Second and third tier cities

It is in medium-sized and small cities of the developing world that urban growth is expected to be greatest. Urban risks are also expected to be greatest in these cities, as they are generally less well-resourced in terms of professional capacity, governance and finance. Limited investment in infrastructure and urban services such as water, solid waste management and health is another reason for their vulnerability. There is a need for further research to understand the specific patterns and drivers of urban growth in different areas, as well as the policy responses required.

Roberts (2014: 2) seeks to fill this gap by exploring the role secondary cities play in rapidly urbanising regions. They note that secondary cities act as catalysts and secondary hubs in facilitating the localised production, transportation, transformation, or transfer of goods and services, people and information between subnational, metropolitan, national, regional and global systems of cities. However, growing disparities in economic, physical and social development between systems of cities are increasing gaps in income, poverty and levels of employment, especially between primary and secondary cities. Secondary cities are struggling to raise capital and attract the investment needed to build infrastructure, productive enterprises and vibrant communities that contribute to dynamic economies, improved livelihoods and jobs (Roberts, 2014). Urban systems in most secondary cities are poorly integrated, badly designed and therefore weak. Flow systems are important in supporting the development of secondary cities. These cities ‘need flow systems (material, information, finance, governance, and utilities) capable of supporting supply chains that keep government, business and communities operating’ (ibid.: 168).

Marais, Nel and Donaldson (2016) have sought to fill gaps in knowledge on secondary cities by improving understanding of the relations and networks that develop between diverse cities and towns and between the city and its peripheries. Neglecting the development of secondary cities has implications, namely a lack of understanding of intermediate cities and a failure to effectively integrate these in political development strategies.

For a fuller discussion of secondary cities see Marais et al. (2016) who identify attributes associated with secondary cities and use these to create a framework that guides discussion of strategies for these cities. They consider the functions of secondary cities and identify some concerns about national-city strategies.