows how sustainable development is profitable for developers through constructing LEED certified buildings, which translates to savings for homeowners as well. The new Bassins du Havre development in Montreal shows how sustainable development can be profitable for developers through constructing LEED certified buildings. The project was taken on by two Montreal-based residential developers, Rachel Julien and Prevel. It is a condominium development located on the banks of the Lachine Canal, and it is LEED Certified Construction 2009. LEED certification provides verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health (Canada Green Building Council). Using Bassins du Havre as an example, Melanie Robitaille, a vice-president and general manager at Rachel Julien, says that developers can profit from constructing LEED-certification buildings. She states that at the Bassins du Havre development, 95 percent of construction waste has been recycled; rooftop solar panels heat both pool and faucet water which has resulted in

cost savings of 31-35 percent for homeowners; rainwater is filtered on site used for irrigation reduces the need for using drinking water; and water saving toilets, sink faucets and showerheads have reduced overall water consumption at the development by 36 percent. Essentially, wherever resources can be saved, monetary savings can be had in utility rates.

The consequences of climate change are simply too far away for the average consumer to feel the urgency about reducing their carbon footprints. Rising utility and rent costs is not a foreign concept to many, and for some, it is a reality that is spurring emigration out of cities with a high cost of living. The 30-percent method is a widely accepted method to determine what is affordable housing - if an individual spends more than thirty-percent of their income on housing, it is considered unaffordable. The scale of the problem is more easily understood when looking at Toronto figures; 47 percent of all renters are spending beyond that threshold. Population growth in the densest cities has been falling each year since 2010, and it is the suburbs that have been seeing the fastest growth. Affordable living costs in the suburbs have been the biggest incentive for growing families. However, while the suburban lifestyle dominates cities in North America, it is less prevalent across the world, and for good reason. Density figures aside, reasons for having a more compact city include a higher ease of transportation, reduced pollution, and a more fulfilled sense of community. Most importantly, having shared walls increases energy efficiency and reduces utility rates. It is environmentally more efficient and economically cheaper to live closer to one other. Maintaining a culture of sustainable living is more important now than ever before. The consequences of climate change are daunting and the effects are widespread. The impact of real estate on climate change, and how often people interact with real estate developments on an everyday basis, proves how important sustainable living is. However, behavioural econom11

ics explains how even with the best intentions, people fail at achieving goals without motivating incentives to do so. The consequences of climate change are simply too far away for the average consumer to feel the urgency about reducing their carbon footprints. Robitaille has demonstrated the most basic incentive that everyone can get on board with; economic gain. People are motivated by the growth of their wealth. Additionally, since people interact with real estate on a constant basis, sustainable developments would be inducing passive action from consumers that are carbon-friendly. Even the most skeptical climate-change deniers could contribute to lowering carbon emissions, and real estate developers can take the forefront of establishing sustainability in their projects. LEED buildings are ecologically beneficial, and Robitaille proves how it is also economically advantageous to developers. Urban planners can use this information to incentivize more developers to build in this fashion. Not only is sustainable development important on the micro-level, such as individual developments like Bassins du Havre, but also on a macro-scale in the form of cities. Additionally, to further promote sustainability, urban planners could also plan for the buildings to be built in a certain manner that support these goals. Currently in a neighbourhood in Toronto, a Google-backed company, Sidewalk Toronto, is undergoing a vetting process with the municipal government and public community to build a sustainable community. The company has promised that 20 percent of their total units will be affordable residences. They will also promote active transportation through implementing bike lanes and incorporating transit lines through their community, which encourages less usage of the automobile. Ultimately, we will never discover the true consequences of our actions until things have been built. However, to be sustainable means to proceed in action with the needs of the future in mind. The examples of Bassins du Havre and Sidewalk Labs are a start of real estate developing for that future. Initiatives like these are important because they promote the need for sustainable living for an individual, but also makes it accessible for those people to do so. 12 ISSUE XV.III

Elon Musk’s Transit Projects confirm the Loopiness of Private Transit By: Alec Langlois

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Inc., has been lauded as a genius and visionary throughout his time in the public eye. In 2018, however, several notable stories significantly damaged Musk’s credibility. From his bizarre failed attempt to rescue a Thai soccer team from a flooded cave, to his subsequent allegation that one of the rescue divers was a “pedo guy”, to his fraud settlement with the SEC; overall, Musk’s actions have caused some in the media to question their previous beliefs about the successful entrepreneur. Musk has encountered further resistance through his attempted foray into mass transit. His founding of The Boring Company was an attempt to ameliorate the problem of traffic in major cities. Their single achievement so far is the development of the Loop system. The name is a transparent allusion to the fantastical Hyperloop, another over promised idea from Musk. The Loop is conventional and old-fashioned in comparison. It uses thin tunnels (14 feet in diameter) in which only small cars can fit. Cars travel along the tunnels single-file much as they would

above ground, accessing the tunnels through elevators on the street or in garages. Thus, it is fundamentally not a mass-transit system. The Loop is, in essence, an underground toll road. Nothing more, nothing less.The only prototype, a milelong tunnel in Los Angeles, can only be accessed by Tesla vehicles at speeds much lower than the 150 miles per hour promised by Musk. The low accessibility belies the exclusive and classist nature of his proposals. Essentially, the Loop is an exclusive underground toll road. Nothing more, nothing less. The narrow scope of The Boring Company’s projects has led some experts to question their capability of solving congestion problems in cities. Before considering that problem, we should examine the company’s stated strengths: tunnel boring at low costs and the development of a high-speed system. Thus far, they have not shown either. Indeed, the prototype tunnel was excavated using a traditional boring machine not developed by the company itself. Even an amateur eye can discern the problem with a system which lowers individual cars using single elevator 13

shafts on city street surfaces: it would necessitate significant changes to street infrastructure while remaining a low capacity system, even if access were extended to non-Tesla cars. The problem of low capacity has a proposed solution outlined by Musk, namely boring countless tunnels in the same area. However, until The Boring Company has shown that it can bore faster or cheaper than traditional companies, this seems a dubious idea.

Even an amateur eye can discern the problem with a system which lowers individual cars using single elevator shafts on city street surfaces. Despite these glaring issues, several cities in the United States have granted contracts to The Boring Company or at least supported their efforts. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has an informal agreement allowing a Boring Company-funded system to be built between downtown Chicago and the Chicago O’Hare Airport. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has endorsed The Boring Company, calling the Loop a “transportation system” rather than simply “a tunnel”. Evidently, despite doubts from experts and the press, some cities find a private alternative to public transit appealing. Although public funds have not yet been allocated to The Boring Company, mass transit is a naturally monopolistic industry. The opportunity cost of allowing a private company to develop and profit from a mass transit system is the collection of that profit by the state or reinvestment of that profit into the transit system. In the short-term, which is traditionally favoured by politicians seeking re-election, the costs of developing mass public transit are significant. In New York, for example, the Second Avenue subway cost $2.5 billion per mile. However, the long-term benefits of a public system are clear. As mentioned, profits, if collected, may be reinvested such as to improve the system or used to lower the tax burden. Additionally, governments, as very large entities, have significant negotiating power. Without the necessity of private profit in a

public system, cost-cutting measures, anti-union and employee action, and leveraging of monopoly to overcharge customers are not incentivized. Importantly, private systems are not incentivized to provide service to areas where service may be needed but is not profitable. More rural or suburban areas are greatly at risk, since they are areas of lower population density where the income of a transit system would be less. These concerns are highly relevant due to the encroachment of private companies on mass transit, which has been seen in the US (the Loop is one prominent example) and Canada. Advocacy for public transit solutions over private intervention need not be advocacy for the status quo. Some research has shown that private companies can lower costs compared to current public systems - an important caveat being that those costs are instead borne by lower employee wages and lower transit quality - but a public system striving for efficiency should be able to achieve the same. The state has more bargaining power than companies, which should allow for lower cost of procurement of materials, and can dynamically adjust its budget by raising taxes or running deficits for the overall public good. State-run projects are often stated to lack accountability, but this is truer for private projects. Private companies are accountable only to their owners and stakeholders and their respective profits, while public projects are accountable to the population as a whole and all users of the projects. A poorly-performing private transit system, as would be the Loop that Musk is proposing, is operating adequately according to the market if it is profiting; the same cannot be said about a public system accountable to voters. Let us hope, then, that The Boring Company follows the trail of failure tread by Musk in 2018.



Fixing the Cycle: Urban Transportation Alternatives in the Face of China’s Bike Graveyards By: David Lazzam

The bike-sharing industry began in China as a sleek solution to metropolitan hubs plagued by pollution and congestion, offering an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to the busy city streets. Just four years later, the industry burst spectacularly, leaving veritable mountains of discarded bikes in its wake. Now, Western cities facing similar dilemmas must devise ways to modernize urban transport without suffering a similar fate. While docked bike-share programs have existed in cities for over ten years, the first dockless bicycle rental company, Ofo, was founded in 2014 as a student project out of Peking University. Initially, bike-sharing programs were widely embraced by citizens, local governments, and tech companies alike. Before long, the industry had exploded. Therein lay the problem, however. Ofo and its chief competitor, Mobike, had been joined by over 60 other companies and without any oversight, things quickly spiraled out of control. In order to establish themselves in an oversaturated market, bike-shares began to ruthlessly undercut each others’ prices, charging

prices fractional to what the bicycles themselves cost and even giving away free rides. Additionally, companies began to flood Chinese cities with their bikes in order to guarantee availability. Like the bicycles themselves, problems began to pile up. By late 2017, Shanghai had over 1.5 million dockless bikes on the streets, compared to the mere 11,000 in London. “Bike graveyards” formed, monumental piles of discarded bicycles which, despite originally being hailed as an environmentally friendly method of transportation, are now destined to go to waste. City streets were similarly affected, with the brightly-coloured bikes littering sidewalks and drawing the ire of local residents. What began as a well-intentioned dream had become a municipal nightmare. Ultimately, the feverish intensity of the bike-share war ran its course, although not without its share of casualties. Unable to keep up with the brutally competitive market and also maintain costs, small startups and large companies alike became insolvent and began to pull out of the bike-share industry. In November 2017, the third largest bike-share service, Bluegogo, declared bankruptcy, with its CEO stating in an apology letter that he had been “filled with arrogance”. While Ofo has not yet folded, it too is in dire straits, as former users repeatedly line up outside their Beijing office demanding their deposits be returned. Outside of China, the situation is decidedly less drastic. Washington DC, for example, had a very successful pilot program that ran until April 2018 while in Tel Aviv a similar initiative with electric scooters has seen one in ten citizens use them in lieu of cars. It should also be noted that a comparison between China and the West’s bike sharing industries has been slightly complicated in recent months. Many of China’s large bike-share companies - Ofo being one such provider - have pulled out of their foreign expansions due to the immense trouble they face domestically. This has resulted in Western markets being left somewhat empty. In addition, the conversation around newwave urban transport has shifted since the start of the dockless bicycle craze in China, with much of the impetus now centred around the aforementioned electric scooters popular in such cities as Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Despite this, the saga


of China’s dockless bicycles offers valuable insights as to how modern cities should approach innovative solutions to transportation issues, as well as a warning towards what might happen in lieu of such action.

In order to establish themselves in an oversaturated market, bike-shares began to ruthlessly undercut each others’ prices, charging prices fractional to what the bicycles themselves cost and even giving away free rides. In many ways, the initial concept of dockless bicycles was an inspired idea, albeit with several immediate flaws. Perhaps most obviously, bikes are a greener alternative to other modes of transportation, and additionally, are a great deal healthier for those using them. With the proper infrastructure in place - namely designated bike paths - rentable bicycles would also help to ease congestion both on streets and in metro services, given the growing number of urban dwellers who do not own cars. But for such a system to become viable, several key steps must be taken by any cities wishing to introduce or expand their transportation rental industries. Firstly, a notable contrast between China and early programs in the West is the speed at which bike-share programs were deployed. Chinese cities did not impose caps on the number of dockless bicycles on the streets, and so were quickly swamped by both their overwhelming prevalence and the market implications of such an immediate influx. Furthermore, regulations around the bike-share systems themselves were decidedly lax, which allowed for widespread rule-breaking and mismanagement. As such, the primary lesson to be gleaned from the Chinese bike-share bubble is the marked necessity of government oversight on any extra-municipal transportation programs. Many Western cities have seen success thus far because of the controlled upscaling imposed on would-be dockless transportation companies, as well as a throttling of the amount of companies present within local markets. While such a level of government

oversight may be distasteful to some, controlled pilot programs and gradual rollouts have been proven to be both effective and necessary when introducing new transportation systems to urban cities without resulting in the types of disasters seen in China. A great deal of caution and handson structuring is therefore necessary to create a sustainable dockless rental program. The establishment of such programs is also reliant on a willingness on the part of cities to engage with companies to be proactive in creating new laws and opportunities around which they can grow. In the past, bicycle and scooter services as well as more prevalent forms of ride-sharing like Uber have clashed with municipal governments who show a reticence not merely to allow free reign over their cities but to even entertain the possibility of new, privately sourced urban transportation systems, drawing the ire of individual citizens who actually want those services. While the example of China’s dockless bicycle experiment is one of failure, cities should nevertheless continue striving to implement new transportation ideas which, while potentially risky, provide innovative paths to modernization and improvement.


北上广深 – The Megacities Leading China By: Harry Fang

When an outside observer is asked about Chinese cities, the most likely answer is Beijing. The year is 1990, the twilight years of the Cold War, and even before the fall of the Soviet Union, the eyes of the world are focused on what will become of Eastern Europe and the other socialist states. In the Far East, roughly 26 percent of the population in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) lives in urban areas. Fast forward to 2017, less than two decades later, and that percentage rises to 59.4, nearly doubling in proportion as Chinese cities rapidly surpass many of their Western counterparts and begin to stand as some of the greatest hubs of culture, commerce and innovation in the world. Perhaps no other city in China can match the power and prestige of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen – commonly referred to as the “super tier one” cities. These cities all possess unique historical and political characteristics which led to their ascent. However, what they all have in common is the powerful influence they wield on the rest of China in different fields, which draws in talent and resources from around the country and propels their growth to even higher levels. When an outside observer is asked about Chinese cities, the most likely answer is Beijing. Literally meaning “northern capital,” Beijing first

became the capital of China during the Ming dynasty in the late 14th century. Beijing remained the capital for all regimes that followed except for the Republic of China, who opted to use Nanjing (Southern Capital). Given the nature of China’s highly centralized style of government, where central and regional administration is closely hierarchized through the dual-leadership system at every level, Beijing naturally became the city where political power was concentrated. Furthermore, as much of China’s key industries are state owned, these corporations also benefit from headquartering in Beijing in order to enhance administrative efficiency. As such, Beijing has the headquarters of over fifty Fortune 500 companies, the largest concentration of this kind in the world. Just as well-known as the great capital is the city of Shanghai, the busiest container port in the world and the undisputed financial centre of Asia. While Beijing’s rise was largely political, Shanghai’s geographic advantages were the main factor leading to its meteoric rise. Literally meaning “upon the sea,” it sits in the middle of the East China coast and on an estuary of the Yangtze River. This central position makes it the optimal choice for a Chinese trade port as it grants access to Korea, Japan, the Southeast Asian states and the Russian Far East. This fact was not lost on western colonial powers. Many of them chose Shanghai as the area to establish their respective “International


Settlements,” extraterritorial zones ceded by the Qing dynasty under the Unequal Treaties in the 1800s. These settlements often functioned as trade zones for colonial powers, which propelled it above Hong Kong as the financial centre of the east as early as the late 1800s. During the postwar and early PRC years the influence of Shanghai stalled, but through the Reform and Opening program under Deng Xiaoping Shanghai it was quickly uplifted and became one of the most important centres of commerce in the world. As for Guangzhou and Shenzhen, they were very similar in terms of their geographical factors and political background that led to their rise. In the recent past, the super-tier one cities were thought to be solely composed of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (BeiShangGuang). Therefore, Shenzhen is thought of as a more recent contender for the title. For most of Chinese history prior to the First Opium War, Guangzhou, known back then as Canton, was the only port through which foreign goods flowed. Following the forced opening of imperial China and the annexation of Hong Kong, the status of Canton began to decline. However, it would also bury the seed for its future rise. At the onset of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening program, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were established for the purpose of attracting foreign investment in a controlled manner. Shenzhen, with its proximity to British Hong Kong, became the first ever SEZ in China,

which saw rapid conversion of Shenzhen and Guangzhou into a major trade hub. As relations with Western powers have not yet been entirely normalized, Guangzhou’s position was in fact more beneficial as it granted China access to these economies and, more importantly, the diaspora of ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, who frequently faced persecution in their respective states. Currently, Guangzhou remains as one of the most multicultural cities in China, whereas Shenzhen, with its recent rise in high-tech industries, is becoming known as the “Silicon Valley of the East.” As is with any issues concerning the PRC, it would be difficult to determine what is organic and what came to be as a result of state mandate. While the prominence of these cities all have different historical and geographical origins, it would be difficult to argue that they would have obtained the same status at the same pace without some form of government mandate. As observed around the world, growth of urban areas is often not linear but rather exponential: the increasing of resources and opportunities often feeds into each other, meaning an initial artificial injection into promising areas can lead to an unexpected acceleration. With Chinese cities taking the forefront in global urban growth, it stands to reason that perhaps government intervention will become a viable way to build cities that will lead the country and the world. 19

Cities of the Future By: Ethan Mitchell

Xinjiang is a province located on the Northwestern frontier of the People’s Republic of China. As of 2019, it is the site of the most advanced program of political repression the world has ever seen. Historically, the region known as Xinjiang (conquered and subjugated by China in 1800) has been populated mainly by Uyghur Muslims, a people linguistically, ethnically, and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese who represent the majority population of the PRC. With Xi Jinping’s increased focus on building economic linkages with the rest of Asia and the implementation of the government’s “Belt and Road” initiative, Xinjiang’s borderland location has become ever more vital. In keeping with Beijing’s interests, immigration of Han Chinese into the region has spiked in recent years, leading to local resentment at the perceived attempts to “Sinocize” Xinjiang. The influx, in turn, as well as the apparent economic and political elevation of Han residents over local Uyghur has generated significant resentment among the people. As has happened so many times, resentment at government policy led to violent upheaval, which led in turn to vicious repression. In 2009, around 200 were killed during rioting in Urumqi, the regional capital. As recently as 2017, four were killed in a knife attack. In an important strategic region, the Chinese government was met with native resistance to its policy goals. Beijing wanted Xinjiang docile, but the Uyghur people were not submitting. A solution was needed. That solution came in the form of Chen Quanguo. Seasoned by a stint in Tibet, during which he was tasked with overseeing the repression of another troublesome population, Chen strode into Xinjiang ready to drag mass repression into the 21st century. And drag he did. Under his oversight, a rigorous policy of surveillance, policing, and social engineering unfolded over the people of Xinjiang. Using the pretext of ethnic tension, the Chinese government implemented a pervasive program of monitoring, detention, restriction, and control. And it did so using all the wondrous power of modern technology. The landscape of Xinjiang province is now interwoven with a network of prison camps, offi-


cially unacknowledged by the government. Since 2017, hundreds have been rapidly constructed, concrete manifestations of totalitarian willpower commanding Xinjiang from just below the surface. It is estimated that 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are imprisoned within the camps, vanished into a system that the government refuses to acknowledge. With that secrecy comes unaccountability. In addition to the extraordinarily high number of arrests faced by people in the province (21 percent of arrests in China occur within Xinjiang, a region that contains only 1.5 percent of the country’s population), citizens can be dragged away into the shadowy camp system without even the semblance of due process. People are hauled off for the grievous offense of communicating with a relative in another country. There are few who are not affected, who have not lost friends and family members to unexplained disappearance. As for the hundreds of thousands torn from their families, they reportedly face attempts at cultural conversion, political brainwashing, and sometimes torture.

In the pursuit of its policy objectives, a world power has employed the overwhelming capability of modern technology to bend civilians to its will. It is not just within the camps that citizens are guarded, coerced, and forced to conform, but also on the streets and in their homes. City streets are marked by regular police checkpoints (sometimes, such as in the city of Hotan, only a few hundred meters apart from one another). Residential areas are divided into grids, each closely supervised by a police unit, in order to make the population easier to manage. Signs of religious worship are attacked, and families are made to “adopt” government officials to look over their shoulders and ensure that they become suitably Sinocized. The physical repression is terrifying, and is executed with the slick organizational power of a modern, technologically advanced government, but the grotesque reach of the Chinese state ex-

tends even farther. Although police checkpoints are placed only hundreds of meters apart, cameras are placed on almost every street corner. Whole cities are monitored, facial recognition software tracks each citizen as they go about their daily business, the unblinking eye of the state always looming just above them. Spyware and wifi sniffers monitor online activity. Iris scans are taken, DNA sequenced, other biometric data forcibly collected and kept on record by the government, making sure the government knows their citizens inside and out. All of this information is fed through a system known as IJOP (Integrated Joint Operations Platform), which employs machine learning algorithms to generate a list of suspects, who are then liable to disappear without any explanation. The targets are overwhelmingly Uyghur. In the cities of Xinjiang province, China has created a comprehensive system of high-tech oppression. Faced with a recalcitrant minority population, the Chinese government has made use of the considerable resources at its disposal to instill terror in the Uyghur people and keep them under tight control. In the pursuit of its policy objectives, a world power has employed the overwhelming capability of modern technology to bend civilians to its will. In an eerily silent region on the northwest border of China, the harrowing capacity of modern technology is on full display. Never before in all of human history has an organization possessed the ability to so thoroughly impose its will. For a powerful, wealthy state, with an arsenal of technological resources, nothing is beyond its reach. No corner of its citizens’ private lives, no dissident thought or wayward action can escape its electronic eye. In Xinjiang, we see a glimpse of an ominous future. When technocratic elites with access to modern technology are given leave to operate freely, there is little that the people can do to stand in their way. With power concentrated at the top, and powerful actors unconstrained by oversight or accountability, citizens are left at the total mercy of elite objectives. Before us stands the face of 21st century authoritarianism. How will we greet it?


The Enigmatic Relationship between Hong Kong and China By: Anshul Pattoo

Relations between Hong Kong and China are complicated to say the least, and some recent developments in the past year have aggravated these complications. Although the “one country, two systems” arrangement is set to expire in 2047, China is already beginning to consolidate its control over Hong Kong. This sets the tone for what the future of their relationship should be: one in which Hong Kong is completely integrated into the mainland. The details of this relationship as it currently stands may seem unclear, and to some extent, they are. Hong Kong’s status dates back to the aftermath of the First Opium War between Britain and China in 1842. This war was a result of Britain’s trade of opium, an addictive narcotic illegal in China, for Chinese silver. Subsequently, the British would exchange this silver for tea from the Chinese emperor. However, once the Chinese government discovered this illegal trade, they seized all the opium, dumped it into the sea, and halted the trade. Britain responded to this with a direct confrontation by bringing a significant portion of its navy to the Chinese coasts and consequently igniting a series of conflicts: The Opium Wars.

Hong Kong eventually became one of Britain’s “spoils of war” and remained under its rule for several decades. This was the case until 1997, in which after years of negotiations, Britain agreed to resign its control over Hong Kong to China given certain conditions. As part of the agreement, Hong Kong would formally reside as a “Special Administrative Region” in China. That is, it would operate independently of China’s political, economic, and legal system. The rationale behind the arrangement was to ensure a smooth integration of Hong Kong into China. Hong Kong would be under China’s control while retaining Western political, cultural, and economic standards; practically, this action guaranteed that the region would continue to maintain its democratic and capitalist system, its own passport and currency, and important legal principles like freedom of speech, religion, and the press. Today, Hong Kong has advanced significantly in many respects since its departure from Britain: its population has become much more international and multicultural. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s detachment from China has largely contributed to its rapid urban development, in comparison to the main-


land hubs of Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. While these cities have largely adopted urban design initiatives similar to those of Hong Kong, they have done so at a relatively slower pace. As a city that outpaces others in the rate of urban development, Hong Kong tends to set the tone for urban design initiatives mainland Chinese cities can adopt.

What Beijing’s approach has instead been is a gradual encroachment of Hong Kong’s autonomy, manifesting in increasingly reduced personal and political freedom, press censorship, and erosion of judicial independence Despite a few pressing sustainability challenges, Hong Kong has had notable successes in developing its metropolis - ones that densely-populated cities in China have begun to model. For example, Hong Kong’s public transportation system, which is considered the gold standard for transit management worldwide, is comprised of several elements that allow for smooth and effective transportation: subway stations have public computers, wheelchair and stroller accessibility (and the space within the train to store them), glass doors blocking the tracks, clear and sensible signage, and, on longer-distance subways, first-class cars for people who are willing to pay extra for a little leg space. In addition, payments for trips are made effortlessly, using a “touch-and-go” fare payment card that can work in retail stores as well. MTR, the company that manages Hong Kong’s subway and bus system, is able to afford these expenses by striking agreements with retail store owners: in exchange for transporting customers, the transit agency either receives a cut of the store’s profit, signs a co-ownership agreement for a particular retail property, or accepts a percentage of property development fees. In essence, MTR has collaborated with the Hong Kong government to integrate rail systems and stations with other existing or developing

properties in their vicinity, including shopping malls, residential towers, office spaces, and hotels. In an economic context, this project positively impacts Hong Kong’s economic output because it is much easier for residents to travel across the region and engage in their work activities. This efficient transportation system is vital to potential future residents who, while considering Hong Kong for a living, can be discouraged by an ill-management of transportation, as one example. Ultimately, businesses realize that they are more likely to attract outside talent with a more forward-thinking approach to urban development. And while this approach certainly includes efficient transportation, it is not limited to that: it can also include a cleaner living environment or more green space. Hong Kong’s political status, economy, and urban development are inextricably linked, and ultimately generate positive results for the region. Particular to its relationship with mainland China, Hong Kong has increasingly contributed to the country’s success as one of the largest economies in the world, one motive for China’s early consolidation of control over the region. One of the measures China has taken towards this goal, for example, is its construction of undersea tunnels and bridges - the world’s longest sea-crossing - connecting Hong Kong with the mainland city of Zhuhai and the former Portuguese colony of Macau. Critics indicate that while this construction represents an expressway connecting the mainland with Hong Kong, the action more strongly represents an authoritative political statement of the terms of the Hong Kong-China relationship; it physicalizes the dynamic between the two countries. Furthermore, the construction brings up an important political question: what’s the correct balance between maintaining autonomy and being represented by a broader nation-state? In reality, the relationship between Hong Kong and China is one in which Hong Kong operates quasi-autonomously, and Beijing, regardless of the ideal, exercises strong influence over Hong Kong’s government. This said, Beijing doesn’t intervene heavily because it sees its intervention as action that would inhibit Hong Kong’s economic growth. Being China’s third-largest trade partner, just behind the United States and Japan, the re23

gion brings in a large share of revenue into the Chinese economy. What Beijing’s approach has instead been is a gradual encroachment of Hong Kong’s autonomy, manifesting in increasingly reduced personal and political freedom, press censorship, and erosion of judicial independence, to name a few overarching examples. Of course, the extent of interference the law should prevent from taking place is obscure: what should Beijing be allowed to do and not allowed to do? There is no question that Hong Kong law protects free speech and press. Ideally, Beijing should respect the terms of the agreement and take a laissez-faire approach to Hong Kong: let Hong Kong take its natural course, since that was the desired condition from the onset. While Beijing is understandably apprehensive of an independence movement within Hong Kong, that apprehension should not result in suggestive actions inhibiting such a movement from taking shape. Such passive action is arguably illegal under Hong Kong law and illegitimate in terms of respecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. In spite of Beijing’s suggestive actions and what these actions may indicate of their stance, the government has made their position on Hong Kong clear. In reference to Hong Kong in-

dependence, the Chinese president maintained that “any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government…crosses a red line and is absolutely impermissible”. While Hong Kong does belong to China and the latter would like it to remain that way after 2047, China is not automatically granted a license to illegitimately intervene in the region’s private affairs. Beijing should rather continue to emphasize its position through the proper diplomatic channels, and be assertive of potential militaristic consequences if Hong Kong doesn’t comply. Ultimately, my position on the matter is not that Hong Kong should remain independent, but rather, it remains incumbent on the Hong Kong citizenry to decide their political status after 2047. Yes, Hong Kong’s fate is realistically sealed, but there exists a process that needs to be respected. The legal dispute arises from the incompatibility of the two systems: Chinese law would prohibit a secession, while Hong Kong law would permit it. Perhaps, if China is willing, there exists a compromise solution, in which Hong Kong would retain its status as a special administrative region indefinitely.


ronmental migrant crisis. The term “Environmental Migrants” refers to “persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, who move within their country of abroad”. In Bangladesh, tidal flooding and riverbank erosion caused by sea level rise are the leading causes of displacement, as 50 percent of the population living less than 5 meters above sea level. According to the UN IPCC’s report, “one-meter sea level rise in the south of the country will entail 17-20 percent loss of territory to the ocean, meaning that Bangladesh will lose up to 20 percent of its current landmass”.

Dhaka’s Environmental Migration Crisis By: Angela Feng

Climate change is rapidly reshaping city centers. Extreme weather patterns and disruptions in traditional climates have forever changed the dynamics of urban centers across the globe. Bangladesh, the world’s country most vulnerable to cyclones and sixth most vulnerable to floods, is on the frontlines of facing these new environmental challenges. Its capital city, Dhaka, is already hosting 14 million residents in less than 325 square kilometers of land, and will continue to grow as it receives more environmental migrants over the next decade. The city’s current policies and programs are ill equipped to face the new series of environmental and social pressures introduced by climate change. Immediate action must be taken at the national, municipal and local levels to resolve Dhaka’s urgent envi-

Environmental migrants largely settle into the informal economy, receive no legal protection from eviction, and lack access to any social services such as healthcare or education. Prolonged droughts, flooding and riverbank erosions also devastate agriculture, a pillar of the nation’s economy, and livelihoods for thousands. Many regions face significant yield losses and price reductions which cause mass rural to urban migration. As a result, at least 400,000 people migrant to Dhaka annually, the majority of which originating from coastal areas where rising sea levels, increase salinity, and extreme floods and cyclones have destroyed their homes. The majority of migrants settle in slums on the fringe of the city. According to the International Organization for Migration, 70 percent of Dhaka’s slum population have fled from an environmental shock. Environmental migrants largely settle into the informal economy, receive no legal protection from eviction, and lack access to any social services such as healthcare or education. Furthermore, they face slum conditions often without clean water or electricity. More environmental migrants are expected to share such conditions, as an estimated 1 of 7 persons in Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change 25

by 2050 and up to 18 million will have moved due to sea level rise. The environmental migration has been met with various responses. For instance, farmers have converted their salt-washed lands to raise shrimp after it is unfit to cultivate rice. Regions have also turned this climate change driven migration into an opportunity for development. Mongla, a port town on the south-central coast, welcomes environmental migrants. The emerging secondary city attracts environmental migrants with climate adaptive infrastructure such as seawalls and flood control gates as well as programmes such as factory and blue-collar employment opportunities and social services such as adorable housing, schools and hospitals. Such efforts have proven effective for diverting newcomers from Dhaka as Mongla’s population has grown 60 percent since 2014. The implementation of sustainable, climate change resistant practices into urban planning and policy formulation in secondary cities such as Mongla is a step in the right direction. However, Dhaka must take a more protective action in developing rights-based policies for environmental migrants and climate change adapted urban planning. No action to specifically accommodate the influx of environmental migrants have been taken at the national level. “Right now, the government’s vision is to have no vision,” reports Tasneem Siddiqui, the lead in the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit at the University of Dhaka. The two primary climate change adaptation initiatives include the 2005 National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) and the 2009 Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy an Action Plan (BCCSAP). Both documents emphasis agriculture adaptation in drought-prone regions or protection of coastal assets. Although NAPA uses its $100 million annual budget to fund projects like coastal reforestation, capacity building, flood shelters, and educational programs to train students about responses to climate change, none are related to environmental migrants. Only 1 of the 15 actions outlined in NAPA address the need for increased resilience in urban infrastructure. BCCSAP gives much needed attention to the improvement of urban drainage and urban waste systems, however, it makes no provisions

to address the eviction and displacement of environmental migrants from slums for large-scale infrastructure development programs. Additionally, the disconnect between policy formulation and local communities act as a barrier in advancing adaptation policies. National level directives such as the NAPA and BCCSAP do not trickle down to municipal governments or agencies due to lack of communication. Furthermore, wide gaps exist in policies arise from the lack of participatory research on the needs of urban environmental migrants. For instance, city-level plans focus on identifying vulnerabilities rather than developing concrete adaptation strategies. National-level plans prioritize the protection of agricultural productivity and coastal assets while misconceptualizing the adverse effects of climate change as concentrated in rural regions rather exploring its disproportionate impact on environmental migrants. Dhaka must undertake drastic policy and programme changes to withstand new environmental and social pressures. Concrete urban planning actions Dhaka can take include launching land acquisition and land set aside projects, or public “Kahs” land, to ensure long term resettlements sites can adequately house climate displaced persons and expand social services in order to meet migrants’ basic needs. Additionally, Dhaka can no longer treat planned relocation as a last resort and develop mainstream emergency and regular resettlement programmes to achieve long term, durable solutions for climate displaced peoples. All this ensures potential livelihood opportunities, land, secure housing and basic resources and protection from eviction for environmental migrants. This environmental migration crisis must be brought to the forefront of all climate change adaptation plans in Dhaka. There is much work to be done to invite the participation of environmental migrants in the decision-making processes of sustainable urban development to ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met. Only increased communication and strong political will can achieve coordinated, comprehensive action from local and national leaders to ensure plans translate into action to adequately relocate and empower environmental migrants.


Discrepancies In Defining ‘Urbanization’: Is Sri Lanka Really Rural?

Sri Lanka was ranked the fifth least urbanized. The ranking positions Sri Lanka with an urban to rural population ratio lower than Niger, St Lucia, and South Sudan.

Sri Lanka remains an anomaly within the rankings of global urbanized systems. The island has experienced rapid expansion over its nine provincial capitals between 1995-2017, with urban areas growing up to 9.6 percent per year-- a high expansion rate by global standards, with India, China, African and European states reporting lower quotas on annual spacial growth per year. Sri Lanka’s economy has also for shown growth, with its GDP per capita positioning at 3,910 USD. The expansion of urban areas is visible in the capital Colombo and congested cities of Galle, Trincomalee and Kandy. However, according to a study conducted by the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects in 2014 that examined urbanization levels amongst 233 countries,

Official World Bank statistics also echo Sri Lanka’s position on the urbanization scale reporting that only 18 percent of Sri Lankans live in urban classified districts. Most baffling, however, is that Sri Lanka’s urban to rural population ratio has been recorded in decline of urban regions over the past 50 years. According to the United Nations report, Sri Lanka reached its highest urbanization state in 1970 with 19.5 percent of people living in urban regions and has been declining ever since, with the lowest count of 15 percent recorded in 2010. Here lies the anomaly; as recognized by the United Nations, urbanization throughout the world has skyrocketed over the past fifty years with 50 percent of the world population living in an urban district. Sri Lanka has exhibited im-

By: Tanisha Amarakoon

Most baffling, however, is that Sri Lanka’s urban to rural population ratio has been recorded in decline of urban regions over the past 50 years.


mense spacial urban growth, yet 80 percent of the population is recorded as living in rural areas. Sri Lanka has demonstrated equal economic development with a GDP double of its South Asian neighbours - yet, its urban to rural population ratio falls far lower. To solve this puzzling discrepancy, the devil truly is in the details - how urbanization is defined in Sri Lanka. In a broad view, the two concepts of ‘urbanization’ and ‘Sri Lankan urbanization’ co-exist unknown to each other. Urban infrastructures continue to progress on the island, however, the official definition in Sri Lanka draws lines that reflect de-urbanization and exclude developing regions. Development statistics are produced for countries by governmental agencies, which are based on administrative definitions - under Sri Lankan standards, urbanization is defined by boundaries that mark off rural and urban areas and classify residents in one of two categories. This narrow definition of urbanization came in 1987 when the new local government level was created and excluded Pradeshiya Sabha, or ‘Town Council’ regions, such as Homagama, Beruwala and Weligama. The exclusion ignored the fact that Town Council regions were just as urbanized as Municipal Council and Urban Council areas, which fell under the urban umbrella. The change lead to the decrease of the country’s official urban percent from 21.5 in 1981 to 14.6 in 2001. Unfortunately, this definition excludes a key element in urban studies - peri-urban districts and ribbon development. These areas known as ‘rural’ are often found alongside the routes of transportation from major districts. A census on Population and Housing conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics in 2012 noted that many ribbon districts outside of the Municipal and Urban Councils have urban characteristics and population sizes even though they are classified as rural. The department acknowledges that the miscategorization leads to the underestimation of urbanization and difficulties in comparing Sri Lanka’s development with other countries accurately. Sumila Gulyani, the World Bank leader for Infrastructure and Sustainable Development, agreed with the disparity between Sri Lanka’s urban ranking and its urban reality, noting that the

island is indeed actually hovering at 50 percent of an urbanized population. She offers insight into the narrow definition, noting that Sri Lanka amongst other South Asian countries often under-state their urbanization levels on purpose in order to receive subsidies for rural regions. Although, drawing lines that are unreflective of population standards can have detrimental effects on decision making and infrastructure planning. For example, flood risk categorization is an integral part of regional planning in Sri Lanka during the Monsoon season. If categorization of at-risk districts was based on the official definition of urbanization, it would not only misrepresent populations, but the exclusion would impact the sustainability of these cities and hurt their already semi-declared urban status. In the greater picture however, it is important to recognize that the larger obstacle in urban studies is the absence of a universal definition-- it remains a contentious issue in comparative politics because each country then has the freedom to define and categorize urbanization independently. In a 2011 report by the World Urbanization Prospects it was found that 28 percent of states used an administrative definition to categorize urbanization, whereas others used a combination of definitions, characteristics and population density to draw boundaries. The freedom to categorize urbanization presents both the benefits of countries being able to observe and monitor urbanization relative to their location, but also the drawbacks of miscalculations and discrepancies. For Sri Lanka in particular, perhaps a re-directed focus on social characteristics such as minimum population and population density, along with physical and economic pillars such as plot area ratio and GDP, will result in statistics that reflect the true nature of its development. Further, this will ensure that Sri Lanka’s urbanization can be realistically compared and contrasted with other states, and that populations within the island are getting the categorization that fits the needs of their social and economic environments.



The Yellow Vest Movement: A Consequence of the Urban-Rural Divide in France By: Damian McCracken (Royal Military College of Canada)

The streets of Paris could hardly contain the angry riot that organized to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s new policies in late 2018. The movement called “gilets jaunes”, meaning “Yellow Vests,” has brought a deep cultural divide in not only France, but the entire Western world, into the limelight. At its heart lies an urban-rural divide of a fully urbanized France that has strengthened the wealthy in big cities while doing little to benefit the rural working class. As gilets jaunes and police clash, and Macron scrambles to keep the country together, other

urbanized countries in the West should wonder: are we next? The crisis was originally sparked by Macron’s plans to fight climate change. Among the leaders of western countries, Macron ranks as one of the most vocal advocates for combating climate change, with his strong stance evident in his interactions with Donald Trump over the Paris Climate Accords and in his hosting of a December 2017 climate summit in Paris.Macron has been particularly focused on the issue of carbon pollution when putting his policy together, and thus planned to raise the price of fossil fuels in France. The desired result would be a nationwide shift toward renewable resources. As noble as his aim was, Macron and the rest of his circle in Paris may have failed to recognize the reaction that this action would incur from the rural working class – or perhaps they simply underestimated it. Researchers agree that France’s urbanization is complete; the UN measures 80 percent of the population to be living in an urban area. However, neither the rural population nor its lifestyle have disappeared, and one of the major issues


that Macron’s policy presents is that it ignores a pillar of French rural life – reliance on cars for transport. In all of Europe, no country has more diesel cars than France. While the urban centres have an abundance of public transport, rural and peri-urban zones have very little. Even France’s railway network, renowned for being one of the most extensive in the world, heavily favours the major cities in its design. The network appears to be a circuit with fast linkages between the urban centres that largely skips over rural areas. A commute for someone without a car takes hours.

The most general complaint made against Macron by the rural population is that he is a “president for the rich,” serving an elite group that does not understand the lifestyle of the poorer rural population. The reliance of rural residents on cars for transport and work has made the tax hike on diesel fuel financially straining. The fuel tax adds insult to injury as heating prices and the tax on pensions have already been increased. Moreover, the Macron government has also committed to banning the sale of gasoline-driven cars by the year 2040 – a move foreshadowed by Paris’ ban on older models of diesel-driven cars around the time of the protest’s beginning. The most general complaint made against Macron by the rural population is that he is a “president for the rich,” serving an elite group that does not understand the lifestyle of the poorer rural population, nor care about the effects that his planet-saving policies will have on them. The rural population of France is more financially vulnerable than its urban counterpart due to the uneven economic growth France has experienced in the last few decades. The growth has been slow but steady, yet most of it is experienced in the big cities while the rural areas’ growth has nearly stagnated. A lack of resources being invested in these areas has led to “postindustrial despair” as the regions wonder about

their future prospects. The disparity in lifestyle, population, economic standing, and political favour between urban and rural France set the stage for a massive backlash. All that was necessary was a trigger, and Macron’s carbon tax served that purpose. In November and December of 2018, a group of more than 280,000 largely rural protesters reached the streets of Paris donning the high-visibility vests that have given the movement its name. Streets were blocked, monuments vandalized, and Macron was faced with a riot that soon caught the attention of news outlets worldwide. A significant detail that puts the blame for this anger on the urban-rural divide is that the members of gilets jaunes are ideologically diverse. The group calls for policies typical of the left – such increases in social spending, and the right – like constitutional limits on taxation. Of supporters of significant far-left and right parties, 90 percent view the gilets jaunes positively. Yet as common as the anger towards elites may be, the gilets jaunes emblem is rarely seen in cities. The shared anger among France’s rural residents has united people of vastly different views. Quelling the anger of the protesters will take some imagination from Macron if he also hopes to preserve his carbon tax plan, which he has steadfastly defended so far. The Yellow Vests should serve as a warning to other urbanized countries in the West, as decades of social fracture between urban and rural regions is not unique to France. Fareed Zakaria points to the USA, UK, Italy, and France as all being subject to this new divide, and warns that the situation is poised to get worse. Canada, having a liberal government that also supports a carbon tax, might have to contend with a severe rural backlash in the future. France may only be the first Western power to openly wrestle with the consequences of its urbanization and the anger of a rural population that believes it has been left behind.


It’s Not Easy Building Green: Solving Macedonia’s Air Pollution Crisis By: Monique Sereneo In the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health at World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters on November 2018, policymakers proposed the Geneva Action Agenda. Its aim: reduce the number of deaths resulting from air pollution by 2030. In the Republic of North Macedonia, people could subsequently breathe a collective sigh of relief. That is, a breath laced with toxic PM10 and PM2.5 air particles. Evidently, breathing safely is a luxury only afforded to nations not currently ranked by the European Environment Agency as Europe’s most polluted country. As pressure increases to meet pollution standards, Eastern European and Balkan countries such as Macedonia are faced with the challenge of reducing pollution amid an economy and infrastructure built on coal. According to the WHO, air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths annually. With 2,574 of these deaths concentrated in Macedonia, it is unsurprising that its cities rank among the most polluted in the World Health Organization Ambient Pollution Database. Its northwestern city of Tetovo has a pollution index of 97.6 percent while the capital of Skopje measures at 83.5 percent. The pollutants in this index include PM10 and PM2.5 - particles responsible for hazy air and respiratory illnesses, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. With PM2.5 concentrations in Tetovo and Skopje respectively 8.1 and 4.5 times higher than the recommended level of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, the risk of premature death increases. As far as air pollution in Macedonia goes, its enablers are built into the country’s economy and geography. The State Statistical Office reported that combustion processes contribute to 77 percent of air pollutants, followed by transportation at 14 percent and production process-

es at 6.5 percent. According to Skopje’s mayor, Petre Shilegov, coal-heating is used by over 60,000 households in the city. In winter months, pollution climaxes as both households and factories rely on coal-fired stoves and stations. Exacerbating the issue is Macedonia’s mountains which trap polluted air in the densely-populated valleys below.

Generalizations are inevitable when proposing global solutions, but the individual reality of countries is often more complicated. Furthermore, coal fuels the country’s two thermal power plants which are jointly responsible for a total of 800 MW installed capacity. Adjusting for size, Macedonia’s carbon emissions are three times the European Union average. So critical is the situation that current WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, describes air pollution as the “new tobacco”. The difference being that no legal treaty currently exists to control air pollution. It’s not to say that Macedonia is without solutions. Conferences such as the WHO’s in November release output that conglomerates suggestions and commitments by various countries, international institutions, private sector companies, and NGOs. Additionally, these meetings are often used to launch campaigns such as #BreatheLife2030 by the WHO, UN Environment, and Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). However, the issue lies in the inability for such campaigns or agendas to suggest little more than surface-level solutions. Among the solutions is the upgrade or replacement of high-emitting coal power plants in Europe, seven of which are in the Balkans. While logical, the reality is that many countries in the region rely heavily on cheap coal reserves to fuel their economies. Generalizations are inevitable when proposing global solutions, but the individual reality of countries is often more complicated. Such is evident in countries across Europe. Where Macedonia is home to two of the most-polluted cities, Poland contains 33 of Europe’s most polluted towns. The country’s energy


sector is built on coal, with over 90,000 Poles employed in the industry. It’s a matter of politics as well. Attempting to dissuade the use of Russian gas, coal usage is the patriotic alternative. Independence is a goal also resonating with Macedonia and other Balkan governments. Upon completion, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will send gas towards Italy, through Azerbaijan, northern Greece, and southern Albania. Should the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline get approved, gas would be sent along the Adriatic. The payoff is the Balkans region becoming more energy dependent, which some governments want to avoid. Solutions targeting both the city and household level face their own set of issues. The Geneva Action Agenda proposes redesigning cities to burn fewer fossil fuels. Local governments are called to implement greener and more efficient transport solutions while the use of open burning and fuel burning for cooking and heating is discouraged. However, as the 6th poorest European country with nearly one-third of its citizens below the poverty line, these are solutions that Macedonia struggles to afford. Many residents rely on wood or coal burning for heating simply because they cannot afford to move to cleaner alternatives. While subsidy programs exist, they are limited. Rebuilding infrastructure in cities requires large investments that can seem excessive to Macedonia’s government. It has been argued that eventually, these investments would pay-off. According to the Chronic Coal Pollution report, health issues stemming from coal-powered plants result in lost productivity and health costs totaling $13 million USD. As the EU tightens its emissions-trading scheme, continuing to use high-emitting power sources will become unaffordable. While switching to alternative energy options will soon become cheaper compared to high-polluting options, the short-term effects are not necessarily palatable. Anticipating the jobs lost should the coal industry decline and taxes from the inevitable emissions of citizens who cannot afford alternatives, this is a decision that countries can be reluctant to take. Ultimately, Macedonia’s air pollution crisis demonstrates the problem with setting lofty goals without considering individual economies.

This is not to say that wanting to reduce the number of deaths from air pollution by 2030 is unreasonable. However, there is little use in impossibly high standards and a system that punishes countries without considering their needs. The ability to follow seemingly simple yet broad instructions such as to build more sustainable cities or develop more green technology is dependent on a country’s level of development. This current “one size fits all” approach to global agendas does not necessitate a strong action plan. Moving forward, global agendas will need support being downscaled on a national and local level, considering countries’ nuances. There are some early successes: a $13.5 million USD project was recently approved by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to upgrade Skopje’s diesel buses to low-emission ones. Designing affordable, scalable, and sustainable solutions to fully target countries such as Macedonia will take time and resources. Considering the alternative however, this is worth the effort.


middle east &


China Makes its Mark: Investments in Eastern Africa By: Serene Nekoui


Previously suffering from a lack of cross-border railway networks that could critically improve intraregional trade and boost the connectivity between regions, the East African Community (EAC) Partner States seek to jointly revamp the region’s railways to decrease transport through the rejuvenation of the East African Railway Master Plan. The Partner States, consisting of Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, and Burundi, have established a plan to further the economic development of Eastern Africa by increasing efficiency and speed, as well as lowering costs of cargo transportation between ports on the Indian Ocean and the surrounding area. In Africa’s most eastern part of the continent, an electric railway runs through arid deserts and green highlands. Reaching an estimated 750 kilometres in length, the railway connects Ethiopia to the Red Sea coast in Djibouti. Partly funded and built by Chinese companies, African infrastructure investments are initiated to attain economic development through greater transport connectivity. African leaders are taking out massive concessional loans from Chinese investors to fulfill expensive projects like the East African Railway Masterplan. Dubbed the “Madaraka Express”, the $4 billion railway investment is a mega project that reflects China’s “new deal for Africa”, as Chinese companies play a significant role in China’s construction service sector. The project of the Mombasa- Nairobi line was funded 90 percent by a loan from the Exim Bank of China, while the Kenyan government funded 10 percent. In addition, the Addis-Djibouti line was also funded by a loan from the Exim Bank of China, and 85 percent of the Ethiopian portion and 70 percent of the Djibouti portion were constructed by Chinese companies such as the China Railway Construction Corporation and the China Railway Group. Through the help of Chinese investors, East Africa is more accessible than ever. The Chinese-built high-speed railways demonstrate whole industry chain export, as project designs, equipment, construction, financing, supervision, operation, and maintenance are monopolized by Chinese companies, allowing Chinese players to promote Chinese products, services, real estate and infrastructure development, management, and international trade while expanding their

scope of economic projects within the region. According to an article published in Brookings by Yun Sun, the railway project adopts the so-called Chinese standards. The railway lines that connect Mombasa and Nairobi, as well as Addis and Djibouti will adopt a standard gauge, gradually replacing the narrow gauge system that was implemented during European colonialism. These standards will advance train carriages and related equipment, essentially promoting the export of products and services across the full industry chain. While the building of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway totalled to $3.8 billion, it accounts for nearly a quarter of Ethiopia’s 2016 governmental budget, consisting of $12.57 billion. China regards the railways as an opportunity for investment with the potential to develop an export market for their steel and construction industries. Xiaochen Su’s article published in The Diplomat outlines that repaying the debt will have an adverse effect on Eastern African governments in the coming decades, and suggests an inability to undertake and implement other infrastructural projects with such a government budget and high loans. According to research conducted by the Centre for Global Development, Djibouti is highly vulnerable to debt distress from these loans, as IMF figures demonstrate its public external debt grew from 50 percent to 85 percent of its GDP in two years. During her time as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton advised against China’s “new colonialism”. Director of the John Hopkins China Africa Research Institute Deborah Bräutigam questions whether African borrowers can generate enough economic activity through infrastructural and trade projects to repay their loans. To compensate China for infrastructure construction, African states are likely to resort to payments-in-kind, making the connection to elements of colonialism. Su draws upon the historical precedent of European colonists, where European infrastructure was produced within a century to in theory promote the local economy, but fundamentally to extract natural resources. Today, there is no doubt that Chinese steel and construction industries also desire the natural resources European colonists sought to extract. Alongside building infrastructure, Chinese


groups have invested in local mines and processing facilities, which will be shipped as part of the cargo by the new railways and roads constructed in Eastern Africa. Similarly, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railways connect inland regions with mineral deposits to ports on the Indian Ocean. The infrastructural developments of economic expansion through improved transport connectivity projects will benefit China by cost and time efficient transportation of African natural resources to the Chinese economy. Xiaochen Su proposes that when compared to the costs of non-repaid loans, such benefits may be less than anything European colonists had obtained in their ventures. Furthermore, while the financial viability of providing loans to African states is uncertain, the public undervalues the potential political leverage the Chinese government will profit by holding billions of dollars in sovereign debt across the globe. In ensuring these debts are paid in either political agreements or economic concession, China may prepare a new diplomatic relationship with other states, one in which China will reap the benefits from future economic developments in foreign countries. As China invests enthusiastically in East

African infrastructure and development, the West is not so keen to follow. The USA, alongside other Western countries, while financing railways and other infrastructure projects across Africa are hesitant to match China’s large infrastructure investments due to the fear that African countries are unable to keep up maintenance. Andre Grantham, editor at Railways Gazette International, states that as long as there are funds and political will, new East African railway projects should be feasible with no expected technical obstacles. The Mombasa-Nairobi and Addis-Djibouti railways are a “win-win� development tool for both China and East African countries. The Pew Research Center outlines that almost two-thirds of Tanzanians view China positively, and Chinese investors believe that ports and economic zones are a strong development tool. In addition, China is confident the loans will not create a repayment issue or cause problems in Eastern African countries. While Chinese investors will benefit through their investments and contracts, African governments will benefit through easy, faster, and cheaper transportation, generated jobs and revenue, new infrastructure, and stimulated economic projects.


Manshiyat Naser: One Person’s Garbage is Another’s Paycheck By: Sinead O’Hara

One of the world’s largest garbage cities, called Manshiyat Naser in Egypt, sounds straight off the page of the newest dystopian book. A garbage city occurs when a slum settlement has large amounts of garbage because it is a central part of their economy. Mountains of trash are integral to the structure of the city. These features are most of the city’s landscape and economy – an urban trend that is increasing rapidly. Manshiyat Naser is one of the world’s oldest and most esteemed garbage cities. People in the city have been sorting and collecting Cairo’s garbage since the 1970s, with a staggering 80 percent recycling rate. Through the rapid expansion of cities and mass overconsumption, places like Manshiyat Naser are becoming increasingly necessary. It leaves one to question; is Manshiyat Naser ahead of its time as a model of urbanity, or are such garbage cities a warning sign? As urbanization steadfastly continues, urban sprawl is inevitable. The number and size of slums settlements are increasing, and such settlements are increasingly becoming places which provide crucial labour and services to the main city centres. The power dynamic is inherently unequal, as an exploitative approach is usually taken towards slums. Manshiyat Naser is a prime example of this dynamic, which is a harrowing reflection of our global power relations between the Global North and the Global South, which is an unequal ecological exchange. This ecological exchange balance refers to the unequal shifting of the environmental costs and burdens by Western industrialized countries (the Global North) to the Global South. A research project by graduate student Cassandra Kuyvenhoven at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON shows where our own garbage is

ending up. She tracked materials placed into the blue bins such as recyclable plastic, Styrofoam, food and beverage containers, and rigid packaging at Queen’s and found that recyclables went from the university campus to Toronto, trucked to Montreal, where it was then shipped to a Chinese landfill. Electronics equipment from Queen’s university also ended up in landfills in India and Mexico. The waste-trade is an established market which everyone is seemingly participating in making it of the utmost importance to evaluate this industry. As any industry, the waste-trade contributes to the global economy and provides a livelihood to a substantial amount of people. Much of this labour is informal and taking place in slums. It is said that, despite the poverty, slums are often extremely innovative places which can actually pull people out of poverty. Slums are taking serious issues, such as mass amounts of garbage, and providing a direct solution that can employ an entire area. The extraordinary entrepreneurship within slums is a controversial topic, with some hailing this ‘slum entrepreneurship’ and others providing their sympathies for those who are forced into such resourcefulness out of dire necessity. Some individuals view losing the spirit of “slum entrepreneurship” as a great loss, since much great ingenuity comes from the combination of hard work, resourcefulness, and necessity that defines such entrepreneurship in slums. Others feel that it is perverse to idealize such impoverished circumstances. Manshiyat Naser exemplifies an important part of this idea through the impressive work of slum dwellers. The city has an intriguing culture. It is well known for its Cave Monastery, which is a Coptic church inside a carved-out cave and can hold up to 20,000 people. Manshiyat Naser is also home to the Coptic Christians, a religious minority in Egypt. When they were pushed out of the city in the 1940s, they settled in Manshiyat Naser. It is a very close-knit community, as most people are Coptic Christians who work in the waste management business. The people of Manshiyat Naser are called ‘Zaballeen’ which is Arabic for “garbage people”. The Zaballeen are generations of families who remain in the business of waste management. For decades, the Cairo’s residents have paid the Zaballeen to col-


lect, sort, and recycle their garbage. The city’s structure is centered around garbage, as it is a key sector for the economy and fills their streets correspondingly. The trash-filled streets may seem chaotic to a bystander, but they are part of a meticulously organized waste management system. It is estimated that the Zaballeen collect more than 4,000 tons of garbage daily to bring back to Manshiyat Naser. It is not a landfill, but is constantly being sorted and recycled until only food waste is left. While Western cities average at 30 percent recycling rates, the Zaballeen claim an 80 percent recycling rate. Clearly, the Zaballeen are highly trained waste managers that the Western world could learn from. Not only are they helping the environment, but they are also doing well for themselves. Some of the Zaballeen have gained impressive financial success; men sporting suits with designer accessories can be spotted managing machinery throughout the city. There are many recycling schools throughout the city that are training the young people of Manshiyat Naser. Some of these individuals even gain university degrees in related fields to further improve their systems.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Zaballeen is impressive, but the struggles they face are mountainous. Therefore, an intersectional approach is required to understand the systemic oppression of their community. The religious marginalization and dangers in their profession, combined with unequal power in the global and local sphere, all contribute to a system of unequal ecological exchange. The waste management system by the Zaballeen is an especially efficient way to increase recycling in cities while employing around 60,000 people, but it also is a symptom of a problem at the root of the global economy. Resolving the consequences of overconsumption is essential, as is getting people in the Global South out of poverty. However, both of these solutions ignore the larger systemic problems – like applying a gauze to a gunshot wound. Cities such as Manshiyat Naser are a result of large discrimination and a buy-one-get-one economy. The question we must ask ourselves is not should things change but rather, if things do not change, is this the inevitable future of urban society?


1,500,000: # of people in Rio living in Favelas 3,000,000: # of people who have fled Venezuela since 2015 $2,500,000,000: Cost per mile of the Second Avenue subway in New York 1,500,000: # of dockless bikes on the streets of Shanghai by late 2017 47: % of Toronto households spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent 52: # of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Beijing, China. 400,000: # of people who migrate to Dhaka, Bangladesh annually 21: % of criminal arrests in China that occur in Xinjiang. 111 million tons of plastics estimated to be displaced by 2030 80: % of France’s population living in an urban area 2047: Year that the “one country, two systems” arrangement for Hong Kong and China is set to expire. 80: % of waste recycled by the Zaballeen in a given year 3,910: Sri Lanka’s per capita GDP in USD in 2016 $3,800,000,000: Cost of building the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia

Profile for The Observer

The Observer XV.III: Urbanism and the Changing Structure of Cities  

The Observer XV.III: Urbanism and the Changing Structure of Cities  

Profile for queensio