The centralized form of urbanism is particularly apparent in France, which like most European countries experienced a rather late increase in its urban population. Only by 1930, the urban population of France became larger than its rural population. A rapid increase in urbanization started from 1945 to the 1970s and kept progressing steadily during the decades of high economic growth following World War II, and the economic shift caused by industrialization and capital accumulation through imperialist activities. Millions of people started to migrate from rural communities to urban dwellings hoping for a better life and higher salaries in the cities. This period was later called the “rural exodus” (Zarinetti 2006). Similar trends can be observed in other European countries (like England, Spain, or Germany), and like other European countries, the capital was not equipped for such a sudden onslaught of people. In addition, the ruins of World War II resulted in a severe housing shortage. The solution of the government, the development of large housing project building programs, resulted in overcrowded, small, and comfortless living spaces.
From 1970 there was an overall tendency to urban sprawl (Zarinetti, 2006). The concentration of population in and around Paris and its suburbs is also reflected in the overall spatial patterns of urbanization in France. Paris with 2.7 million inhabitants is by far the largest city in France. The suburbs of Paris are estimated to be populated by about 10.5 million people, which makes it the most populous urban area in the entire European Union (Paris Population 2022). There are no cities in France that are comparable to Paris in their economic, political, or cultural importance (see Figure 1). This development causes a lot of stress on the infrastructure of Paris. The immense spread of, many times hazardously grown and aesthetically very unpleasing, suburbia is only one of the problems. Voices of citizens are rising, which are fed up with over centralised urban agglomerations. The de facto model has encouraged a lot of unbalanced economic as well as urban developments in the country. Rural areas and local economies are left behind in terms of infrastructure, capital, and human resource availability. The difficulty and questionable endeavour of sustaining the project of megacities, in the long run, is becoming more and more evident.
On the other hand, as an example, of decentralised growth, we can take a quick look at the urban history of Italy. Italy experienced a very different urban development compared to France or England - a decentralised urban system. Surprisingly Italy was more prosperous compared to other European countries in the period of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance but experienced a downward draft and became rather poorer after the 16th century (Malanima 2005). In the History of Italy, there have been roughly three main phases of urbanisation over the past millennium. From the tenth century to 1350 Italy’s urbanisation was prospering, its urbanisation rate was twice as much as compared to other European countries. The population did not only increase in existing cities, new cities and centres also emerged. The north-central part of Italy developed into an important network of cities e.g., the Triangle of Florence, Venice, and Milan became the most important network point for commerce, trade, and investments. Reasons for the immense head start of Italy in terms of urbanisation rate are not completely certain. Some reasons could be favourable climatic conditions and stable agricultural production of food since in those times agricultural productivity was immediately related to the ratio of urban to rural population. The second phase of urbanization dates from approximately 1350 to 1870. In these years the urbanisation rate suddenly diminished from 26% to less than 16%. This decrease was mainly caused by the plague which led to a massive decline in population, especially in the cities (Malanima 2005). The countryside was considerably less affected and for the first time the main driver of urbanisation, higher wages in the cities, disappeared. The situation reversed, resulting in a higher demand for rural labour and higher wages in the agricultural sector. At this point, Italy’s population began to sprinkle over the countryside and the population in cities continued to decline further with the beginning of the 19th century. Simultaneously other (northern-) European countries experienced a twofold increase in their urbanisation rates, with a sharp acceleration between 1800-1850. Italy, which had previously been the focal point of economic activities for Europe could obviously no longer sustain its economic importance. Only from the end of the 19th century did Italy’s economy and urban growth slowly reach back to a western European average. Once again people started to migrate from the countryside to the most industrialised communes (Malanima 2005). But due to the reversed history of Italy’s urbanisation, the centres of importance are many, rather smaller and specialized activities happen in multiple centres. The result is a spatially dispersed, polycentric network of settlements.
The example of Italy indicates that there are and always have been alternative forms of urbanism, without resulting in an unreasonably big city, creating a healthier urban and economic balance. The rise of the capitalist society during the 19th and 20th centuries allowed more imbalanced urbanism to evolve, even though impulses for decentralised systems had also been there.
This is where I want to come back to the place where we started, Goa. I want to introduce Goa as an idea of alternative urbanism. Looking at Goa more deeply can help us understand a way of urbanism, which doesn’t have to follow the trajectory of a big city. Urbanization of Goa has a long history, Archaeological remarks about the port city of Chandrapur with an estimated population of 25,000 to 75,000 are occurring from the 7th to 8th century A.D (Kamat, 2001). The city could not sustain the floods and the accumulation of silt from the river which caused the inaccessibility of the port over time and led to the city’s slow deterioration. During the 10th to 14th century arose the glorious medieval city of Gopakapattna, it had remarkable extended trade with various ports in the Indian Ocean region, the estimated population of the city ranges from 25,000 to 100,000. Eventually, the sediment accumulation again led to the inaccessibility of the port and forced the merchants to relocate. The new settlement set the foundation of the city of Old Goa in the 14th century. The city of Old Goa grew from the 14th to the 15th century to an estimated population of over 100,000. At the beginning of the 16th century, it had flourished into an impressive urban centre with the character of a cosmopolitan port city (Kamat, 2001). Unfortunately, the urban design was a disaster in terms of drainage, sanitation, and public health and at the end of the 18th-century epidemics brought an end to its golden era.
The Portuguese took the learnings from the downfall of Old Goa when they developed the new townships. Entering the period of colonial Urbanism in Goa from the mid 19th century the cities Panjim, Mapusa, Margao, Ponda and Marmagoa developed. Each of these settlements developed its unique specialisations. Margao was soon connected to the Indian railway line, Panjim expanded as a port city and a centre of administration. Mapusa became a hotspot for the trade of goods and Ponda was important for the marketing of agricultural raw materials. The number of townships and the percentage of urban population increased drastically during the past 70 years (Kamat, 2001). The coastal belt of India is rapidly urbanizing, and according to the Census of India, Goa has become the most urbanised with 62% of its population categorised as urban (Ideas Unleashed). We are now entering into a new phase of urbanism in Goa, also, in some sources called as RUrbanism, which describes the progressive blur of its rural and urban areas, showing mixed elements of rural and urban traits in its settlements. Even though Goa is experiencing high levels of urbanisation there is no single city that is superior to others or exceeds a million-plus people (Ideas Unleashed). Nonetheless, does the urban spread of its existing cities pressures the natural ecosystems, such as the mangroves and sand, the coconut orchards and paddy fields in and around cities (Kamat, 2001).