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World goes urban

May '07
The world's face is constantly changing and these changes are very often the result of man's endeavours. Urbanisation of the world is one such major man-made transformation; most importantly, it has been ongoing for thousands of years.

The first cities were made possible over 10,000 years ago by increases in agricultural productivity. The surpluses generated allowed the emergence of specialists in administration, military matters, the skilled trades and science. At the same time their specialisation required the exchange of services, that is trade.

Factors that proved conducive to trade were market squares and, first and foremost, people living in close proximity to one another. Ultimately, cities are thus the product of the division of labour and the exploitation of economies of scale.

This urbanisation process has speeded up considerably over the last two hundred years and especially in the last 50 years: in 1950 some 30% of the world's population – nearly 750 million people at that time – were city-dwellers*;50% of the world's 6.5 billion inhabitants live in cities.

The urban population has thus risen around 2.7% each year, while the rural population has increased “just” 1% p.a. This process has given rise to urban agglomerations with previously unheard-of dimensions: in 1975 the world was home to 179 cities with more than one million inhabitants, by 2005 the number had risen to over 400.

In China alone there are nearly 100 cities with over 1 million inhabitants, according to the United Nations. And whereas 30 years ago there were only three urban agglomerations with over 10 million inhabitants (Mexico City, New York and Tokyo) there are already 21 such megacities – and only four of them are in industrial nations (New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe).

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