It’s an election year in India, with the world’s largest polls expected in the spring. The focus of politicians is, as usual, on farmers and rural areas and competitive pandering to both — hardly surprising in a country that considers itself a nation of villages.
However, this narrative has one major flaw. India is, in fact, more urban than politicians know or acknowledge. This seriously affects India’s growth prospects, leading to inefficiencies and loss of productivity in both rural and urban areas. What’s worse, the resulting misallocation of resources is making India’s blossoming urban areas well-nigh unlivable.
The problem — in India as elsewhere — is largely one of definition. What constitutes a city or urban area varies widely around the world. Some nations employ simple population cutoffs: Mexico and Venezuela count any town with more than 2,500 residents as urban, while New Zealand uses 1,000 people. Since 2000, the U.S. Census has focused instead on population density (above a minimum threshold of 2,500 residents). China uses a density criterion of 1,500 people per square kilometer, but recently expanded the…
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