T. G. McGee: The Southeast Asian City. G. Bell and Sons. 30s.

In the 50 years 1800–50, at the beginning of the urban revolution, the world’s city population grew by just under 10 million people. In the decade of the 1950’s it more than doubled—from 313 to 655 million. Well over half of this increase was in the Third World. Unconnected in almost every case with any real economic revolution comparable to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, this phenomenon is rightly characterised by McGee as pseudo- urbanization. Although South-East Asia is a realtively unurbanized area by Third World standards, it presents all the major characteristics of city life in the poor countries: concentration of administration and educational facilities in the capital city, with consequent inflation of the tertiary sector (already a serious problem under colonial rule); vast squatter populations (around 25 per cent of the population of Djakarta, Manila, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in the early ’sixties solely within the city limits) and enormous slums, nearly always Chinese, usually in the centre of the capital.

However, even more unwelcome than the reasons which have caused this ballon growth are the awful effects these huge cities are likely to have on the life of the nations themselves. As McGee says, ‘the great city is the centre at which a large part of the new nation’s political and psychological energies are dissipated’. Far from being the motor of economic growth, the cities become bloated parasites on the rural areas (Saigon under Diem). Rural discontent grows. The city itself generates massive unemployed, under-employed and semi-employed groups, available for any activities at the drop of a dollar bill (gangsterism in Manila, lumpen intelligentsia in Djakarta). Though none of the towns considered (Manila, Djakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon-Cholon, Bangkok, Rangoon, Phnom-Penh and Singapore) has yet reached the con-dition of Calcutta, only Phnom-Penh emerges as a tolerable human environment for most of its inhabitants. State intervention for better housing is virtually zero. Contradictions are accumulating.

This is an excellent book, containing a mass of exciting information, with numerous detailed maps and charts. A book that should be bought by everyone.