In the decade 2000 to 2010 Europe’s cities divided neatly into three groups; roughly 33% grew their population base, roughly 33% were stable, and about another 33% lost population. On the whole, large European Cities grew and smaller cities got smaller. The shift to a new phase of globalisation appears to have offered both a major return to scale and size, and to have supported those cities able to play international roles.

This month in the MIPIM World Cities blog we will be looking at urban population change and how it impacts on city development.
What about population change in cities outside Europe?


The findings of the UN-HABITAT’s report, State of the World Cities 2010/2011: Bridging the Urban Divide, paints a mixed picture of world cities in the 21st Century. Some cities have established themselves as true centres of rapid industrial growth and wealth creation, albeit accompanied by high levels of pollution, while others have stagnated and become characterised by urban decay and rising levels of social exclusion.


The report, while acknowledging progress in some areas, calls for new, more sustainable approaches to urban development in the hope of creating greener, more resilient and more inclusive towns and cities.


Urbanisation continues apace


The report argues that whatever pathway towards economic development is chosen by a city, urbanisation remains an inevitable outcome. Already, over half of the world’s population is urban. The report acknowledges that although the less urbanised regions of Asia and Africa are currently predominantly more rural than urban in terms of population distribution, the regions are expected to be classified as predominantly urban by 2023 and 2030 respectively.

A reduction in the number of slum dwellers


The report highlights positive news that, between the year 2000 and 2010, 227 million people in the developing world have been lifted out of slum conditions, surpassing the Millennium Development target by 2.2 times. The UN are careful, however, to articulate that the 22 million people in developing countries that moved out of slums each year between 2000 and 2010 was the result of slum upgrading.


While these figures paint a positive picture, the mission to reduce the overall number of slum dwellers still requires much work as the “absolute number” of slum dwellers has actually increased from 776.7 million in 2000 to 827.6 million in 2010; an increase of 55 million. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa has the largest slum population where 199.5 million (or 61.7%) of its urban population live in such conditions.


The growth of mega-regions, urban corridors and city-regions


As cities outgrow their original boundaries, some are merging into massive conurbations called mega-regions, urban corridors and city-regions. UN-HABITAT’s 2011 report claims that while the growth of such conurbations is fuelling further regional division, they are also becoming the “new engines of global and regional economies.”


Mega-regions are absorbing even larger populations than mega- or meta-cities, with the Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guangzhou mega-region housing over 120 million people. Mega-regions may only house 18% of the world’s population, but combined they account for 66% of global economic activity. Urban corridors meanwhile are experiencing the fastest growth rates and the most rapid urban transformation. It is purported that the industrial corridor developing in India between Mumbai and Delhi, will stretch over 1,500km from Jawaharlal Nehru Port (in Navi Mumbai) to Dadri and Tughlakabad (Delhi). Furthermore, city-regions have grown rapidly over the last 20 to 30 years and by 2020 the extended Bangkok Region, Thailand, is expected to expand another 200km from its current centre, dramatically adding to its population of 17 million.

Refugee cities

The UN-HABITAT’s report highlights that many cities are also increasingly being faced with the proposition of accommodating a growing number of displaced people. While one in four of Amman’s two million residents are refugees, the Jordanian capital is far from the only world city experiencing growth in this way. The report cautions that other cities around the world also face similar refugee challenges, claiming that one in two refugees now lives in an urban area.

Urban sprawl


Finally, while the size of populations in cities is growing, the trend of urban sprawl, long associated only with North American cities, is also fast engulfing many developing countries, causing a dramatic growth in the surface area of cities. Between 1970 and 2000, for example, the surface area of the Mexican city of Guadalajara grew 1.5 times faster than its population.


In the next set of blogs we will look at how the immigration supports urban growth, how shrinking cities can cope, how urban consumption patterns are changing and what a city can do to become open to mobile international populations.


Image: Flickr-mr. Wood

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