The world is urbanizing increadibly rapidly. This gives us clear motivation at 100RC, but it also makes for some very interesting, powerful graphics. This cross-post fromGuardian Cities looks at demographic, economic, and environmental changes stemming from this trend, as compiled by LSE Cities’ Urban Age program. 100RC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.
In 1950, the fishing village of Shenzhen in south-east China had 3,148 inhabitants. By 2025, the UN predicts, that number will exceed 12 million. Congo’s capital Kinshasa will have gone from 200,000 to more than 16 million, growing over the next decade at the vertiginous rate of 4% a year (about 40 people an hour). Meanwhile Brazil’s economic engine São Paulo will have slowed to less than 1% per annum, nonetheless experiencing a 10-fold expansion over the 75-year period.
Earlier this year London overtook its historical high of 8.6 million reached at the outset of the second world war, bucking the trend of many European and North American cities which have experienced only slight or even negative growth. Compared to other global cities, London is inching forward, with only nine new residents an hour, compared to double that number in São Paulo and over 70 in Delhi, Lagos and Dhaka. Nonetheless, London will accommodate one million more people by 2030.
These snapshots reflect deep differences in patterns of urban growth and change across the globe, often masked by the crude statistic that the world is now more urban than rural, and that we are heading towards the 70% threshold by 2050. To better understand the impacts of these regional differences, the Urban Age has investigated the demographic, economic and environmental patterns linked to global urbanisation and urban change.
Historically, urbanisation has always been closely linked to economic development. While growth in the mature cities of Europe and North America accelerated in the 19th century, most reached their peak by mid-20th century. Other regions of the world saw their cities grow most significantly since the 1950s. Tokyo grew by more than half a million inhabitants each year between 1950 and 1990, Mexico City and São Paulo by more than 300,000, and Mumbai by around 240,000.
The only exceptions in this period were cities in China and Sub-Saharan Africa, which experienced only modest growth. But from the 1990s onwards – with the impact of globalisation and opening up of the Chinese economy – cities continued to grow rapidly in south and south-east Asia, with China experiencing a sustained growth spurt that is palpable today. For example, the South Guangdong metropolitan area (which includes Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dongguan) saw its 5.5 million inhabitants in 1990 increase six-fold to reach almost 32 million in just two decades.
The result of this process of growth and change is an uneven distribution of urbanisation across the globe. Europe, South and North America are the most urbanised of the five continents – with 73%, 83% and 82% of people respectively living in cities, towns and other urban settlements. Africa stands at around 40% and Asia at 48% – and both regions are set to experience exponential growth in the coming decades, a combined effect of increased birth rate and migration.
The stark differences in patterns of urban growth across the globe are graphically illustrated in the map above. It charts the population size of a selection of world cities with more than a million people from 1950 to 2025. By highlighting three periods of past and future growth (based on UN predictions), the uneven distribution of urbanisation becomes clear to see. Most large cities of Europe and parts of North America hit their current size by 1950. Latin America, the west coast of the USA, Japan and some Asian cities grew substantially in the years leading to 1990. But the bulk of urban growth will be experienced in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and China and other Asian cities like Dhaka and Manila, while Tokyo will experience relatively modest growth over the same period.
The same data has been translated by the Urban Age to capture how these numbers impact cities on the ground. The map at the top of the page shows how many people are likely to be added to some of the world’s largest cities through a combination of natural internal growth and migration. Again, the projected growth rates of African and Indian cities stand out. Of the Urban Age cities, the regional pattern is reinforced, with Delhi growing at 79 people/hour, Shanghai at 53 and Mumbai at 51; Latin American cities like Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro slowing to 22, 18 and 10 respectively while New York and London demonstrate their urban resurgence at 9 and 10 people/hour, running contrary to the majority of mature cities in Europe (especially Eastern Europe) and some cities in North America which have been hit particularly hard by economic restructuring and the recent recession. Interestingly, Hong Kong’s highly controlled and efficient planning regime leads to a relatively low projection of 4 people/hour.
Analysing patterns of economic development in cities across the globe reveals equally striking regional differences. Using data on the economic performance of 700 cities with more than 500,000 people over the next 15 years (based on data from UN Desa), it appears that larger cities tend to perform disproportionately well. In 2012, large cities made up 33% of the world’s global population, but produced more than 55% of all global economic output.
Future patterns of economic output and growth for the same 700 cities show that dramatic regional differences will still persist in GDP per capita in 2030 between the global north and global south – with important exceptions in the Middle East, China and parts of Latin America and Oceania, with the most intense growth in average GDP concentrated in China and East Asia. While there is evidence that urbanisation contributes to wealth creation, especially in cities in developing countries, it is likely that the economic gulf between rich and poor is likely to persist.
Where people live and how much they consume are inextricably linked. People living in the highly concentrated urbanised regions of eastern China and the Ganges Valley in India have modest consumption patterns compared to the oil and petrol-guzzling habits of those in the more sparsely populated regions of North America and the Middle East, where people have much higher income levels. There are equally varied patterns between the established urban areas of Europe and the US, and the more widely scattered but dense cities of Latin America and Africa. Reflecting global disparities in wealth, lifestyles and consumption, the map below confirms that a person living in the United Arab Emirates is likely to use 40 times more energy than a Bangladeshi, while a UK citizen consumes less than half of his US counterpart, but twice as much as a typical Mexican, and slightly less than a Dane.
Electricity is a major component of the world’s energy mix. Yet, electrification differs substantially between countries, swinging from less than 5% of total energy in Nigeria and Nepal, to more than 50% in Sweden and France. But a high share of electricity does not necessarily deliver environmental benefits. Generation is still dominated by carbon emitting fossil fuels, and electricity is not always the most efficient energy choice for uses such as heating and cooling in buildings. Aside from electricity, most of the world’s energy consumption involves directly burning fossil fuels, such as oil for transport, coal for making steel and cement industries and gas for heating. Despite recent improvements in some countries in procuring energy from renewables, they make up only 13% of the world’s total consumption – mostly hydro-electricity in high-income countries and biomass for cooking and heating in low income countries.
Carbon emissions by sector confirm that fossil-fuel based electricity is an important contributor to global climate change. Emissions from electricity generation vary depending on fuel source, with coal-dependent countries such as Australia, China and South Africa showing high proportions. In contrast, Denmark has lower emissions from electricity due to its high level of renewable generation. Varying levels of emissions from transport also echo motorisation rates. Global carbon emissions are concentrated in a few nations with China and the US alone producing 39% of global emissions.
The Urban Footprint
To capture the subtle variations in patterns of urban and rural habitats, the Urban Age has mapped the urban footprint of Europe, Africa, China and India. In Europe, there is a more decentralised form of urbanisation that reflects the culture, history and geography of the region – and the fact that Europe urbanised early at a time when transport costs were significantly higher.
Even though 73% of Europeans live in urban areas – the most urbanised of the four global regions – the urbanisation density threshold is low, meaning that areas with more than 314 people/sq km are considered urban, contrasting with India where this threshold is over 10 times higher. Europe’s urban residents occupy just 3% of the total land area of the geographic region, and a third of the total land area remains unpopulated, consisting mostly of large bodies of water and mountains. In addition to 128 cities with over 500,000 people, there are a large number of highly connected smaller cities and towns across parts of Germany, the Netherlands and Benelux countries, and Northern Italy. This highly connected urban area represents one of the wealthiest parts of the globe.
India stands out for the far higher population densities in rural areas across vast territories such as the Ganga valley, as well as the emerging presence of large cities like Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. The dark grey areas in Northern India reflect the preponderance of high-density rural areas which, by European standards, would be considered urban. While India has an urbanisation level of 32%, its urban areas represent only 1% of the total land surface of the country, but only 5% of the country is unpopulated – a much lower percentage the other three global regions. In India, the urbanisation density threshold is by far the highest of the four regions, at 4,128 people/sq km.
Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the largest of the four regions and is experiencing a period of intense demographic growth. While only 37% of the population lives in urban areas today, that percentage is set to rise dramatically, much of it through informal growth. While urbanisation levels are below that of the other global regions, just 0.4% of the total land area in this part of the continent is urban, while around a third of the total land area (32%) remains unpopulated. There are fewer, higher density rural areas than in China or Asia, with concentrations around Lagos, Kigali, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. The urbanisation density threshold is 1,019 people/sq km.
Just over half China’s population (54%) live in urban areas, which represent just 2% of the total geographic footprint of the nation, with largely unpopulated regions making up 39% of the total land surface area. With its rapid demographic and economic growth, urbanisation levels are approximately two-thirds that of Europe. As in India, there are extensive concentrations of higher density rural areas in the regions stretching from Beijing to Shanghai, and around the Chongqing, Chengdu and Nanchong districts, all areas which are experiencing a rapid transformation from agricultural to urban economies. China has an urbanisation density threshold of 1,433 people/sq km.
Urban Age is a worldwide investigation into the future of cities, organised by LSE Citiesand Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. Its 10-year anniversary debates are held in conjunction with Guardian Cities