Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Price of Urbanization

G’day mates!

I was wondering… what do you define development as? What does it look like to you?

For a long time, I considered it to be eliminating poverty. Eliminating poverty by making other nations more American. More Western. Recently, in the past year or so, I have come to realize that this is not the case. In fact… that is totally, completely, 100% wrong. Impossible, and definitely not a good thing. we definitely do not need more Canadas up in here. 

Countries are different because they have to be. For my grade 12 English essay, I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbra Kingsolver. It is about a Baptist Minister and his family travelling to the Congo to “save” the Congolese people. “Mr. High and Mighty Minister”, thinks he knows everything, boastfully plants his Southern American garden, like he would back home, expecting great yields. You know, because he knows the right way to do it (read in sarcastic tone). To his surprise, his garden was washed away. Nothing grew. No shit Sherlock.

It is not just languages that do not translate well country to country. Methods and lifestyles do not either. It is because of the vast differences in environment, culture, and economy.
One of my go-to examples is shelters. In some places, you do not need windows because it is so hot. They would prevent air-flow. Or, something I just learned recently, in Northern Ghana, there are many mud-huts (more traditional style dwellings), whereas in Kumasi, the homes are concrete with metal roofs. It is much hotter in the North, and using metal sheeting for a roof would probably cook the people inside.

Why is it we think the way we live is the right and only way? Arrogance and ignorance rolled into one, eh? That is why travel is so important:
“Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way” - Ralph Crawshaw

The other day, I was talking with a man named Eric. We spoke about my first impressions of Ghana, and differences with Canada. We got onto the topic of urbanization, and its effect on culture. He used Accra as an example, explaining how people there will not even look up at you, whereas everywhere else in Ghana, there is still that hospitable and welcoming nature. As Accra becomes more urban, dare I say it, more Western, the Ghanaian culture begins to disappear. Accra will become more and more like walking the streets of Toronto, with everyone wearing blinders.

I’ll make another snap judgement here: Urban=Business=Workaholics=Less Human Interaction
And less human interaction means culture begins to fade away.

Whether or not this is true, I think it is interesting to think about. I would love to hear any thoughts out there.

So how do I define development now? Well, I’d be lying if I said I have a refined and simple definition. I’ll leave you with this:

Development is building on what already exists. It is focusing and supporting what has potential to be beneficial and fading out what is detrimental. Development is complex. It is not aid, money, buildings or any other kind of infrastructure. It is methods, it is organization, it is concepts. Development is empowering people.

Later days,


  1. Daniela! we should totally chat!
    I've been thinking/struggling/pondering a lto about what you said about Accra
    here, i'm barely noticed, which is very different than the north! also thinking about what does development look like? should the whole country look like Accra (I'm hoping.. no!!!)
    let's do a chat at some time soon :)

  2. Hey Daniela,

    I think there is some truth to the thought that urban leads to less human interaction, but I think Urban could lead to more human interaction as well. When it comes to urban, I think of two major opposites: rural, and suburban. Rural definitely has a lot of human interaction. In rural communities, again with the generalizations, people know each other, and can relate to each other, because diversity is less, people are more traditional, and have less differences between them. I think that in most suburban communities, in Canada at least, the degree of human interaction is really low. People are bottled in their own homes, and rarely interact with their neighbors, living a 9-5 job going day to day with blinders on. I think though that in cities that are designed well, you will have smaller communities within the larger city. Those nodes, tied together by diversity, the differences in cultures of those in the community, can create a sense of human interaction that might be even stronger than those in rural communities. This is because they are so close together, that they are forced to live together symbiotically, there is no choice. Factoring that into the design of a city is a crucial part of the development of culturally sustainable communities I think.

    I didn't spend a lot of time in Accra, but I think the problem is that people don't get a chance to see the underlying relationships that tie a city together, but rather see the image of cold lonely cities, and that is what people now associate with cities like Toronto, and therefore ultimately a developing/developed city like Accra.

    Sorry for the huge response. What do you think about that thought?

  3. Hey Daniela,
    I'm loving your blog! Keep it up sista.
    This is an interesting question. I wonder what other assumptions you're bringing into your definition of urbanization? Also, I don't think we can say urbanization has the same effect on everyone (different classes, backgrounds, education levels, etc. will experience it differently). Maybe we need to break it down? Anyway... interesting question.
    And it all comes down to, as you pointed out, the question of "what is development?" Do you have an answer to that?