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Two Views of Urban Crisis

By Ursula Hicks
Macmillan India, 1974, 270, 60.00

By Heather Joshi and Vijay Joshi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1976, 189, 45.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

A relatively late arrival in the sphere of applied economics, the new branch of urban economics has grown at a phenomenal rate—at least in terms of the volume of literature. But unfortunately not many among the growing number of new volumes on urban economics have much to say that has not already been said before. A large number of them are no more than loose collections of quantitative models, which might have served at one time or another as the basis of some elaborate urban deve­lopment plan but finally never got off the ground. The two volumes under review stand out as being refreshingly different in this dense but monotonous terrain. The thesis which Ursula Hicks develops in her book The Large City, appropriately subtitled A World Problem, is that the three basic causes of crisis in the standard of city life are the population explosion, the advent of the motoring age and the revolution in domestic technology. The subtitle is meaningful because Ursula Hicks stresses the essential similarity between the nature of the urban crisis in the developed segment of the world and in the less developed segment. Since all these basic cau­ses of crisis, common to large cities throughout the world, are concentration problems (even the revolu­tion in domestic technology?), she proposes a uni­versal therapy for urban concentration. She argues that the most practical administrative and jurisdic­tional reform required to tackle the problem of concentration is the establishment of ‘metropolitan areas’. These are integrated units consisting of the central city along with adjacent communities where the majority of the population is supported by com­muters to the central city or areas included in its orbit. Ursula Hicks, a specialist in local government finance also explores the ways and means of financ­ing the operation of these integrated spatial units. Since the diagnosis is so widely general and the therapy so unabashedly simplified, it is not unrea­sonable to expect that the author would match the boldness of her thesis with an abundance of data based on intensive research. But it is here that she is most disappointing. The central propositions of her thesis are set out in the first three chapters, which make up the first of three parts in the volume with no more than a few random examples by way of argument. Ursula Hicks is obviously aware of this inadequacy ...

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