"Beyond the Third World City: The New Urban Geography"**
By P.J. Rimmer and H.W. Dick*
Urban Studies v35, n12 (Dec 1998)
"The city is the frontier of modern south-east Asia.
In 1975, 22 per cent of the region's population was in urban areas; by 2000, it will have
increased to over 37 per cent; and by 2025 will exceed 55 per cent (UN, 1995). Since the
1970s, industrialization has been the driving force of rapid urbanization.
Industrialization and urbanization have involved dramatic changes in urban form and land
use. The urban peripheries have now become the locus of job creation, especially in
manufacturing plants and urban population growth."
"These phenomena have been attributed to the
accelerating integration of south-east Asia into the world economy, the process known as
globalization. Yet, ironically, the few attempts to interpret this transformation in
spatial terms have reverted to the paradigm of a discrete south-east Asian variant of the
Third World city..."
"This view of south-east Asian cities as being
obviously different and having unique elements has never since been seriously challenged.
McGee (1991) and others have sought to update the
south-east-Asian-city-as-Third-World-city paradigm by invoking the desakota model. It is
argued that these new regions of extended urban activity are characterized by a
specifically south-east Asian settlement pattern. However, this model perpetuates the
awkward dichotomy between the First and the Third World city."
"The purpose of this paper is to argue that
globalization has made the paradigm of the Third World City obsolete in south-east Asia.
Since the 1980s in most leading cities of south-east Asia, developers have acquired
massive land portfolios and invested huge sums of capital to the point, as in Thailand, of
actually destabilizing the national financial system. What has emerged is a pattern of new
town developments integrated with industrial estates, toll roads, ports and airports.
Although new to south-east Asia, the situation is familiar enough. Notwithstanding the
very different settlement pattern on which it is being imposed, the new arrangement
matches very closely with what Garreau (1991) described in Edge City. It is now timely to
reintegrate debates over south-east Asian cities with mainstream First World and global
CATEGORIZING THE SOUTH-EAST ASIAN CITY
"Analysis of south-east Asia cities within an
explicitly spatial framework traces back no earlier than the 1940s. Colonial cities were
not perceived to be problematic...This early literature was in general agreement that in
south-east Asia the size of cities had been inhibited by colonial rule (Spate and
Trueblood, 1942; Fryer, 1953)..."
"By the 1960s, attention had shifted to the explosive
population growth of south-east Asian cities (Breese, 1966). The issues were now those of
rural-urban migration. Discussion centered on concepts such as 'parasitic cities' and
'pseudo-urbanization' (Hoselitz, 1954; Dwyer, 1962; McGee, 1967). However, reflecting
their different colonial experiences and the fragmentation of writing by local and
colonial languages, south-east Asian cities were still seen as having little in common.
Thus McGee (1967) was a seminal work in establishing a certain common identity that
located south-east Asian cities as a category within the literature on the Third World.
McGee identified the south-east Asian city as having three main elements. In contrast to
colonial sources and reflecting contemporary trends, he discounted the element of elite
garden suburbs while emphasizing the elements of kampung and squatter settlements."
"Ginsburg et al.'s (1991) The Extended Metropolis:
Settlement Transition in Asia therefore is a curious throwback. Seeking to rediscover
Asia's urban geography, the book attacks 'the persistence of the rural-urban paradigm'.
However, it is not rooted in the contemporary literature but in debates over rural-urban
transitions of the 1950s and 1960s. Its central hypothesis is that there has been 'the
emergence of what appear to be new regions of extended urban activity surrounding the core
cities of many countries of Asia'. New and different kinds of settlements in Asia are seen
complex and compound regional systems consisting of central
cities, fringe areas of those cities, exurbs, satellite towns, and extensive intervening
areas of dense population and intensive traditional agricultural land uses in which wet
paddy tends to dominate (Ginsburg, 1991, p. xiii)."
"This settlement pattern has been made possible by a
simple 'transportation revolution' of improved all-weather roads and 'cheap intermediate
transportation technology such as two-stroke motorbikes' (Ginsburg, 1991, p. xiii-xiv;
McGee, 1991, p. 5)."
"This process of 'settlement transition' involving the
urbanization of the hinterland without massive in-migration was referred to by McGee
(1989, 1991) as kotadesasi - kota in Bahasa Indonesia for town, desa for village and si to
denote process. Later, the term for these new regions of economic interaction was
rearranged as desakota for the settlement and desakotasi for the process (Ginsburg, 1991).
Desakota areas have six main features:
* a dense population engaged in smallholder-cultivation,
commonly of wet rice;
* an increase in non-agricultural activities;
* a well-developed infrastructure of roads and canals;
* a reservoir of cheap labor;
* highly integrated 'transactive' environments in terms of
movements of people and commodities; and
* a state perception as being 'invisible' or 'grey' zones
(McGee, 1991, p. 15-18)."
SOUTH-EAST ASIAN CITIES IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT
"Following the opening of the Suez Canal in
1869, south-east Asian cities were subject to most of the same influences as metropolitan
cities and became much more Westernized. However, the path of urban development did not
always run parallel between metropolitan and south-east Asian cities. There have
been extended phases of convergence but also periods of divergence."
"...three separate phases of globalization defined by
the intensity of technology transfer:
1. Convergence between urban forms in metropolitan
countries and south-east Asia from about the 1880s to the 1930s was brought about by the
increase in political and economic control exerted by metropolitan powers through colonial
rule, trade, investment and new transport technologies.
2. Divergence in urban forms between metropolitan countries
and south-east Asia occurred from the 1940s to the 1970s as a consequence of the breakdown
of colonial political and economic control and the installation of indigenous
administrations; marked by the disintegration of transport systems.
3. Convergence between urban forms in metropolitan
countries and south-east Asia was renewed in the 1980s by increasing trade and investment
and the application of telecommunications and high-speed transport."
CONVERGENCE: PRE-COLONIAL CITY TO LATE-COLONIAL CITY
"The model south-east Asian city of the 19th century
was Singapore, founded in 1819 at a time of British naval supremacy. Singapore was
protected by a fort and gun batteries, but was not a walled city. In terms of population
and economic activity, it was more a Chinese than a British city. There was also a group
of Malay settlements clustered around the palace of the nominal Malay ruler. Thus, from
the outset Singapore exemplified the plural character of most south-east Asian
"During the 19th century, the growth in international
trade and investment along with the consolidation of colonial rule provided channels for
technology transfer. This was most direct between metropolitan cities and the main
south-east Asian cities. It can be seen most clearly in transport technology. The new
industrial revolution technologies of steamships, railways, electric tramways and motor
vehicles were introduced to south-east Asian cities with very little time-lag. By the
1920s, towards the end of the colonial period, the European enclaves of south-east Asia's
main cities looked remarkably like contemporary Western cities. This can be seen most
easily in the 'International Style' in urban architecture and design (King, 1990)."
"By the 1900s, most of the world's port cities had a
Victorian facade. This included the basic infrastructure of docks, steam railways,
electric tramways, telegraph, roads and bridges... A perusal of travel guides of the late
colonial period shows that Europeans and Americans could travel comfortably by sea and
visit, or carry on business, in south-east Asian cities without any knowledge of the local
cultures or languages. The exotic East was there in the background but at a comfortable
cultural and social distance. These cities were accessible and safe to Westerners. It was
because of colonialism and empire that these cities belonged to the West."
"Around the turn of the century, south-east Asia's
port cities were also 'walking cities' (Rimmer, 1986). The shift away from crowded and
unsanitary towns can be traced back as far as the 18th century, when leading European
officials and merchants built country houses within comfortable riding distance of the
city (Abeyasekere, 1987; Blusse, 1986)."
"... By the 1930s, most southeast Asian cities had
bifurcated into distinct upper and lower towns. The lower town, having lost its European
population, remained the central business district and Chinese quarter. The upper town
consisted of European garden suburbs oriented around family life. These included the
amenities of hotels, clubs and entertainment and modern prestige shopping centers."
DIVERGENCE: LATE-COLONIAL TO THIRD WORLD CITY
"The exclusive colonial city began to break down
during the Japanese occupation of 1942-45. The relapse of colonial control allowed cities
to become porous to rural-urban migration. Informal-sector employment opportunities
proliferated and squatters began to build their shacks throughout the city on any
unoccupied land. Urban populations began to soar with the infill of already-settled areas
and accretion of settlement on the periphery. In the 1950s and 1960s, these cities changed
and became increasingly alien and dangerous for Westerners. Political unrest, first
against colonial rule and later between communists and non-communists, was the main factor
for this change."
"...Evidence of urban breakdown marked by the
overloading of infrastructure, congestion, overcrowding, poverty and pollution appeared
overwhelming. South-east Asian governments looked to be unable to manage cities. By the
1960s, south-east Asian cities had come to look like other Third World cities and to be
regarded as a distinct urban category."
"In hindsight, judgements of south-east Asian cities
may be more positive. Despite massive problems, south-east Asian cities have continued to
function and to sustain a remarkable rate of industrialization and economic growth.
Looking back from the mid 1990s, it is easier to appreciate that much of the post-colonial
influx of population was an adjustment to a big disequilibrium. The breakdown of the
colonial order meant the collapse of the segregated colonial city. As the European
population lost its power and privileges, not least over land use and personal privacy,
people moved with impunity into low-density urban space. Only much later did indigenous
administrations try to regain lost ground by planning cities according to the needs of the
new political and economic elites. The only city where this occurred as a relatively
smooth transfer of power was in Singapore. In Singapore, there was no transitional phase
of planning anarchy."
CONVERGENCE: THIRD WORLD CITY TO GLOBAL CITY
"Rising real incomes and the rapidly expanding urban
middle class have created a new urban dynamic in south-east Asia. Although there is no
reliable way to measure the size of the middle class in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia,
it is probably at least one-third of the population of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
(Hewison, 1996; Hughes and Woldekidan, 1994; Robison and Goodman, 1996). Since the 1980s,
the swollen middle class has attracted investment in multiple satellite towns surrounding
the old central business district. This is especially true of Jakarta, Manila and
"...The proliferation of multiple urban centers in the
1980s diminished the importance of the movement into and out of the CBD in favor of
increasing movements between urban centers around the urban fringe ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE
2B OMITTED. This new pattern was facilitated by rapidly increasing rates of vehicle
ownership, which freed the middle class from dependence on public transport. One symptom
of this new pattern was the proliferation of suburban centers. However, this second and
more complex system of multiple centers proved to be an unstable transitional form."
"The logic and momentum which generated activity and
movement between satellite towns necessarily generated expansion beyond them into cheaper
REBUNDLING URBAN ELEMENTS
"A new starting-point may be to recognize that many of
the elements of the south-east Asian city are not only familiar, but are also common to
the Western city. The elements include, for example, the home, which may be taken as the
trip origin, and the destinations of office, shops, restaurants, schools, hospitals,
sports center, hotel and cinema ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED. These are
linked by the same technologies of the motor car and public transport. They may, however,
be arranged or bundled in different ways. In other words, the city may be viewed in
abstract as a set of elements which over time can be bundled, unbundled and reassembled in
new urban forms. This process is restructuring, but in a specifically urban context."
"In historical perspective, the impulse for
restructuring urban space in south-east Asia was the development in the 1960s of the first
homogeneous new middle-class communities. These could be observed in Singapore, Kuala
Lumpur (Petaling Jaya) and Manila (Makati). In Jakarta, the new town of Kebayoran Baru was
under construction in the 1950s, but urban middle-class development slowed down in the
1960s because of the national economic crisis. As these 'new towns' acquired a threshold
population of mobile consumers with relatively high disposable incomes, there arose market
opportunities for entrepreneurs to build workplaces, and shopping and entertainment
facilities in adjacent locations well beyond the old town core. In the 1970s and 1980s, as
real incomes grew rapidly because of export-oriented industrialization, new centers
proliferated around the urban fringe ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED. Foreign
aid funds were invested in new freeways and tell roads to link these centers
ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2C OMITTED."
"During the 1980s, there were signs that private urban
development had reached new thresholds of investment and land area. Hitherto, the process
could still have been described as suburbanizsation. Entrepreneurs for the most part
continued to invest in discrete facilities such as hotels and office blocks, each of which
generated custom for others. The innovation of the 1980s was the recognition by some of
the richest south-east Asian businessmen that enhanced profitability would flow from
bundling as many as possible of these discrete facilities into integrated complexes. These
complexes comprise hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and office towers ILLUSTRATION
FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED. Such integrated projects enjoyed enhanced profitability because
each facility fed the other, by attracting and circulating custom. The externalities were
thereby internalized. These projects required the ability to mobilize huge sums of risk
capital to buy up land and finance construction in anticipation of the market."
"The problem of these integrated projects was to
attract sufficient custom to earn a profit from the huge initial outlays. Because
consumers lived in discrete communities, and by virtue of vehicle ownership enjoyed the
freedom of choice between competing centers, there was no captive market. As competition
drove new developers to open ever more luxurious complexes with hitherto undreamed of
facilities (such as bowling alleys and skating rinks), existing developers were at risk
either of not recovering their outlay or of failing to enjoy the anticipated return. The
solution, which became characteristic of the 1990s, was to buy up even larger tracts of
land for integrated residential and commercial complexes ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5
OMITTED. The externalities are therefore internalized: facilities help to sell houses
and the captive residential clientele sells facilities. A developer owning 10 hectares can
build a suburban block, with 100 hectares, an entire suburb; but with 1000 hectares or
more, a new town."
"...In post-independence south-east Asia, the street
is typically perceived as a source of danger. Decorative fences and hedges are no longer a
deterrent to thieves. Open suburban living thus becomes very insecure. One solution,
especially for expatriates, was the compound - that is to say, a group of dwellings with a
single controlled point of entry. An increase in scale allows controlled access and
patrolled security to be provided to an entire suburb. By the logic of the market, in
which the richest people sought the highest level of personal security, real estate
developers were almost obliged to construct gated communities. In the late 1960s, gated
communities appeared in Manila; in the late 1970s, in Jakarta; and by the 1980s, in
Surabaya. In Singapore, where security was least problematic, the equivalent communities
were high-rise condominiums. These have become popular for expatriates in Jakarta and
"The other new institutional feature is the shopping
mall. South-east Asian cities had long been familiar with shopping streets, multistory
markets and department stores. .. The step up from shopping-centers-cum-plazas to
plaza-cum-malls can be dated to the 1980s in Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala
A JAKARTA CASE STUDY
"This new pattern of urban development is well
illustrated by Jakarta..."
"The new urban developments are on a huge scale. The
entire area of the Capital City Region of Jakarta, roughly equivalent to the area within
the outer ring road is 66 000 hectares. By October 1996, over 90 000 hectares outside the
Capital City Region had received government approval for urban development (Kompas, 1996).
Of this total, only 13 300 hectares had been built upon by 1997."
"The balance constitutes a land bank in the hands of
developers estimated to meet the supply of suburban residential land until the year 2018.
Most of this land bank is controlled by a few large private business groups. Three of the
largest projects (between 5000 and 6000 hectares) are all currently in progress. However,
the largest project of some 30 000 hectares has yet to begin construction and, in view of
the recent currency crisis, is likely to be long delayed."
"In 1984 a consortium of leading developers (including
participants from the two earlier projects) took the gamble of acquiring 6000 hectares of
land to the west of Jakarta and in 1989 they launched the first genuine new town project,
Bumi Serpong Damai. The golf course and gated community were developed first; as the
density increased, other facilities such as schools, offices and shopping mall were
gradually added. Ultimately, this project will include a 300-hectare central business
district and 200-hectare business park with a projected employment of 140 000
"Even more ambitious projects are the new towns of
Lippo Karawaci (2360 ha) and Lippo Cikarang (5500 ha) in west and east Jakarta
respectively (Lippoland, 1996). Since 1991/92, the Lippo Group have sought to build as
many facilities as possible at the outset. By 1997, Lippo Karawaci had a central business
district with multiple office towers, a 100 000 square meter shopping mall (the largest in
Jakarta), two condominium towers (52 and 42 stories), a 328bed international hospital, a
private school and university, the essential golf course and country club and five-star
international hotel. The projected population for 2020 is I million people. These projects
are unambiguously 'bundled' cities which contain all significant elements under the
control of a single developer. This is clearly First World not Third World."
"Jakarta is not an isolated example. Indonesia's
second city of Surabaya has a 2000-hectare new town under construction as well as several
adjacent semi-bundled projects of several hundred hectares. In Bangkok, large firms such
as Bangkok Land, Tanayong and Land and House have built huge complexes around the city's
outskirts. Even Ho Chi Minh has a new town project of 2300 hectares - Saigon South is a
joint venture between Taiwanese interests and the Peoples' Committee of Ho Chi Minh
THE DRIVING FORCE
"The elements and the patterns that are now observed
in new towns and settlements around the main cities of south-east Asia resemble those
observed in the US. At first sight, this American architectural 'imperialism' seems
implausible. If there were to be a convergence between south-east Asian and Western
cities, one would surely look for a model towards Europe, with its intensive agriculture
and high-density cities. Aside from America's cultural dominance, there seem to be two
main reasons why south-east Asia is borrowing institutions more readily from the US. The
first is the highly skewed distribution of income in Asia between the expanding middle
class and the bulk of the population. The second, and associated reason, is the perceived
low level of public security. In the US the respective features are poor minority
populations and urban ghettos."
"The driving force behind the new urban
geography of south-east Asia is the avoidance of social discomfort. In Indonesia and
Malaysia, racial antagonism between the Chinese and Indonesians/Malays encouraged wealthy
Chinese to seek the security of gated communities. In the Philippines, there is
also the fear of kidnapping. However, more and more middle-class indigenous Indonesians,
Malays and Filipinos are also choosing to live in such secure communities, primarily to
protect their property against theft. As people acquire more private possessions, their
level of insecurity rises."
"The common experience which draws together the
separate urban experiences of North America and south-east Asia is the perceived
deterioration in personal security. In the US, the fear of public space - in fact, the
fear of the city itself - is grounded in racism and drug-related crime. In south-east
Asia, the immediate threat is less apparent. However, rising real household incomes and
the emergence of an identifiable middle class have been accompanied by a growing
differentiation from, and fear of, the rest of the inchoate urban mass. In countries such
as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, where the middle class is disproportionately
ethnic Chinese, that fear has a palpable racial edge. Gated residential communities,
condominiums, air-conditioned cars, patrolled shopping malls and entertainment complexes,
and multi-storied offices are the present and future world of the insecure middle class in
"This preoccupation with comfort and security is
reflected in attitudes towards public space. In Europe, despite the popularity of the
motor car, public space remains an integral part of social life. In the US, and
increasingly in south-east Asia, public space has become an area of uncertainty.
Middle-class people, therefore, seek to control their environment by insulating themselves
from the uncertainties of casual social interaction with the poor. They live in
air-conditioned houses in gated communities, travel in private air-conditioned vehicles to
air-conditioned offices and shopping malls. Home, office and mall are increasingly
patrolled by private security personnel backed up by overhead video cameras."
"The level of insecurity in the street is an important
motive for patronizing shopping malls. Other factors are the convenience of park'n'shop
and the opportunity to shop, eat or play in a socially comfortable, air-conditioned
environment that eliminates the aggravations of pickpockets, jostling, name-calling and
the challenge of the crowd. The attitude is reminiscent of 19th-century attitudes towards
the threatening London crowd, which was regarded as being uneducated, uncouth and
unpredictable. The attitude of the middle class in south-east Asia towards the urban mass
is also not so very different from that of the colonial Europeans to their indigenous
subjects. A common language does not bridge the cultural gap or the economic divide."
"The desire of middle-class south-east Asians for
security and social comfort has, therefore, given rise to market opportunities for
well-funded entrepreneurs to borrow urban elements from the US. This has occurred because
those businessmen have visited or have studied in the US and are familiar with those
"In fact, the technology transfer has worked through
an even more direct mechanism. Most developers of these large projects have hired master
planners, design consultants, managers and advisers, property specialists and architects
from the US and occasionally also from Australia, Canada, Japan and Singapore. In Jakarta,
for example, Lippo Kawaraci hired at the outset a team of experts from the US. Other
Jakarta examples are Alam Sutera (SWA Group, California), Bumi Serpong Damai (John Portman
and Associates, US, Pacific Consultants International Japan), Bintaro Jaya (Development
Design Group, Baltimore, US) and Cikarang Baru (Klages Carter Vail and Partners, US). Even
the promotional brochures reveal a style and nomenclature that is characteristically
Western. Western retailers such as WalMart, J. C. Penney and TOYS 'R' US and food
franchisers such as KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Wendys are becoming familiar tenants in
the large shopping malls."
"This heavy reliance on foreign expertise for both
master planning and the design of individual elements leads to a social and cultural
dissonance with the rest of the city. .. In the US the disintegration of the city is a
recent, and to many people, an alarming phenomenon. In south-east Asia, it is familiar to
anyone of the older generation. Formerly, it was the situation identified as colonialism;
nowadays, the distinction is primarily one of wealth and status."
"Nevertheless, the situation is a logical outcome of
market forces. Developers make their profit by careful market research and providing
people with what they want. Those of higher incomes naturally exercise the greatest
influence on the market. Many of these potential buyers do not wish to live in socially
mixed and claustrophobic communities like the kampung. They can now afford to realize
their suburban dream of a happy and independent middle-class family, living in comfort in
a secure and green environment beyond the pollution of the inner city."
"Rapid urbanization has been a worldwide phenomenon
since the industrial and transport and communications revolution of the 19th century. The
tempo of trade, investment and technology transfer quickened more than a century ago in
the era of high imperialism, long before globalization became the catchword of the 1990s.
In the heyday of colonialism, between the late-19th century and the 1930s, south-east
Asian cities became much more like Western cities; especially with the separation of
central business districts and garden suburbs. There was very little lag in technology or
modern design between the colonial mother country and the colony. This period may be
considered as one of convergence."
"All the main trends in Western cities in the
19th and 20th centuries have eventually become formative influences on the development of
south-east Asian cities (Table 2). What has differed over time and between cities is the
length of the lag and the extent of the influence. Any attempt to explain either
the historical or contemporary urbanization of south-east Asia as a unique phenomenon
TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED is therefore doomed to absurdity. The issues
and debates in the vigorous literature on cities in the US are highly relevant to what is
now happening in south-east Asia. Property developers in south-east Asia have long
recognized this; government officials and academics are still grappling with these new
"Industrialization and job creation on the urban
fringe and in the hinterland of southeast Asian cities reflect the shift of industry from
the First to the Third World that has been facilitated by rapid improvements in the speed
and cost of transport and communications. International demand has switched from
south-east Asia's agricultural products, which required labor and land, to manufactures
which are also labor-intensive but have only a marginal requirement for land. It is this
international demand for the manufactures of south-east Asia which is leading footloose
industries to locate in the vicinity of main cities and transport hubs in order to exploit
abundant cheap labor. The spatial dimension of this process has been portrayed by Ginsburg
et al. (1991) as desakotasi. This helps to draw attention to the phenomenon but confuses
as much as it clarifies. It is not a uniquely south-east Asian phenomenon. The
emerging urban forms take after North American patterns to a remarkable degree that has
yet to be recognized, let alone explained."
"The study of south-east Asia's cities must now be
informed by knowledge of urban processes, especially those of the US. Scholars need to
challenge prejudices which have allowed them to partition the world into separate spheres
according to their own particular areas of expertise. Even if the southeast Asian currency
crisis of mid 1997 leads to a slowdown in real estate development, with the collapse of
some prominent companies and suspension or scaling back of new town projects, the pattern
of urban development will not change markedly from that which has been observed in recent
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*H. W. Dick is in the Department of Business Development
and Corporate History, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia. Fax:
03-9349-4292. E-mail: email@example.com.
*P. J. Rimmer is in the Department of Human Geography,
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra,
ACT, 0200, Australia. Fax: + 61-6-249-4896. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elanna Lowes provided editorial assistance. All figures
were drawn by Neville Minch, Cartographic Unit, Research School of Pacific and Asian
Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra. The authors are grateful for the
comments of two anonymous referees.
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