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Cities are not just about structures such as streets, buildings, and stores but they are also about people (Clayton, 2000). Cities are made up of people (Clayton & Optow, 2003). There is a link between people who live in a city and the way the city is created and inhabited (Stucky, 2005).
At the same time it can be said that poverty is not just about people without money. Poverty is also connected to the environment where poor people live. Using this analogy it can be said that there is great importance to look into the development of cities. In the movie Children of Heaven the interaction between the people, the city and poverty was the backdrop used for an amazing story.
Family Values, Family Ties and Social Network
City planners may want to improve the layout to the city but they have to consider family ties and social network. Family values dictate that it is more important to maintain family ties and social network than the need to improve the environment. Surely, it is much better to live in a nice city.
But the question is how can people be compelled to move out from the slums or the city into the rural areas and to deal with the problem of congestion and overpopulation? It is also unlikely that the government can uproot people and force them to live in a place or a town where they have no relatives.
It is indeed a challenge to force people to leave the slums. Planners and policymakers may want to implement a more radical solution to the problem of poverty and urban decay by destroying the slums. But it can be argued that people will resist. It is easy to understand why people are willing to use violence to stay where they live.
Aside form the social values, there is a reason why people in cities try their best to maintain family ties and the social network. It can be argued that the family ties and social network are intangible resources that they can rely upon when they in need. For example, there is a scene in the movie when the boy could buy food even though he had no money.
There was trust because the storeowner knew the parents of the boy. It can also be said that a social network built by community values existed there and it punished those who would try to avoid payment and not respect the informal business relationships built through many generations.
Cultural Differences among Haves and Have-nots
Cultural difference among the Rich and the Poor must be considered in the event of urban planning or urban renewal. If the government wants to improve the physical environment of the city, there is a need to understand cultural difference between different social layers of the society The Rich have resources that enable them to transfer to a community where they do not know their neighbors.
The Rich are self-sufficient and self-reliant in such a way that they will not mind if they are not at a walking distance away from their relatives. The Poor may not be happy with the idea of changing the key aspects of their living because they believe that it is a part of their ability to deal with the problems of living in an urban setting.
It can be said that poverty may have shaped the social outlook and the culture that surrounds the Rich and the Poor. For example, the Rich can appreciate the importance of long-term planning. The Poor on the other hand live their lives on a daily basis. In other words, there are those who will not go to doctor’s office to treat a medical problem they do not have, it is more important for them to spend the money on bread rather than on medical purposes.
Consequences of Urban Environment
It is important to highlight the meaning of poverty. According to the experts in urban development, “Households or individuals are considered poor when the resources they command are insufficient to enable them to consume sufficient goods and services to achieve a reasonable minimum level of welfare” (Lloyd-Jones & Radoki, 2002, p.12). It is therefore important define at first the minimum level of welfare required.
Therefore, urban planners must have a specific goal with regard to the delivery of basic services as well as the capability of the residents to purchase the things that they need. In this movie the basic level of welfare is centered on food, health care, shelter and education.
The inability of a family to acquire all these things proves that they are poor. However, it has to be made clear that the urban environment is a major factor to their poverty. The urban environment is a major reason why they remain poor. One factor to consider is house rent.
It is not difficult to understand the great impact of house rent on the family welfare. A family struggling to get the basic food, clothes and medications should not be burdened by high cost of rent.
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But in an urban environment real estate is a luxury. People living in cities cannot afford to have their own land and their own house. In most cases, urban dwellers can only live in a city if they are willing to pay rent. Urban planners and policy makers must seriously consider a solution to the high cost of rent of houses and apartments.
Use of Alleys and other Neighborhood Conditions
There was a scene in the movie where the girl was running through the heart of the urban landscape chasing after her shoe that had fallen into an open sewer. Many people living in industrialized countries may find it difficult to imagine an urban setting where one can find an open sewer. The first problem with open sewers is that it is a safety concern. Children can fall into an open sewer and break their ankles.
Another major problem with open sewers is linked to health concerns. Children have the tendency to wander into these open sewers and play with dirty water. Aside from structural problems like open sewers, urban planners must look into the congestion of alleys and streets because of hawkers and sellers of goods. These places must be easily accessible by people and not clogged with merchandize.
There was a moving scene in the movie when the poor boy played in the home of a rich family. The poor boy was happy because he was playing in the midst of a garden. It must have been paradise for him. Poor cities may tend to consider gardens as luxury, but urban planners must create gardens and parks that are easily accessible by both rich and poor families.
Cities are not just about physical structures built by engineers and city planners, cities are also about people. In the same way poverty is not just about the lack of funds but it is also the result of the physical environment where poor people live. The movie seems to say that the physical environment of the city is a contributing factor to poverty of the people. Thus, it is important that policy makers develop solutions not only to address poverty in general but also the urban environment where poor people live.
Clayton, J. (2000). Small town bound. New York: Xlibris Corporation.
Clayton, S., & Optow, S. (2003). Identity and the natural environment. MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Lloyd-Jones, T., & Rakodi, J. (2002). Urban livelihoods: a people-centered approach to reducing poverty. VA: Earthscan Publications.
Stucky, T. (2005). Urban politics, crime rates, and police strength. Washington, D.C.: LFB Scholarly Publishing.