As even the least developed corner of the globe undergoes continual shift of populations off farms and rural villages into the embrace of concrete jungles of urban society, the influence of cities on the overall outlook of the society and its future trajectory is becoming more and more significant. However, to say that major cities are the primary indicator of a society’s characteristic would exaggerate the role that such cities may play in the overall economic and cultural development of the society in question. Instead, the primary focus should be on small towns and rural villages, where the poorest of the poor continue to reside.
Small towns and villages are hallmarks of a society’s cultural characteristics due to the relative lack of outside influences. Major cities, through large number of economic opportunities available to residents, tend to attract new migrants from other locales, whether within the same country or internationally. The presence of these new migrants, who bring with them foreign cultural expressions, dilute the cultural characteristics of a particular region, in ways that small towns and villages, even though nearby major cities, do not face.
A relevant example is the linguistic diversity of London versus the rest of England. The city of London, being a major economic center, attracts international migrants who used their own indigenous tongues to reshape the language of London. As a result, the English spoken in London differs significantly from outlying suburbs such as Reading and Hackney, where traditional accents continue to persist. Because of presence of non-local people in a region, the local culture is modified beyond recognition to suit the communication across all different cultures. As such, major cities cannot be used as indicator for a society’s cultural characteristics.
Similarly, major cities are also not suitable as primary indicators for a society’s economic characteristics. Major cities, by the nature of concentrated economic development, may have largely different structure and composition of economic activities as compared to small towns and rural villages that surround it. Buenos Aires serves as a great example. Argentina, as a major exporter of beef and grains, is centered on large-scale agriculture as a major industry. Indeed, this is the case for majority of the country, where agribusinesses reign supreme and towns serve as market and logistic centers for agricultural produce.
Yet, Buenos Aires, as the economic center of the country, is dominated by the service sector, much of which catering to the back-office needs of agricultural transactions and the consumption habits of a middle class enriched through involvement in agricultural businesses. If Buenos Aires is exclusively used to judge Argentina’s economic characteristics, one would never guess agricultural production is the economic mainstay of the country. Because major cities hold a disproportionate position as economic centers of their respective societies, their economic structure cannot accurate reflect that of the society as a whole.
However, it could be possible that major cities may serve as good indicator of a society’s characteristics if the society in small in terms of both population and land size, allowing greater concentration of people and resources in the major cities. This is the case, for instance, in South Korea, where the Seoul metropolitan area holds more than 3/5 of the country’s total population. In such cases, the major city would be dominant in defining the country’s evolving character, simply because the rest of the society combined cannot match that particular city in terms of influence.
But, even in existence of such “primate cities,” one should not ignore that non-urban culture continue to be an important traditional component of the society in question, no matter how relatively little the rural population has become over years of urbanization. By the simple of fact of being so far away from foreign influence and trends of popular culture consuming urban centers, rural residents “lock in” the “purest” form of a society’s social characteristics, ones that have lasted for centuries relatively unchanged by outside forces.
As even the most agriculturally focused societies undergoes significant shift to urbanization over the past decades, a society’s major cities become more and more important in defining a society’s characteristics. However, to equate the characteristics of the major cities with those of the entire society remains largely inadequate because of the major cities’ fundamental differences with the rest of the society. Major cities’ abilities to attract foreign migrants as well as different kinds of economic activities ensure that their characteristics will remain fundamentally different from those of their hinterlands. As such, with possible exceptions of “primate cities,” major cities remain not as representative of their resident societies as small towns and rural villages.