In 1800, just 3% of the world lived in urban areas. Today that figure has passed 50% and by 2050 it will likely reach 70%, with cities like New York, Mexico City, Moscow and Shanghai growing exponentially.
Year Urban Pop World Pop World Urbanization 1800 30 million 978 million 3% 1900 220 million 1650 million 13% 1950 732 million 2520 million 29% 2005 3200 million 6500 million 49% 2030e 4900 million 8300 million 60% 2050e 6500 million 9200 million 70% 2100e 8000 million 10000 million 80%
China now has 120 cities with a population of more than one million, seeing its urban population skyrocket from 18 percent to 50 percent of the country. With 660 million already living in cities, China expects another 240 million to join them within the next two decades.
The benefit of the megacity is manifold. It generates more consumption, driving the economy; it helps modernize infrastructure; it leaves rural areas with more natural resources; it helps balance the regional dispersement of population.
Big cities are the consequence of modernity, Carlos Slim (world’s richest man) suggested — and modernity dictates that density is a more efficient way to provide new technology.
“What makes a big city possible is that the population all has [access to] public services,” he said, offering highway construction, water, electricity, telecommunications and healthcare as examples. “It’s important that all these services be profitable.”
The megacity need not be a one-way street, devouring all resources in its path. Density can help enrich the greater region, and foster the development of satellite cities whose residents enjoy the services of their larger peer without the tradeoffs that extreme density requires.
“There has to be overarching, overall strategy of planning,” Jeichi said. “Around the big cities, we need to build up the small and medium sized cities. So instead of having one megacity, you have a cluster.”
China’s 90,000 kilometers of railways, 70,000 kilometers of highways and 7,000 kilometers of high-speed rail track have only encouraged residents to move away from the country’s largest cities.
“You have seen a mushrooming of small and medium sized cities, away from megacities, he said.
Of the 120 cities in China whose population is more than 1 million, a host of new culture facilities have emerged, Jeichi said. New museums, theaters, even children’s libraries have been an unexpected benefit of having so many people live so close together.
Jeichi said cities must exchange ideas so as not to repeat each others’ errors and more quickly benefit from new technology.
“I believe that cities represent the future,” he said. “Better city, better life — we need to do more in that regard.”
Ubiñas said it makes good economic sense.
“Cities are cheaper. It is much less expensive to deliver government services, to deliver rights…if people are closer together.”
422 cities populations of over 1 million
205 cities populations of over 2 million
65 cities populations of over 5 million
27 cities populations of over 10 million