By Aparna Ravikumar
Over four hundred million people in India live in cities today. In spite of this, there is a lot of confusion about what a city really is. Cities are often seen as overgrown villages, or a group of villages at best. Cities are also seen as having better housing and better infrastructure than villages, and in general better developed. Cities are also seen as places where most of the population is not directly dependent on agriculture as a means of livelihood, unlike in villages. But is that all that separates cities from villages?
Beyond size and development, cities are different from villages in at least seven distinct ways.
First, a city resident belongs to an imagined community. Bangalore residents will think of themselves as a community of Bangaloreans or Bengalurinavaru, for example, but no one knows every Bangalorean personally. A traditional community is one where you actually know everyone personally is in sharp contrast to the community-based life of a village where pretty much every family knows the other personally. Therefore city residents end up becoming a part of an imagined community instead of a conventional one.
Second, the people and places of a city are alien to a city dweller. The large size of the city and the imagined community force the sense of anonymity into city life. In a village however, the community based life and smaller size of the village inject a sense of familiarity in the villager’s life.
Third, cities function more on rules than on norms. For example, the density of traffic in a city needs a rule that people should only drive on the left side of the road and in their lanes. In contrast, enforcing lane driving seems silly if done in a village. Given the large size of cities, you need clear rules that are documented that people need to know in order to maintain order. You also need clear rules to allow any defaulter to be punished. Villages instead run on largely on norms that are rarely written down and are enforced by society.
Fourth, cities need a lot more planning than villages. Cities provide more amenities to larger groups of people, where in villages a lot of the basic amenities are self-supplied by residents. For example, villages could use household wells for their domestic water use, but cities need a public water supply.
Fifth, the city is also from the village in the specialisation of the workforce. Labour division in a city assigns specific tasks to each member of the work force. An average farmer of a village, in contrast, does not hire workers to feed his cattle and plough his fields – he carries out both the tasks and more.
Higher division of the labour in cities leads to the sixth difference, which is that cities have a higher specialization in their work force. After a medical degree, for example, medical practitioners study highly specific courses for degrees in specialization and super-specialization. But in a village, an agricultural worker is employed to perform various agricultural activities – sowing of seeds, ploughing of fields, and more and does not have the opportunity to specialize.
Cities can be considered as having a critical mass of humanity, a microcosm of all of human society that represents its diversity – and thus, population becomes the most obvious and the final significant difference between cities and villages.
Nitin Pai discussed the above theme in his inaugural class on “What is a city?” for B.CLIP students.
Aparna Ravikumar is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.
Cover photo: melquiades