by Thuy Dung
Cities are often iconic and help define national identity. Overall, we like them.
However, we have some difficulty coming to terms with urbanisation. We might be fascinated by cities but we also tend to see it in different ways.
On one hand, cities are expected to be the key to economic growth and to foster prosperity. But they are often seen as chaotic and full of poverty. They suck in productive people from rural areas and undermine agricultural production, the basis of economic development.
Last week, at the screening of the movie Who Owns the Earth? its director Doan Hong Le expressed her grief when she witnessed green paddy fields along the road to Hoi An being cleared for a luxurious golf course.
Most of the land in this residence area is now being exploited for tourism and high-class accommodation. Authorities promised that this would bring locals more jobs and wealth. However, they were then told that they were not qualified enough for positions at these golf courses. They ended up losing their land for farming, animal breeding and suffered from the pesticide used to keep the courses green. In the meeting with local people, People's Committee Chairman Nguyen Van Dung said: "It's part of the development plan."
Each year in July, after the rice harvest, when farmers have no storage room for post-harvest straw, they burn it on the outskirts of Ha Noi. The straw now isn't something that reminds us of the countryside, villages and farmers. The media mostly focused on the straw's risks to people's health and traffic safety. Agricultural experts said that burning straw would cause ecological imbalances on the land. Action needed to be taken immediately, the farmers had to be prohibited from burning straw and use a more organic method.
In 1977, Michael Lipton, a British economist came up with the term "urban bias" to portray how people in urban areas who possess different visions and better living conditions have a bigger impact on development policy.
In the paper "Politics, information and the urban bias" written by Associate Professor Sumon Majumdar in Queen's University in Canada, he analyses the effects of "biased media coverage" which disoriented development policies.
The urban bias in media was created by the greater demand of wealthier and more educated urban clients. According to Majumbar, "revenue for newspapers and other commercial media comes from two sources: client subscriptions and advertisement revenue. Given higher readership and wealth, advertisers (and hence newspapers) find it optimal to target the urban readership."
For example we can look at popular television shows in Viet Nam. Sitcoms for teenagers only focus on the lives of city youths. A recent programme "Change life", a co-operation between national broadcaster Viet Nam Television (VTV) and South Korean TV channel Raum, aims to offer free cosmetic surgery to help poor girls in villages find a better life in the city after changing their entire appearance.
Or we can look at what was happening with doctors. In recent years, the topic of doctors' morality has become controversial. Multiple incidents in cities were covered with every single detail in newspapers, which led us jump to the conclusion that, the moral sense of doctors has been deteriorated. Lots of health policies were quickly adjusted to control the situation, regardless of what actually happened in rural areas.
Due to different social conditions, people from rural and urban areas will have different perceptions and visions. While urban people are trying to escape from the abundance of technological devices, some rural people wish could have one computer to access information. While urban residents wanted the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to clarify the process of fruits import from foreign countries, rural ones focus on policies related to fruits they are cultivating.
People from different walks of life will have different interests and perspectives. However, when development policies tend to favour cities, where is the place for rural people? The question then becomes: Who will be able to evaluate the value of rural culture in a society where the main driving forces come from urban areas? — VNS