We live on an (increasingly) urban planet. Today, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world's population (55 percent) lives in cities. By 2050, that figure will rise to more than two-thirds, with close to 7 billion people living in urban areas. Cities have always been centers of opportunity, innovation, and human progress. But they are also often on the front lines of the major political and social challenges of the day. Here are three areas in which that's true right now.
Over the past seven decades, dozens of countries have experienced rapid urbanization as people flock from rural areas to cities in search of more diverse economic opportunities. During that time, the global urban population has increased six-fold. Here is a look at how that trend has played out in major regions of the world. While North America and Latin America have been predominantly urban for decades, it is only more recently that East Asia has made this transition, while Sub-Saharan Africa is just on the cusp of being majority urban. Here is a look at how urbanization played out globally since 1950, with forecasts out to 2050.
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The construction of China's "perfect city" In April 2017, China's President Xi Jinping personally chose the site for the Xiongan New Area, about 60 miles south of Beijing. What's the Xiongan New Area? It's not only an attempt to relieve the crushing congestion of China's capital city, it's a bold bid to create a "city of the future." Of the 1,000 "smart city" projects around the world, half are in China, and Xiongan is the most ambitious in scale. Its architects say it will serve the needs of citizens with high-tech smart infrastructure and higher environmental standards than exist elsewhere in heavily polluted China. But it will also serve as a laboratory for cutting-edge surveillance of the city's residents. By following its progress and measuring its successes and failures, we'll learn much about how "smart cities" can create a higher quality of life for us all—but also how governments can use new tools to compromise personal privacy in the name of social order. The Xiongan project, with full political and financial backing of the Chinese government, is due for completion in 2035.
By 2030, ten urban areas are projected to attain "megacity" status, a population of more than 10 million people. Six will be in Asia, where more than half of the population will be living in cities at the end of the decade. But the fastest growing megacities will be in Africa — including new megacities in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Luanda (Angola). Can urban planners and governments in Africa keep pace with this rapid urban growth? We look at the world's upcoming megacities, comparing their current and future estimated populations, to get a sense of how crowded each megalopolis will be in 2030.
Listen: What will the cities of the future look like? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer to that question was clearer: Urban areas around the world were on a trajectory of exponential growth, with 68% of the world's population expected to live in cities by 2050.
It's unlikely the pandemic can dramatically alter that unstoppable trend, particularly in developing nations. But it will no doubt be impacted by the economic and lifestyle changes this global crisis has brought, from New York to London to Tokyo and beyond.