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25 February


Small cities at the cusp of multiple mobilities

Oscar, whose story of migrating to Kupang, Indonesia is featured in the Small City Dreaming documentary film.


By Mukta Naik (CPR – Centre for Policy Research)

This blog is part of a series sharing findings from a research initiative of the JustJobs Network and the Centre for Policy Research that examined small cities in India and Indonesia. Read the introductory blog here.


It is already commonly acknowledged in migration studies that instead of one-time long-term movements from one place to another, migration is increasingly complex in pattern and duration. In emerging economies like India and Indonesia, seasonal and circular labour migration to diversify rural household incomes is well acknowledged. Improved transport infrastructure has also boosted commuter movements especially in dense city-regions. 

Our survey findings indicate that our Indonesian case cities – Kupang and Semarang Regency – attract migrants predominantly from their surrounding regions, while in the Indian case cities of Kishangarh and Mangalore, migrants come in from nearby but also traverse long distances from the poorly developed and populous eastern regions of the country. 

Moreover, we find that small cities lie at the cusp of multiple mobilities, acting as origin points, destinations as well as transit points for migrant youth. In Semarang and Kishangarh, where a significant number of industrial jobs are on offer, we find that migrants come in from nearby rural areas and plan to return back to their communities of origin in the future. Kupang, a provincial capital in an under-developed part of eastern Indonesia, acts primarily as a destination for rural migrants. Youth like Oscar, whose story is depicted in a documentary film, often experiment with several types of work before they find their niche, often becoming entrepreneurs. In contrast, in the southern Indian city of Mangalore, migrating out to work in large Indian cities and even abroad is a key aspiration and an established pattern. 

In relatively dynamic cities like Mangalore, in-migrants acquire skills and find networks that enable them to seek out opportunities in other places. For instance, Prakash is a migrant hospitality worker from rural Maharashtra, who has found ‘friends’ in Mangalore willing to set him up in a similar job in Dubai. In this way, small cities can act as waystations in a process of step-migration as well. Overall, while elite and educated youth in small cities have a propensity to leave the city in pursuit of the high-skilled service sector jobs that metropolitan cities offer, small cities act as ‘action spaces’ for rural and small town youth, where they can leverage their social networks to find jobs, housing, business capital, and skills as they pursue socio-economic mobility.

Because they act as junctions, policy interventions in small cities have the potential to go much further; planners need to think beyond the imaginary of static populations and tailor policymaking to a scenario of multiple mobilities. For instance, such cities can be important sites to locate workforce development interventions that can prepare those coming in for small city labour markets, but also impart skills that are in demand elsewhere for those aspiring to leave. Similarly, housing supply in such locations needs to cater to mobile populations and therefore emphasize a range of rental accommodation, working women’s hostels, and several forms of worker and student housing. Because the context of such cities is not only particular but constantly evolving, consultative and bottom-up approaches to governance are likely to be more effective. 


For more on the project visit smallcitydreaming.org

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