Why Cities Matter?

KTM Nepal
Kathmandu Valley and northern Himalayan Range as seen from Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur (File photo: Personal collection/ Winter 2012)

I arrived in Nepalgunj, a rising major metropolis in Western Nepal, from Jumla, a mid-hill district in the same region and my hometown, for the first time in late 1900s to meet my father who worked in one of government offices there. But few years later, in early 2000s, I came to Kathmandu, country’s Capital and also largest city, to continue my studies. As my hometown then did not have academic institutions that offered science courses at intermediate level, students there had no other options but to simply migrate either to Kathmandu or to other major cities across Nepal had they wished to continue their studies.

My this story is shared by thousands of other Nepalis, students and professionals both, who also have migrated to Nepal’s urban areas for better education and economic opportunities. As such benefits are concentrated more in urban areas, over years, Nepal too has seen rapid rise of urban population. According to the CBS data, in early 1950s, only 238,275 out of 8,256,625 Nepalis (less than 3 percent) lived in urban centers. In the following years, country’s population increased by a factor of about 2.8 times while urban population by 16 times. As a result, in 2001, 13.9 percent of country’s 23,151,423 citizens lived in 58 urban centers. The most recent Economic Survey maintains that 42 percent of Nepalis are living in Nepal’s former 217 municipalities.

Globally and in Nepal, people migrate to cities for varying reasons either voluntarily or forcibly. In general, people migrating voluntarily tend to migrate for better educational and economic outcomes. However, those forced to leave their villages, primarily move to towns for personal safety reasons. In case of Nepal, decade long Maoists’ War and frequent natural disasters – most notably 2008 Koshi Flood and 2015 Nepal Earthquake – have forced thousands of families to move to safer places in nearby cities. Whatever the reasons behind rural – urban migration, over years, not only in Nepal but also in other parts of the world, more and more people are now living in the cities. In 1960, about 34 percent of world population was living in cities but in 2007 city dwellers comprised majority of this population. According to the available data, cities housed 54 percent of world’s urban population in 2014, which is projected to become 66 percent by 2050 with 96 percent of all urbanization occurring in developing countries like Nepal.

Historically, cities have not only been increasing in numbers and in their sizes but also in their overall influence at national, regional and global levels. As a result, cities are often terms as the powerhouse of modern world economy. For example, over years, while Asian cities like Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo have been able to make stronger their economic influences on world economies other cities in the region like Hsinchu, Dalian, Kyushu, Banglore, Chengdu, Tel Aviv, and Tsukuba have also been able to strengthen their global presence in tech and innovation sectors. Currently, cities across the world generate more than 80 percent of world’s GDP and in Nepal; urban places contribute to 33.1 percent of national GDP.

Observing growth and connectivity patterns of the cities and local population, planned industrial zones and trade corridors across the country, ongoing and scheduled inter-city linkages with domestic and cities from neighboring countries, the net future influence and contribution of Nepal’s old and new cities to national and global economies are enormous as well. In other words, Nepal’s current and future regional and global significance would be based on the strengths of country’s cities. Thus, it is vital for concerned public and private stakeholders and individuals to work towards developing and managing appropriate policies, infrastructures, networks and capitals in order to realize the true potentials of Nepal’s all cities.

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