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Table of contents



The argument here is not necessarily for a more precise definition of what is rural—that would be difficult to achieve. Rather, it is important for gerontologists to take a more critical look at what they mean when they describe their work as rural. The lack of clarity concerning definitions of rurality Schulz-Nieswandt , p. Another important issue affecting studies of rural ageing concerns the sometimes implicit comparisons which are drawn between the contrasting experiences of old age in rural and urban areas. Underlying such research is the basic assumption that in some way rural ageing can be said to differ from that in urban contexts.

In an early contribution to the debate, Hans-Peter Tews suggested that there were two types of explanation of differences in terms of the situation of older people in urban and rural areas. The first type of explanation suggested that rural areas were engaged in a process of catch-up with urban areas. Thus, the larger, multi-generational family structures which are more common in rural areas would gradually give way to the more urban nuclear family. Intergenerational relations would be marked by the same characteristics in each type of area.

The second type of explanation suggested that, despite the ongoing process of modernisation, differences would remain between urban and rural areas. This type of explanation is particularly closely associated with differences between urban and rural areas in terms of infrastructural aspects, including housing conditions and service provision for older people. As a result, similarities between key elements of the ageing process in urban and rural areas—for example, in relation to normative aspects of intergenerational relationships—tend to be underplayed.

This point is backed up by a recent analysis of the German Ageing Survey Brauer In this respect, it can be argued that such differences are often assumed and subsequently overplayed by social gerontologists. There is obviously further scope for research which compares older people in urban and rural areas, especially where this draws attention to the differential distribution of goods and services. However, at another level, urban—rural comparisons may be less meaningful. Changing demographic and family structures, and variations in lifestyles and access to life chances, have served to differentiate the older population much more along the lines of the key social divisions identified within modern society.

Thus, research based on the critical approach acknowledges the overriding influence of variables such as social class, gender, ethnicity, and health and disability on the experience of later life. Where the influence of environmental context has been addressed in such research, this has largely focused on urban settings Phillipson Application of the critical gerontology perspective to rural gerontology could be made in a number of ways.

First, it should be possible to interpret regional divisions—such as that based on the rural—urban continuum—in terms of the social division model. This would tend to draw attention to the way in which the lives of older people in rural areas are either advantaged or disadvantaged by prevailing socio-political and economic structures. In this context, it might also be useful to think of older people in rural areas as a minority group in contemporary society, and about the parallels between the experiences of rural elders and other types of minority.

Second, there is scope to develop key themes from critical gerontology within rural studies. Here the emphasis would be upon considering issues of difference within rural communities. There has been a tendency—necessitated in part by the scale of empirical studies undertaken on rural populations—to homogenise the older population, or to interpret it according to very general criteria such as whether it consists of long-term residents or incomers. By contrast, issues which are very current in urban gerontology have been overlooked. These relate, for example, to themes such as self-identity, poverty, deprivation, gender and ethnicity.

In this context, there is a need to develop an empirical base which allows gerontology to explore variations within and between different types of rural area Schulz-Nieswandt The development of a more critical approach might assist in challenging distorted views and myths in relation to rural ageing. Other researchers have noted the often contradictory nature of research findings relating to rural ageing e.

Schweppe ; Wahl et al. To conclude this section, one of the major challenges currently facing rural gerontology is to generate the empirical base which could serve to underpin the development of new and innovative approaches to studying the lives of older people in rural areas. Equally, we would point to the need for an enrichment of theoretical perspectives, with rural gerontology drawing closer links with developments in social geography on the one side, and critical gerontology on the other.

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Urban themes and issues have also emerged as an important feature of research in gerontology. First, cities are themselves undergoing radical change, notably through the processes associated with globalisation, this leading to concentrated wealth and prominence for some urban centres while producing an acceleration in the decline of others Sassen a , Second, urban sociology as a discipline is going though a period of revitalisation, with new approaches to understanding issues such as the dynamics of urban poverty, social relations within neighbourhoods, and changing spatial relations between different class, gender, ethnic and age-based groups LeGates and Stout ; Savage et al.

This change within the discipline is presenting a number of issues and questions worthy of application to gerontology, suggesting in the process significant opportunities for interdisciplinary research. Third, as a number of recent studies suggest Scharf et al. This has contributed towards a tendency to see urban environments as being unsupportive and potentially hostile to the needs of older people, a view reinforced by the limitations of urban planning and urban regeneration in responding to ageing populations Riseborough and Jenkins We might note at the outset a paradox as regards the way in which we view the nature of city life.

From one perspective, cities are viewed as engines of innovation and change. Peter Ackroyd cites a German proverb: He goes on to comment: Characteristics of urban lives such as those cited above may, however, be viewed negatively by older people who may see reinvention and the existence of dissimilar people as a potential threat. From another perspective, cities combine images of mobility with those of isolation and imprisonment. Ackroyd notes the extent to which metaphors of incarceration have persisted throughout the history of cities such as London.

Cities: advantages & disadvantages of concentration

The image of confinement is still present in many urban areas, notably with the fear of entering particular neighbourhoods or the danger of moving around particular districts at certain times Klinenberg ; Scharf et al. Also, the city may present physical and institutional barriers to groups such as those with a disability, limiting their participation in mainstream economic and social life Gleeson Echoing this point, Jerde , p.

These comments suggest that cities face major contradictions in the 21st century: Given such contradictions, three types of themes might be identified in relation to debates around ageing and urbanisation: The first theme addresses the issue of understanding with greater precision the different ways in which urban processes operate to include or exclude older people. Studies of older people in inner city areas have identified the way in which they can be affected by, for example, changes to the physical fabric of cities, the effect of population turnover and accelerating rates of crime Hannan Foundation ; Phillipson et al.

Nevertheless, while studies have documented some of the main trends, links with social and ecological processes remain unclear. This point was highlighted by Eric Klinenberg in his study of the heat wave in Chicago which in one month killed around people, three-quarters of whom were aged 65 and over. For a period in July, high humidity and ozone levels created the equivalent of a tropical environment in the city—with disastrous effects on everyday life.


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In his study, Klinenberg examines several important questions raised by the effects of the heat wave. Why did so many older people die alone? Why was the overall death rate higher than meteorological models would predict?

Rural and urban perspectives on growing old: developing a new research agenda

Why did some neighbourhoods and groups experience greater devastation than others? The conditions examined by the author indicate that new forms of vulnerability are appearing in urban environments. Among these might be listed: The issue of violence in the city is accorded particular prominence in the study by Klinenberg Urban areas with high rates of violent crime are viewed as posing barriers to the mobility of their residents and, during the period covered by the heat wave, Chicago was indeed one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.

The consequence for some groups of older people was a self-imposed form of house arrest see Scharf et al. Restrictions on daily living were reinforced by deteriorating public space, a product of abandoned buildings, degraded infrastructure, and the loss of local businesses. Such conditions became especially perilous for older people when declines in health and support networks have a mirror image in changes in the immediate locality. Both Newman and Klinenberg make the point that inner-city elderly residents are especially affected where there is a weakening in the stock of social capital—the bonds of reciprocity and trust formed among individuals and groups within localities Putnam ; Phillipson et al.

The second theme raised by urban studies concerns the impact of globalisation on definitions and perceptions of place. Beck , p. Following this, Sassen b has referred to the challenge of recovering the meaning of place in the context of global telecommunications and the intensifying of transnational and translocal dynamics.

However, research on older people suggests that, globalising processes notwithstanding, the relationship between people and place is even more important at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century or more ago. Older people ageing in place within cities may be the first in their families to achieve a sense of residential stability—living in the same house for three, four or even five decades Phillipson et al. The paradox here is that globalisation produces both huge migrations and population displacements on the one side, but with increased numbers of people older people especially maintaining a strong sense of attachment to particular places on the other Eade ; Phillipson et al.

Gender interacting with age is one important element. This may explain why women often express particular concern about what they see as the deterioration affecting localities. Campbell suggests that this should be placed in the context of the conflict between women and men for the control of local areas. Ethnicity will be another dimension interacting with globalisation and changing definitions of place.

Older people from minority groups may be particularly vulnerable to the pressures of adapting to urban living especially if themselves first-generation migrants from predominantly rural areas. They will almost certainly experience more acutely than most the housing pressures characteristic of urban areas in many European cities Madanipour et al.

The character of globalisation is thus likely not only to generate new challenges for urban areas but also to bring fresh social groups and issues for investigation for gerontological research. This has reinforced the view that urban environments are somehow less advantageous to older people—for example, when compared to retirement communities or to rural settings. While cities may represent disabling and threatening environments at any age, people reaching advanced old age may feel an even greater sense of being trapped or disadvantaged by urban decay.

Older people need therefore to be a central part of building a sustainable and inclusive urban environment Scharf et al. Awareness of the speed of change affecting urban communities has generated new visions and ideas about the most appropriate way in which planning might develop. In the s writers such as Jane Jacobs , and later Richard Sennett were emphasising the need to maintain the diversity of city life.

More recently in the UK, Richard Rogers and Anne Power have argued for a new approach to urban planning, one which promotes a sharing of spaces for the collective good, and which reverses the drift towards suburbanisation.


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  4. Rural and urban perspectives on growing old: developing a new research agenda.
  5. These ideas urgently need to be placed within a gerontological context, and older people themselves should be given a stronger say about the management of urban space and the process of urban regeneration Hardill What kind of research agenda should be built in developing an urban dimension to gerontology?

    The first issue is that making the urban explicit in our research would at least be a valuable starting point.

    Introduction

    The point here is that most studies of older people are by accident or design studies which involve ageing in urban environments. However, the relationship between the two is rarely addressed through systematic investigation. Studies of poverty, loneliness, vulnerability to crime, housing, elder abuse and related areas are interesting topics in themselves but they often nest within urban settings which themselves will influence the development and trajectory of the issue under consideration.

    Second, cities are of course undergoing radical change, and understanding the way in which this change will advantage as well as disadvantage older people is important to consider. Sassen b identifies the way in which large cities concentrate both the leading sectors of global capital and a growing share of disadvantaged populations. Cities, she argues, have become a strategic terrain for a series of conflicts and contradictions—among which we might argue that the management and support for vulnerable populations is one of the most acute.

    Against this trend, Davis , p. Above all, they have the potential to counterpose public affluence great libraries, parks, museums and so on as a real alternative to privatised consumerism, and thus cut through the apparent contradiction between improving standards of living and accepting the limits imposed by ecosystems and finite natural resources.

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    The research agenda here concerns the need to understand the potential of cities for improving the quality of life in old age. This will, however, require placing work in areas such as urban management and urban planning as much more significant elements in gerontological work than has hitherto been the case. Following this, we also need to develop a broader research agenda about the way in which neighbourhood change in urban areas can combat social exclusion or, expressed more positively, contribute to social inclusion in old age. Forrest and Kearns make the point that neighbours and neighbouring retain great importance for the poor and elderly, a finding which seems to hold in a variety of environmental and cultural contexts Campbell and Lee ; Logan and Spitze ; Scharf et al.

    At the same time, we remain relatively ignorant about influences on patterns of local interaction and possibilities for support within different types of neighbourhood. Bridge makes the point that the debate around social capital has re-emphasised the importance of locally based social networks see also Phillipson et al.

    Also, research is urgently needed on questions regarding the mix of ties which can best support older people—especially those faced with the high degree of population turnover affecting many urban environments. Sassen b , p. Studies on rural and urban issues represent significant areas for development within social gerontology. It includes research orientated supplements in the form of summaries, boxed case studies, development questions and further reading.

    The book is intended for senior undergraduate and graduate students interested in urban, international and development studies, as well as policy-makers and planners concerned with equitable and sustainable urban development. Table Of Content 1. Development in the first urban century 2. World urbanisation in historical perspective 3. Urbanism and economic development 4. Urban poverty and livelihoods 5.


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