The future of the world is urban

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, states Tobias Just in a recent research paper for Deutsche Bank. 

Today, 50% of the world’s 6.5 billion inhabitants are city-dwellers – the urban population has thus risen 2.7% each year since 1950. Of the ten cities with the largest increase in population over the past 30 years, five are in China, one in India, and one in South Korea – with globalisation and trade the key catalysts, the author asserts. 

The changing face of the world is often the result of man’s endeavours, Just adds. For him, the urbanisation trend of recent decades is due firstly to industrialisation enabling the exploitation of economies of scale in production – requiring more industrial workers – and secondly to increasing countries having opened up to international trade and capital flows. 

Just highlights several notable aspects to this growth in urban living. Firstly, the poorer the country, the faster its cities will grow. There is a close negative correlation between the current level of a country’s per- capita income and the expected population growth of its major cities in the next ten years, he believes. He also claims that most major cities in rich countries have not yet reached breaking point, and a number of them – particularly in the UK – are expanding faster than in the past. 

Meanwhile, events in China, Iran and India show that particularly dynamic population centres can attract well over one million people in the space of a decade. On the other hand, numerous smaller cities in the developed world – and particularly Germany – are shrinking, he reveals. 

Just concludes that the urbanisation process will continue for the foreseeable future. Citing the example of Tokyo, he observes that there appears to be no absolute limit to the size of an amenable urban agglomeration, providing that it boasts sufficient economic output. However, there are also fast-growing cities that lack an adequate economic base – primarily in Africa – and that these cities face the biggest problems in the decades ahead. 

In contrast, many industrial nations will have to deal with the problem of shrinking – or only barely expanding – cities, and make the associated adjustments to their infrastructure. 

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