Trends of Global Urban Development

Posted: 2017-06-02
Written by: EU Network
Category: Europe
Tagged: urbanisation urban trends sustainable development development city

The planet has gone through a process of rapid urbanization over the past six decades. Urbanization is a process whereby populations move from rural to urban area, enabling cities and towns to grow. In 1950s only 30 % of the world’s population was urban. In 2007 for the first time in history the global urban population exceeded the global rural population. Around 54.5 % of the world’s population lives in urban areas now and by 2050 already 66 % of the world’s population is projected to be urban. One in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants so that by 2050, the world will be one third rural (34 %) and two-thirds urban (66 %).

Urban and rural population of the world from 1950–2050


Source: United Nations

The coming decades will bring further profound changes to the size and spatial distribution of the global population. By 2030, a projected 27 % of people worldwide will be concentrated in cities with at least 1 million inhabitants.

World’s population by size class of settlement (2016 and 2030)


Source: United Nations

In 2016, there were 512 cities with at least 1 million inhabitants globally. In 2016, there were 436 cities with between 1 and 5 million inhabitants and an additional 551 cities with between 500,000 and 1 million inhabitants. By 2030, the number of cities with 1 to 5 million inhabitants is projected to grow to 559 and 731 cities will have between 500,000 and 1 million inhabitants. By 2030, a projected 662 cities will have at least 1 million residents. An overwhelming majority of the world’s cities have fewer than 5 million inhabitants.


Shenzhen is now a megacity in China

Cities with more than 10 million inhabitants are often termed “megacities”. In 2016, there were 31 megacities globally and their number is projected to rise to 41 by 2030.  

Of the world’s 31 megacities in 2016, 24 were  located in the less developed regions or the “global South”. China alone was home to 6 megacities in 2016, while India had 5. The 10 cities that are projected to become megacities between 2016 and 2030 are located in developing countries:

1. Lahore (Pakistan)
2. Hyderabad (India)
3. Bogota ( Colombia)
4. Johannesburg ( South Africa)
5. Bangkok (Thailand)
6. Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
7. Ahmanabad ( India)
8. Luanda (Angola)
9. Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam)
10. Chungdu (China)

Despite a projected decline of nearly 1 million inhabitants, Tokyo is expected to remain the world’s largest city in 2030, followed by Delhi, which is projected to add nearly 10 million people between 2016 and 2030.

Global megacities  (2016-2030)


Source: United Nations

Over the coming decades, the continuing urbanization and overall growth of the world’s population is projected to add 2.5 billion people to the urban population by 2050, with nearly 90 %  of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa urbanizing faster than the rest. China and India will contribute more than one third of the global urban population increase between by  2050.
While many countries across Asia are seeing a big move to the city, for China the growth has been phenomenal, especially since the year 2000. Then, the urban population here stood at around 35 % - by the end of last year, that had risen to 54 %. This is the largest migration to the city in history. We've never seen this before anywhere in the world.
Future increases in the world’s urban population are also expected to be highly concentrated in just a few countries.

Contribution to the increase in urban population by country (2014 – 2050)


Source: United Nations

Taken together, China, India and Nigeria are projected to account for 37 % of the increase of nearly 2.5 billion people in the urban population by 2050. Between 2014 and 2050, the urban areas are expected to grow by 404 million people in India, 292 million in China and 212 million in Nigeria. Seven other countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan, and the United States of America, are projected to contribute more than 50 million each to the urban increment and will constitute together another 20 % of the total increase in urban population.
In a few countries, the urban population will decrease, despite projected increases in the level of urbanization. The largest declines between 2014 and 2050 are projected for Japan, with a decline of 12 million urban dwes between 2014 and 2050 are projected for Japan, with a decline of 12 million urban dwellers and for the Russian Federation, expected to decline by 7 million.

Tokyo (Japan)


People migrate to cities for many reasons, including family ties and job opportunities. These trends are changing the landscape of human settlement, with significant implications for living conditions, the environment and development in different parts of the world. Urbanization changes the economic, social and political setup of a country or region and has several major negative impacts:

■ Intensive urban growth can lead to greater poverty, with local governments unable to provide services for all people.
■ Poor air and water quality.
■ Automobile exhaust produces elevated lead levels in urban air. Concentrated energy use leads to greater air pollution with significant impact on human health.
■ Insufficient water availability.
■ Waste-disposal problems.
■ Urban development can magnify the risk of environmental hazards such as flash flooding.
■ High energy consumption.
■ Pollution and physical barriers to root growth promote loss of urban tree cover.
■ Animal populations are inhibited by toxic substances, vehicles, and the loss of habitat and food sources.

Accurate, consistent and timely data on global trends in urbanization and city growth are critical for assessing current and future needs with respect to urban growth and for setting policy priorities to promote inclusive and equitable urban and rural development.  


Amsterdam - the capital and most populous municipality of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development challenges will be increasingly concentrated in cities, particularly in the lower-middle-income countries where the pace of urbanization is fastest. Strong city planning will be essential in managing these and other difficulties as the world's urban areas as well. Cities can lead the way towards economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies, but that a holistic approach to urban planning and management is needed to improve living standards of urban and rural dwellers alike.

Some Solutions to Combat Problems Caused with Urbanisation:
■ Governments must implement policies to ensure that the benefits of urban growth are shared equitably and sustainably.
■ Diversified policies to plan for and manage the spatial distribution of the population and internal migration.
■ Combat poverty by promoting economic development and job creation.
■ Involve local community in local government.
■ Reduce air pollution by upgrading energy use and alternative transport systems.
■ Create private-public partnerships to provide services such as waste disposal and housing.
■ Plant trees and incorporate the care of city green spaces as a key element in urban planning.
■ Policies aimed at a more balanced distribution of urban growth.

Sustainable urbanization requires that cities generate better income and employment opportunities, expand the necessary infrastructure for water and sanitation, energy, transportation, information and communications; ensure equal access to services; reduce the number of people living in slums; and preserve the natural assets within the city and surrounding areas.

Understanding the key trends in urbanization likely to unfold over the coming years is crucial towards sustainable development and for efforts to forge a new framework of urban development.

Sintija Bernava,
Chairwoman of the Board of Non Governmental Organisation "Donum Animus" (Latvia)
"Donum Animus" is the only  Non Governmental Organis


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