The term urbanization can be looked at from diverse perspectives. First, urbanization can be explained to be the convergence of populations. Secondly, urbanization can be described as the process in which the movement of people into a given city translates into an urban way of living. Thirdly, it is the diffusion of the urban living to agricultural oriented regions.
Fourthly, urbanization is the progression in which the magnitude of people residing in urban places multiplies (Yeung and Lo, 1996). Due to its quantitative nature, the last definition is the mostly applicable. Urbanization can therefore be generally defined as the process in which the magnitude of people residing in urban places increases with the growth in economy (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
In Taiwan, cities with at least 50000 people are considered as urban centers. Administratively, Taiwan is partitioned into central municipalities, provincial cities and prefectures that are two five and sixteen in number respectively (Yeung and Lo, 1996). Each prefecture encompasses at least one central city, a number of towns and several rural districts.
Whereas both central municipalities and provincial cities are bigger in size, prefectures are of standard sizes, each with their central cities acting as their respective administrative centers. On the other hand, prefectural rural towns comprise of rural regions and mid-urban townships.
Furthermore, Taiwan has been partitioned into four main parts: the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central parts for planning purposes (Yeung and Lo, 1996). The ratio of the urban population to the total population determines the degree of Taiwanian urbanization.
Statistically, the level of urbanization in Taiwan has escalated over time, that is, from 24.1% in 1950 to over 74.1% in the twenty first century (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
Statistics also indicate that the gap between annual population growth rate and the urbanization growth rates has narrowed over time, since 1950 to most recently. This shows that the movement of people from the agricultural regions to urban cities had started to ease. Primarily, industrialization was the main cause of the high urban growth rate (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
Apart from industrialization, a high birth rate emanating from mass flow of youth to the urban areas is also another determinant of high growth experienced in urban centers. Administratively, cities in Taiwan are in four groups: “Central municipalities, provincial cities, prefectural cities and towns plus rural areas” (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
Statistics show that between 1961 and 1989, the yearly average growth rate of the central municipalities was more than the annual growth of Taiwan itself. Prefectural cities had the fastest growth, towns and rural areas had the lowest rate of growth compared to the natural population growth rate.
This shows that there has been much out migration. Most of the intermediary prefectural cities are located close to the metropolis, and in this way, they contribute towards metropolitan development (Yeung and Lo, 1996). Statistics also indicate that the rate at which small and medium sized cities are expanding is higher than that of the bigger ones. After 1980, majority of the Island’s (Taiwan’s) major cities have been located mainly in the central, southern and northern regions.
This can be attributed to the accompanying spontaneous rate of development in these regions. The Eastern part has lagged behind in development mainly due to its mountainous nature that renders both transportation and communication cumbersome. Since 1960, the spatial distribution of cities has been inclined towards the north and south. Although there is a metropolitan area in each region, the Eastern part is devoid of any.
“An urban system is defined in terms of size, function, and service area (or area of influence), and by differences in the social, economic, and cultural activities of cities within a specific region. Spatially speaking, a hierarchical relationship is formed. Cities higher in the hierarchy are larger and have a higher functional level.
They also have a more expanded sphere of influence and complex social, economic, and cultural characteristics. Cities within the hierarchy perform functions according to a division of labour. These close ties create an orderly relationship within the system” (Yeung and Lo, 1996).Taiwan can be classified into five hierarchical levels.
The first level is agricultural villages that are found after about every 2-5 kilometers and have an estimated population of 4000 people. General towns are in the second level with a minimum and maximum population of 10000 and 50000 respectively. They are found between like every 10 kilometers. Local centers are found in the third level. They are independent towns, with majority being located in metropolitan regions. Their population can range between 100000-500000 people.
They are interspersed between 15-40 intervals within a sphere of influence of between 2000000-800000 persons. The third level is occupied by the regional centers, which are mostly located in metropolitan areas, although some like Taitung and Hualien, are independent towns with a population of up to and exceeding two million people. They are located about 80 kilometers apart. Level five comprises of the political, cultural and economic center of Taiwan – Taipei.
It has an area of influence covering about 5 million people. The whole Taipei metropolitan region is Taipei’s sphere of influence. The time required to travel between the northern and southern regions has been greatly reduced over the last four decades. This has been enhanced by not only the installation of the railway electrification, but also by completion of the Sun Yatsen Freeway (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
The population of Taiwan exponentially skyrocketed between 1950 and 1990. This one of the world’s biggest growth in population was determined mainly by high birth rate since there was no international in-migration by then. However, with time, the birth rate has been reducing to an increase in the level of education and introduction of population policy that requires fewer children per family.
Population in Taiwan has been classified into three: the youth, working class, and the elderly (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
Over time, the working class has been the leading in number, Due to the presence of a metropolis (Taipei), the northern region has attracted majority of the population. Being the first city on the island to be globalized, Taipei has employed many people than any other city. The population in the Central, Eastern, and Southern parts has on the other hand been declining over time (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
The secondary industry has been the main leading in providing employment to Taiwan people. The primary industry, though responsible for provision of employment through agriculture, forestry, and fishery, has declined. Tertiary employment has been rising gradually (Yeung and Lo, 1996).
Taiwan like other Low Economically Developed Countries, experiences three main challenges. These are high population growth rate, reduced income levels, ineffective planning, and administrative mechanisms to handle the high population (Boult, 1999). The northern region is loaded with many industries that contribute to both water and air pollution.
There is raw sewage from the households, increased application of fertilizers and pesticides, and contamination of clean water sources resulting to water pollution (Shambaugh, 1998. p.190). Besides industrial fumes, the use of automobiles such as buses, cars, and motorbikes has contributed to air pollution in Taiwan for decades (Shambaugh, 1998. p.192).
There are also cases of soil pollution due to use of heavy metals and pesticides (Shambaugh, 1998. p.191). Taiwan is therefore faced with the hurdles of containing the impacts of economic growth and ensuring there is a sustainable dependency of its citizens on the Island’s economic resources (Elliot, 1999).
To minimize pollution, Taiwan ought to initiate some legal requirements and fines. For example, companies found to be disposing wastes illegally should be fined, enlightening citizens on environmental aspects, directing all new vehicles to be fitted with catalytic chambers, among other restrictions (Boult, 1999).
Strategies that can be implemented to help minimize rural-urban migration include creating job opportunities in the rural, introducing better educational and social services, and developing good transport network to encourage people to commute and live out of the city (Boult, 1999).
As stated earlier, urbanization entails two key aspects. These are proportion of people residing in urban areas and growth in economy. In Taiwan, even though there is overpopulation within its urban centers, the growth in economy has not yet reached the level of sustaining the already increased population.
Taiwan’s concentration of cities within the northern region has led to an increase in the rural urban migration. Just like other developing countries like China, Mexico, and Brazil among others, Taiwan is still a hub of overpopulation and poverty. This is due to the fact that, many people migrate from the rural districts to the urban areas in such for employment and better standards of living.
Given that not all of them can be absorbed in employment, there are cases of congestion strain on available resources and anonymity that eventually leads to a reduction in the value system. Vices like crime and other conflicting social values set in.
Generally, effects of overpopulation include: unemployment, overcrowding leading to depletion of resources, reduced living standards that curtail economic development, land fragmentation that impedes agriculture, and slum development resulting to air and water pollution, inability of the affected city to offer equitable and quality education and medical care to all and poverty, misuse of free land and deforestation (Boult, 1999).
Given that Taiwan’s urban areas are more populated than its rural districts, expanding urbanization in the rural areas demands that the Taiwan government comes up with mechanisms to de-congest the urban centers.
This may include investing in the health industry, limiting car use, introducing lead-free fuel and putting up self-contained residences to help elevate people’s quality of life (Boult, 1999). As it has been the case in Los Angeles, railway transport can be spread to the agricultural areas to help development of such regions (Thisdell, 1993).
The success of the development of new towns and industries in the southern region will be enhanced by efficient transport network between the rural parts and the metropolitan regions (Chaffey, 1994). There has been a decline in the agricultural (primary) industry and this could be one of the ways to revive it. To encourage employment, the informal sector should be established (Boult, 1999).
Like other cities like Los Angeles, Taiwan ought to undertake some measures in the transport sector to minimize traffic congestion.
For instance, creating an integrated underground route for passage of trains and other vehicles (Thisdell, 1993) or minimizing dependency on automobiles by developing a transport means that is pedestrian/cycle oriented, like has been done by other cities around the world (Newman, 1999).
Taiwan like other developing nations is experiencing industrialization and urbanization. This has led to a rise in rural – urban migration resulting to overpopulation, congestion, and pollution, which are a threat to sustainable development (Adams, 1999).
These effects have in turn hampered economic growth, which is a vital ingredient in true urbanization. To disentangle itself from this problem, Taiwan should expand urbanization by spreading its industries to rural areas and technologically contain the situation in its northern region.
This will help decongest the northern region. Investing more in education and health sectors and restructuring the transport system like other cities in the world have tackled it will help Taiwan stand the challenge of urbanization. This is the only way to ensure that there is sustainable development on this island.
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Elliot, J. A. (1999). An introduction to sustainable development. London: Routledge. (Attached material).
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