Conference paper: Vibrant small cities can keep rural youth closer to home

I was in London late August this year to present a paper on small cities in the context of internal migration in India. Read the full paper here.

I chose as a case study for this research project a small, I would say tiny, city called Narendra Nagar located in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Here, out-migration is a familiar phenomenon. Men have traditionally left hill villages for employment opportunities to metros- Delhi, Mumbai and the like. More recently, young men and women are moving out to industrial and service-sector cities in the plains an hour or two away, to seek education and employment, a better life.


Its been eight months since my field visits to Narendra Nagar and the faces of the youth I interviewed are still fresh in my mind. I can recall their names, their words, their enthusiasm for life, their innocent narration of life in a small town. To the surprise of many who heard me in that cozy room at the RGS IBG conference, this is what I found:

  • Small cities like NN are at the cusp of two migration flows, (1) from the village into the city and (2) from the small city out to larger cities
  • The perceived migration costs are high for rural youth who commute to Narendra Nagar for work on a daily basis. Under-confident of their ability to secure well paying jobs in larger cities, they are satisfied to work close to home where they can continue to support and be supported by their families.
  • In contrast, youth who already live in Narendra Nagar whose parents are already in secure government or private jobs are more ambitious and see eGramServe as an opportunity to gain experience that will secure them better jobs in a larger city.
  • For women, employment near home allows them to continue to work despite the bindings of a patriarchal society that denies them independence in movement and decision-making.
  • Migration decisions of young people appear rational, albeit complex and a number of interesting patterns including multiple cycles of migration as well as return migration exist
  • The study questions the notion that educated youth in rural and small town India aspire to migrate to the big city fulfill their dreams. Instead, it indicates that it is worthwhile to find ways to support small urban entities like Narendra Nagar in terms of investment and governance to enable rural youth to be meaningfully employed closer to home.

About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on December 2, 2014, in Urban Planning & Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Haven’t had a chance to read the full paper, but based upon of how I understand rural/small Indian cities, what holds them back is lack of stable economic opportunities. What probably would unlock their potential would be access to capital and reforming land ownership and taxation systems. While land distribution was a great ideal and need of the hour during our birth as a nation, the resulting fragmentation and disputes over land ownership has mired the economic potential in the country side. Like the cellphone, a reform in just one of this land ownership regulation could help spur economic activity in rural/small town India. The new SAGY guidelines also don’t quite address this, but they do outline the need to a Village Development Plan, which will help focus investments in rural areas in a meaningful way. Maybe one these model villages can start a land ownership reform effort under the model village program. 🙂

    • Bharat, the point here is that small cities are neither here nor there and particularly vulnerable. At the same time, they offer unique opportunities and that needs to be recognised and addressed. Model villages of all types are the flavour of the times btw!

  1. Pingback: Ramblings of the year gone by: Recap 2014 | ramblinginthecity

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