Urbanization is a big, somewhat confusing word we’ve seen thrown around in the news in recent years. This article will simplify that term and the reality of urbanization and migration for you with a small-scale example.
In recent decades, urbanization and migration have been hot topics in politics, newspapers, the classroom, etc. Driven by economic opportunities, education, and lifestyle changes, the number of people moving to big cities has only continued to increase over the years.
According to the United Nations, this trend will only keep growing as the global urban population will reach 68% by 2050. This level of movement can both positively and negatively impact society and the environment. Whether there is a good or bad outcome depends on how the situation is managed. On the positive side, urbanization can bring economic growth, cultural diversity, access to education, etc. But on the negative side, it can lead to social inequality, pollution, and resource insufficiency. These issues are especially prevalent in developing countries, where rapid urbanization typically ensues with little planning or regulation.
While it might be hard to understand how urbanization and globalization have been changing communities halfway across the world, there are a few examples of this closer to home. One that I have personally experienced is that of Asheville, North Carolina.
While moving to a larger city is a common path for some to try to access more job opportunities, in Asheville, North Carolina, many upper-middle-class white families decided to move to this pretty nature town to raise families in a change of scenery or retire. In 2017, my parents decided they were tired of Minnesota winters and moved our family to Asheville. They soon discovered they were far from the only ones with this idea.
As of 2023, the number of people moving to Asheville, North Carolina, has skyrocketed. The reason for moving appeared to vary from person to person. Many transplants were either young adults with a job/school opportunity in the area, or they are parents who decided to uproot their families and retire early in Asheville.
No matter the reason for moving, the dramatic increase of people in the area has created a plethora of adverse effects. Most transplants build private communities or large houses, worsening social inequality and increasing gentrification. Some reasons people have stated for moving to Asheville are lower taxes, better weather, private school, etc. No matter the reason, the influx of people created a cycle for which the town was unprepared.
Some of the most significant issues the community in Asheville now faces are rising housing costs, traffic, loss of community identity, a strain on resources, and an overall negative environmental impact. The increased migration has made it difficult for born and raised Ashevillians to find somewhere to live, exacerbating the preexisting problem of homelessness.
The stream of so many new people has overwhelmed the existing infrastructure that was initially built for small-town life, creating more traffic on roads and raising utility costs. By my last year in high school, driving ten miles to school took me between fifteen minutes to two hours, depending on the time of day, weather, day of the week, etc. And oftentimes, I had to take back roads. On these roads, I saw how the city was not built for that many cars because the traffic lights were not engineered to last long enough, and the streets were too narrow.
Then in regard to utilities, the local electrical plant regularly had outages that would last a few hours without direct explanation, even though they repeatedly hinted that this probably had to do with an overloaded network.
While there are many negative effects to such an influx of people coming to Asheville, NC, there are a couple of positives that have come along with all these new people. One of the largest benefits for the community is a growing business and economic sector, as well as increasing tourism and the money that comes along with both. As many upper-middle-class individuals come to Asheville, they bring along their jobs and sometimes entire companies, creating new skilled jobs in the area.
The pros and cons faced by the community are not unique to Asheville. Many other cities and towns worldwide have struggled to manage the influx of new residents and the resulting strains on infrastructure, housing, and resources. While many groups try to hide the bad by only publicizing the increase in business, jobs, or economy, it is important to see the whole picture. Addressing this increase in globalization requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving local government, community organizations, and residents.
Edited by: Liz Coffman
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