Cities are social artifacts and stand apart from the countryside, in terms of the higher degree of its acceptance of foreign and cross-cultural influences. It is a melting pot of people with diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. Seen in this light, urbanization is a socio-cultural process of transformation of folk, peasant, or feudal village societies.
India has a continuous history of urbanization since 600 BC. Over this period, three major socio-cultural processes have shaped the character of her urban societies. These are Aryanization, Persianization, and Westernization.
The Aryan phase of urbanization generated three types of cities:
- a) the capital cities, where the secular power of the kshatriyas was dominant;
- b) the commercial cities dominated by the vaishyas; and
- c) the sacred cities, which, for a time, were dominated by Buddhists and Jains, who were kshatriyas, and later by brahmins.
With the advent of the Muslim rules from the 10th century AD, the urban centers in India acquired an entirely new social and cultural character. The city became Islamic; Persian and later Urdu was the official language of the state and Persian culture dominated the behavior of the urban elite.
The impact of 150 years of British rule in India, that is, Westernization, is clearly visible in various aspects of city life today – in administration, in education, and in the language of social interaction of the city people and their dress and mannerisms. Urbanism is clearly identified with westernisation.
Urbanization as a Political – Administrative Process
The administrative and political developments have played an important role in urbanization in the past and they continue to be relevant today. From about the 5th century BC to the 18th century AD, urban centers in India emerged, declined, or even vanished with the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. Patliputra, Delhi, Madurai, and Golconda are all examples of cities that flourished, decayed, and sometimes revived in response to changes in the political scene. The administrative or political factor often acts as an initial stimulus for urban growth; which is then further advanced by the growth of commercial and industrial activities.
Urbanization as an Economic Process
Urbanization in modern times is essentially an economic process. Today, the city is a focal point of productive activities. It exists and grows on the strength of the economic activities existing within itself. It is the level and nature of economic activity in the city that generates growth and, therefore, further urbanization.
Urbanization as a Geographical Process
The proportion of a country’s total population living in urban areas has generally been considered as a measure of the level of urbanization. Population growth in urban areas is partly a function of natural increase in population and partly the result of migration from rural areas and smaller towns. An increase in the level of urbanization is possible only through migration of people from rural to urban areas. Hence, migration or change of location of residence of people is a basic mechanism of urbanization. This is essentially a geographical process, in the sense that it involves the movement of people from one place to another.
There are three major types of spatial moments of people relevant to the urbanization process. These are
- a) the migration of people from rural villages to towns and cities leading to macro-urbanization
- b) the migration of people from smaller towns and cities to larger cities and capitals leading to metropolisation.
It is essentially a product of the centralization of administrative, political and economic forces in the country at the national and state capitals. It is also a product of intense interaction between cities and the integration of the national economy and urban centers into a viable independent system.
c) The spatial overflow of the metropolitan population into the peripheral urban feigned villages leading to a process of sub-urbanization. It is, essentially, an outgrowth of metropolization and here there is a reverse flow of people from the city to the countryside.