Global megatrend update: Towards a more urban world
Urbanisation is an integral aspect of development. As countries transition from primarily agricultural economies, the shift to cities offers substantial productivity gains. Jobs and earnings in urban settings create strong incentives for internal migration, often reinforced by government policies and environmental degradation. Only later in economic development do urban-rural disparities begin to dissipate, easing the pressure for further urbanisation.
Together, these drivers have brought extraordinary changes to the geographical distribution of humanity during the last century. Whereas just 10–15 % of the global population lived in urban areas in the early 20th century, that figure had risen to 50 % by 2010 (WBGU, 2011) and is projected to reach 67 % by 2050 (UN, 2012). Almost all of that growth is expected to occur in today’s developing regions, with urban populations there increasing from 2.6 billion in 2010 to 5.1 billion in 2050.
At the individual level, urbanisation can boost opportunities and living standards. At the macroeconomic level, cities drive innovation and productivity. But while the associated growth of the middle class is welcome, it also carries risks in terms of rapidly growing burden of resource use and pollution. Dense urban settlements can provide for comparatively resource-efficient ways of living but exploiting this potential and creating a healthy, secure living environment requires effective urban planning. Indeed, the consequences of ill-managed urbanisation are apparent in the vast slums that today accommodate a quarter of the world’s urban inhabitants — more than 850 million people.