Elfie Swerts (e-mail) defended her thesis entitled “Urban systems in China and India” on 25 October 2013, prepared at Pantheon-Sorbonne University (Paris I) and at the Ecole Doctorale de Géographie of Paris, under the supervision of Denise Pumain (Professor at Pantheon-Sorbonne University, UMR* 8504 Géographie-cités) and Eric Denis (Research assistant at the CNRS, UMR 8504 Géographie-cités), with the support of Veolia Environnement Recherche et Innovation and ERC GeoDiverCity (led by Denise Pumain).
She received the highest honour from the jury : “mention très honorable avec félicitation du jury à l’unanimité” (very honourable with the congratulation of the jury). The jury members were:
- Anne Bretagnolle, Professor at Paris I University, president
- Eric Denis, Research assistant at the CNRS, thesis supervisor
- François Gipouloux, Director of Research at the CNRS, Director UMR 8173 China, Korea, Japan, examiner
- Frédéric LANDY, Professor at Paris Ouest-Nanterre University, honorary membre of the Institut Universitaire de France, rapporteur
- Denise Pumain, Professor at Paris I University, membre of the Institut Universitaire de France, thesis supervisor
- Céline Rozenblat, Associate professor at the Université de Lausanne, rapporteur
Elfie Swerts will continue her research on retrospective and prospective modelling of the demographic evolution of urban systems in India and China within ERC GeoDiverCity, and on the economic ties between the cities of these two systems and the rest of the world within the framework of the ORBIS project, led by Céline Rozenblat. She will also refine her research by delving deeper into the question of small town dynamics in India, collaborating with ANR SUBURBIN, led by Eric Denis and Marie-Hélène Zerah (Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi), and the question of financial dynamics and real estate trends in urban systems in India and China, collaborating with ANR FINURBASIE, led by Natacha Aveline (Director of Research CNRS, UMR 8504 Géographie-cités) and Ludovic Halbert (CNRS researcher, attached to the Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires, Sociétés of Val de Marne University).
This thesis compares the urban systems in China and India using dedicated data bases that have been constructed using comparable and harmonized principles, describing the evolution of the population of all urban agglomerations above 10 000 inhabitants, every ten years from the beginning of 20th century for India and 1964 for China. Both very large countries of ancient urbanization are characterized by many small towns and have developed gigantic metropolises during the last decades.
Despite their geo-historical specific features, these two systems share with others in the world the same properties of hierarchical differentiation and urban growth processes (Zipf’s law and Gibrat’s model), at country scale as well as for regional subsystems. A regional diversity is linked to former processes of unequal concentration of urban development.
The most interesting result is identifying for the first time a reverse trend in the evolution of the Chinese urban hierarchy compared to other countries in the world among which India: despite the very rapid recent urban growth, the inequalities in city sizes are decreasing. This may in part depend of the under-registration of migrant urban populations. It also reveals the power of the political control on China’s urban processes that also appears in the magnitude of spatial concentration of manufacturing cities due to the implantation of Special economic Zones.
Comparing the trajectories of Indian and Chinese cities may well improve the prospect of global urbanization that is crucial for the world and the planet.
*UMR: Joint Research Unit