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Cities and Characteristics of Modern Urbanization

Updated on March 19, 2019
KsenijaZ profile image

Graduated in Geography with a major in Environmental Protection. In love with sustainability, ecology, geology and nature.


In the year 2008, the world reached invisible but important milestone: for the first time in the history of mankind in urban areas lived more than half the world's population - 3.3 billion people. In cities of the world currently (the year 2016) lives 4 billion people or 54.5% of world's population. It is expected that by the year 2030 this number will rise to almost 5 billion people. By the year 2045, the number will increase to 6 billion. The world is reliably becoming more and more urban; people migrate to cities in search of employment, educational opportunities and higher living standards.

Busy city people, London
Busy city people, London | Source

The definition of the city and urbanity

When we study cities the question of the definition of the city and urbanity arises. Settlements are usually divided into two major groups: cities (urban areas) and rural settlements. Between these two it is often a blurred dividing line. For the definition of urbanity, it is necessary to define the basic characteristics of cities, which differ from rural settlements; the concept of urban is usually associated with larger, more densely populated and predominantly non-agrarian settlements. Generally, valid criteria for identifying cities that would be useful for the entire global settlements, do not exist because there are significant differences between different parts of the world in a way, density and spatial distribution of settlements, and the settlements were also developed in different circumstances.

City people walking
City people walking | Source

The characteristics of cities

Cities have great importance for humanity. There is located a large part of the economic potentials and production, they are centers of the exchange of goods, services an information, centers of power and decision-making. Rural areas are also under the strong influence of cities, whereas urban lifestyle has become the dominant pattern of social relations. Gradually, due to the spatial expansion of cities and urban areas and the simultaneous transformation of rural areas under the influence of cities, the distinctions between rural and urban are blurring.

New York
New York | Source

Cities are dynamic and have a range of characteristics that have different impacts on creating a desirable quality of life and living. From the perspective of ecological systems, the city can be compared to the ecosystem, in fact, to the non-comprehensive ecosystem, since their operation is dependent on external support, the inputs and outputs of their surroundings. Urban environments are complex, composed of natural, built and social components. The modern city is characterized by an increasingly diversified urban metabolism, large material dependence on non-urban ecosystems and high-level of exchanges with suburban environments. The urban environment can also be considered as a heavily modified natural ecosystem. Cities are energetically and materially living at the expenses of their surroundings, in most cases they ecologically deplete rural areas and are becoming major consumers of goods and environmental services of the planet and as such, they are a key source of burdens on the global ecosystem.

Tokyo, Japan, the largest city in the world
Tokyo, Japan, the largest city in the world | Source

Cities are, therefore, as the home of the half of the world's population, more and more in the foreground of our most urgent environmental challenges. As extensive areas of high concentration of the population, a variety of activities and interests, they represent the open material - energy and spatial ecosystem that is increasingly negatively spreading and carving into the natural environment.

Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta, Indonesia | Source

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The number of urban population

In developed countries, the number of the urban population is estimated to almost three-quarters of the total population and will continue to rise by less than half a percent per year to the year 2030 and the rural population will decrease in number. On the other hand, cities in developing countries represent around 95% of the world's expected population growth in the next two decades, as a result of migration from rural to urban areas, the transformation of rural settlements into urban areas and the natural increase of the population. In the developing countries, the world population will increase by more than 1.5 billion till the year 2030, most of them will be poor. Already, one out of three urban city residents lives in poor conditions or slums.

The Mathare Valley slum, Nairobi, Kenya
The Mathare Valley slum, Nairobi, Kenya | Source

At the global level, these demographic changes specify important urban transition. By the year 2030, 5 billion people (60% of the global population) will live in urban areas and four-fifths of the urban population will be located in developing countries. 'Megacities' - those with more than 10 million people - will continue to grow in size and number, especially in the developing world, although slowly. The most rapid growth will occur in cities with less than half a million inhabitants, which together comprise more than half of the world's urban population.

Slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh | Source

Growth of urban population

The growth of urban population in the world is a combination of natural growth of the urban population and migration of rural population to the cities. According to United Nations estimates the total number of urban population in the world increased from 738 million in 1950 to 2900 million in 2000. After 1950, the proportion of the urban population in less developed countries was sharply increased, in the year 2000 it reached two billion people and in the developed countries only 900 million. The main features of modern urbanization and major urbanization trends in the world are as follows:

  • in the period 2000 - 2030 an annual increase of urban population will be 1.8% and the total population growth 1%. In developing countries will be higher, there the main factors for the growth of the urban population will be the rural - urban migration and transformation of rural settlements into urban
  • there are significant differences in the course of urbanization between different parts of the world . Africa and Asia had in the year 2000 the lowest level of urbanization (40%) but will have the fastest growth rate of urban population in the coming decades. Most of the urban population in the year 2030 will live in Asia, about 54% of the world's urban population. Among developing countries stands Latin America (75% of the urban population, by the year 2030 it will increase to 84%). In Europe, North America, Australia and Oceania, the share of the urban population will exceed 80%, but the total number of urban population will increase only by about 200 million.

Shanghai | Source

The global population is, therefore, becoming more and more concentrated in urban areas. Nowadays urbanization trends are becoming irreversible and are achieving the greater speed. Thus, environmental pressures, resulting from the growing number of urban population are increasingly growing.

Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo, Brazil | Source

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Largest built-up urban areas in the world in 2016

Urban area
Population estimate
Tokyo - Yokohama
South Korea
United States
New York
Sao Paulo

Demographia, World Urban Ares, 12th Annual Edition

Urbanization and the growth of global cities


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