Cities in Developing Countries

5.4 Polycentric Type

Polycentric cities are found in many Asian and Latin American countries. Prototypic blueprints are US cities like Los Angeles (CA) and Houston (TX). They evolved into an amorphous urban tundra interspersed with clusters of high-rise developments and districts, respectively.

The UN-Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 states that many Southeast Asian and Latin American cities are multi-centred and amorphous ... because they have been built almost from the beginning around motorized transport rather than walking. This is, however, a broad generalization. (14) It is, for example, doubtful whether the car has significantly influenced the development of Indian cities (except Delhi where approximately 17 % of the nation's private cars are registered) so far. As opposed to developed countries, especially the USA, India's settlement system is not yet focused on automobile use. This fact is illustrated by car ownership figures: Currently, India has a rate of 12 cars per 1,000 people compared with 675 per 1,000 in the US. Even in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants there are only 14 cars per 1,000 people. (15) Admittedly, given the current political fashion of car-oriented development Indian cities are at a crossroads in this regard.

Although many of today's land use patterns essentially resulted from the coincidence of urban economic take-off with the advent of (mass) motorization, apparently identical phenomenons of sprawl in developed and developing countries do not necessarily reflect an identical combination of fueling factors. Urban sprawl in post-industrial nations is primarily a matter of preferences while in Third World countries it is much more a matter of necessity. Their sprawl and multinucleated settlement patterns are reflecting the fact that people are predominantly moving on foot, by bike or by chronically insufficient means of local public transport. They are dependent on an immediate proximity to places of work. Given the obsolete infrastructure of old core cities and their fragmented seizin modern large-scale commercial activities as well as emerging middle classes (who are employed by such enterprises) tend to locate on greenfield sites, thus motivating people belonging to the informal sector to settle nearby. (16)

The amorphous, polycentric nature also reflects lax or lacking planning controls and the absence of a coherent and reliable system of spatial and regional planning, respectively. To put it in other words: since local authorities are either inapt or reluctant to designate areas of use properly and / or fail to match the needs of the population, it's up to the private sector to spatially organize the urban environment. This process mirrors basic principles of functional differentiation and social segregation. What results is a patchwork of different land use areas and socio-economic spheres characterized by various degrees of economic and social interaction.

5.5 Blended Type

Most cities are a product of different eras, and thus represent a blend of urban philosophies, architectural styles and planning concepts. (17) The polycentric city as described in the previous chapter gives only a simplistic picture of various and complex realities.

Polycentric cities in regions whose urban system dates back a long time tend to be less amorphous than more recent counterparts. In Delhi, for instance, the Mughal city – Shahjahanabad – is a highly distinct part of the metropolis. And, Lutyen's New Delhi is certainly not amorphous. However, even such large and clearly defined areas are, metaphorically speaking, drowning in a sprawling built-up environment. It looks like an irony that the duality of Old and New Delhi marks the advent of the truly polycentric city on the Indian subcontinent.

Jakarta (Indonesia) represents another example of a blended city. The colonial settlements from Dutch Old Batavia, the lndies municipalities of Meester Cornelis and Weltevreden and the new town of Kebayoran Baru together formed the basis for more recent development. However, due to rapid population growth and a tremendous expansion of the urbanized area, the array of historic settlements now merely makes up about 5 % of the metropolitan area.


(14) In oder to avoid a misinterpretation it has to be said that motorized transport does not exclusively means car-based traffic.

(15) DevelopedNation.Org: India Vision 2020.

(16) Again, this fact resembles the evolution of sprawl in western countries and the US in particular. Actually the situation is different. Washington not only supported suburban expansion, but financed it to a high extent. Federal tax codes put older cities at a disadvantage and accelerated the dispersion of economic activities to peripheral locations. Moreover, highway subsidies and reimbursements for water-line and sewer construction have fueled decentralization. Federal housing programs geared towards supporting the ideal of the single-family home explicitly intended to foster deconcentration.

(17) Kolkata (India), for instance, called City of Palaces, boasts a blend of architectural styles comprising Bengali, Eka-Ratna, Palladian, neo-Gothic, Islamic and neo-Mughal, art nouveau, art deco, baroque, neo-renaissance, romantic, and even Bauhaus.