How are cities growing?

This post looks more closely at the story behind the global urbanisation trend.

Global urban population by size class of settlement - note that over 50% of people reside in cities of less than 500k

Global urban population by size class of settlement – note that over 50% of people reside in cities of less than 500k

A key observation relates to the facts behind the figures (ref UNFP reports 2007 and 2011) – in my previous post I noted the headline figure that is the number of people in cities now outweighing those in rural areas, but this is not the whole story:

  • the world’s urban population will grow to 4.9 billion by 2030, whereas the rural population will decrease by some 28 million between 2005 and 2030
  • most of the urban growth will take place in developing nations – the urban population of Africa and Asia is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, whereas for the developed world it will grow from 870 million to 1.01 billion
  • the ‘second wave’ of urbanisation taking place in developing nations is occurring at a far greater size and scale than the first wave that unfolded in developed nations in the 20th century – meaning that developing nations will need to build new urban infrastructure (houses, power, water, sanitation, transport, commercial and productive facilities) more quickly than did developed nations
  • the urban growth of the 21st century will be composed largely of poor people, through both natural increase (urban births) and migration (from rural to urban areas), the balance of which varies from region to region (India more the former, China the latter)
  • over half of the world’s urban population resides in settlements with a population of less than 500,000 (refer to the chart above)
  • many of the world’s poor are migrating from the centres of the biggest cities to smaller settlements on the periphery or in satellite locations as a result of the high cost of living and scarcity of jobs

This last point has much resonance for my home town of Melbourne, where a demographic divide is forming between the affluent inner areas and the poorer but rapidly-growing urban sprawl.  The 2009 MacroMelbourne report argues that the most significant trends and challenges effecting disadvantage and inequality in metropolitan Melbourne are:

  • Rapid population growth, particularly in outer urban areas
  • The employment and economic impact of the global financial crisis
  • Rapid increases in the number of people with multiple and complex needs
  • Ongoing challenges facing migrant, refugee and Indigenous communities
  • Lack of access to affordable housing

These themes are clearly echoed in the UNFP reports, and I suspect that they are true for cities everywhere.

In reflecting upon what all this means I draw upon Porter and Kramer’s concept of Creating Shared Value to make the following observations:

  • The lessons from the older, more populous cities should inform the answers for the smaller, faster-growing settlements – however there needs to be more attention given to the specific challenges/solutions applicable to small/medium cities
  • Technology solutions, in particular relating to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), are a key enabler to addressing many of the challenges faced
  • Low-cost, highly transferable/scaleable technology solutions represent the greatest opportunity

In future posts I will explore each of these issues/opportunities in more detail.


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