Urbanization: insights in a global megatrend

Urbanization

Within the next minute, the global urban population will increase by 145 people. Urbanization is inevitable and is one of this century’s most important megatrends. In 1800, about two percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Now it’s 50 percent. Every week, some 1.5 million people join the urban population, through an amalgamation of migration and childbirth. China and India, two leading Asian countries, add 60,000 people every day to urbanization figures.

Globally, a vast majority live in urban regions, and this number is set to increase by 2050 with more than two-thirds of the world’s population dwelling in cities.

The global rise in cities has been unprecedented. But sharp regional variations exist: Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050, while Europe’s is expected to shrink.

Urbanization

Population growth has been the prime contributor of this expansion, but the exponential surge is also due to rural– urban migration motivated by the prospect of a higher standard of living, greater employment opportunities, the opening up of industries, better healthcare and educational facilities, as well as increased overall well-being.

According to the United Nations, 60 percent of urban growth is attributed to a natural population increase, while 40 percent is due to migration from rural to urban areas and international migration. Urbanization is an essential part of growth and a key factor in socio-economic transformation and development. The countries that have urbanized most rapidly are those that have achieved higher economic growth. Cities are at the core of urbanization with a role to drive economic growth trajectories. At present cities account for 80 percent of total global GDP9 and their contribution to national income is greater than to the national population, as depicted in Figures 3 and 4.

Urbanization

Urbanization

Accelerated urbanization not only leads to economic growth opportunities, it also brings challenges that need critical examination and treatment. Key persistent and emerging urban challenges include insufficient infrastructure, inadequate urban services, rising informal settlements, poverty, urban insecurity, increasing inequality and climate change. In addition, cities face administrative challenges, such as the lack of governance and finance, which when converged with other challenges intensify the overall impact. Figure 5 depicts key urbanization impacts that stakeholders must take into account.

Urbanization

As cities grow at a rapid and unprecedented rate, their infrastructure will likely not grow in tandem with development, making it difficult for city authorities to deliver an adequate standard of living and meet modern-day expectations. Figure 6 and 7 provides a glimpse of the urban infrastructure required in key sectors and the investment estimates happening across some of the regions.

Urbanization

Urbanization

Urbanization dynamics have evolved over time and present cities with changing development needs. Nations have adopted global urban programmes and agendas that provide targets and strategic plans to help cities achieve urban growth. I will come back to this, and explain how urbanization challenges are addressed in the next article.

*) Source: World Economic Forum report: Harnessing Public-Private Cooperation to Deliver the New Urban Agenda

**) This article was written by Alice Charles, Cities & Urban Development Expert, Urban Development Lead, World Economic Forum & External Board Member, NAMA

Alice Charles

**) Featured image: NASA’s earth observatory (CC)

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