Learn why the world is becoming more urbanized and why it matters.
- For most of our history, humans have lived in a rural setting. Over the course of many millennia, we lived together in relatively small groups tending to our crops. Of course, cities did exist thousands of years ago like Damascus in Syria and Athens in Greece, but these were relatively modest compared to the massive industrial cities that will begin to emerge in the 1600s and onwards. Here, we have the x-axis for Time and the y-axis for Population.
Global human population remains less than one billion until about 1804. As food production techniques and living conditions improved, the population began a rapid increase. The Industrial Revolution which began in Britain introduced mass production, factories, and large-scale mining. Labor was in high demand, and people to began to live around factories and mines. This began the first major migration of people from rural areas to urban areas.
While at first conditions in cities were poor and people suffered terribly, over time cities' social structures improved. Institutions like police and unions emerged. There was better sanitary solutions and basic and broader education options were introduced. City populations began to skyrocket. By the 1920s, Earth's population had doubled to two billion and would hit three billion by 1960.
The phenomena of cities has continued all over the world as countries have developed. These organizing structures have enabled high-end employment, predictable services, increasing prosperity, and the emergence of rich, diverse culture. Cities have lifted billions out of extreme poverty. By 2012, the planet hit seven billion people with half living in cities.
In almost every country in the world, cities are the dominant, defining structure and they are the central engines of economic growth in every major economy. China, for example, has seen rapid urbanization just over the past few decades. Today, there are over 160 cities in China with a population of over one million. New master-planned cities are emerging in places like Yachay in Ecuador, Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, Songdo in South Korea, and Konza in Kenya.
In June 2015, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced the Smart Cities Mission, an urban renewal and retrofitting program to develop 109 cities all over India to make them citizen-friendly and sustainable. The human migration from rural areas to urban areas will continue rapidly for decades to come. We expect to see another two billion people move to cities over the next 20 years.
While cities have provided so many positive contributions to our human well-being, unfortunately they have created and are sustaining significant problems too. Many cities are near breaking point, and many are already failing in key areas such as public safety, environmental management, infrastructure decay, and economic bankruptcy. With most of our future centered in cities, together we must look to create new, sustainable, and resilient solutions.
- The challenges of rapid urban development
- Understanding the basic functions and needs of 21st century cities
- Exploring what makes a smart city smart
- How smart cities are planned and maintained
- The role of big data in driving urban innovation
- Open data and smart cities
- Smart cities and the Internet of Things