- The recently adopted Degree of Urbanisation allows a consistent definition and comparison of urbanisation at a global scale. Based on this new definition, the world is already much more urbanised than previously thought. While, for 2015, the UN reports that 54% of the global population lived in urban areas, this new definition leads to an estimate of 76.5% in 2015 - some 5.6 billion people. This share increased from 69% (2.8 billion people) in 1975, to 73% (3.9) in 1990 and 75% (4.6) in 2000.
- According to the same new definition, urban centres have almost doubled in number (from more than 6,900 in 1975 to more than 13,100 in 2015) and their population size has also grown. In the majority of countries population grows faster in urban areas than in rural ones.
- Over the last 25 years, cities globally have grown in size by an area equal to that of Romania. Furthermore, about 60% of cities have also seen an increase in land consumed per new resident.
- In 2015, urban areas hosted some 5.6 billion people, nearly the double than in 1975, and their surface area (built-up footprint) exceeded half a million km2 (a 20% increase since 2000). While in the rest of the world the urban population increased faster than or at roughly the same rate as the built-up area, in Europe and Northern America the inverse occurred, meaning that more land is now being consumed to accommodate new citizens than in the past.
- Based on previously accepted definitions of urbanised areas, the ratio of the world's urban population is expected to increase from 55% in 2018 (approximately 4.2 billion people) to 68% by 2050, meaning that the world's urban population will nearly double. By 2100, some 85% of the population will live in cities, with urban population increasing from less than 1 billion in 1950 to 9 billion by 2100.
- Globally, urbanisation is occurring at different rates – considerably faster in developing regions than in the developed ones. Africa is expected to be the fastest urbanising region: in the last 25 years, urban population has more than doubled almost all across sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, in many parts of North America and Europe urban population has instead declined.
- About 45% of the world’s urban dwellers live in settlements with less than 250,000 inhabitants, and almost 60% in settlements with fewer than 1000000 inhabitants.
- In 2015, there were 467 urban centres with at least 1 million inhabitants, and globally 29 megacities (with over 10 million inhabitants). By 2030, there will be a projected 662 cities with at least 1 million inhabitants and 43 megacities, most of which will be in developing regions. Of the future megacities, 2 will be in India; Delhi is projected to become the world's most populous city around 2028, overtaking Tokyo, which has a declining population. By 2025, China will have more than 220 "million" cities and 8 megacities.
Urbanisation in Europe
- Europe's level of urbanisation is expected to increase to approximately 83.7% in 2050.
- Trends in the total population of EU27 and UK from 1961 to 2018 show a decline in the share of population living in rural areas over the total population, while towns and cities experienced a smooth and constant increase.
- Whereas the total population of European Functional Urban Areas (FUAs) is projected to increase on average by 4% by 2050, almost half of them will actually lose population, with 10% of cities losing more than a quarter of their population between 2015 and 2050.
- The migration of population to cities is one of the factors driving agricultural land abandonment, which is expected to reach 4.2 million ha net over the period 2015-2030, bringing the total abandoned land to 5.6 million ha by 2030, the equivalent of 3% of total agricultural land.
- Built-up areas are likely to expand by more than 3% between 2015 and 2030, reaching 7% of the EU territory by 2030.
- In 2015 France had the largest absolute built-up area in the EU – more than 5 million ha, 17% of the EU total, followed by Germany (4.2 million ha, 14%) and Italy (2.9 million ha, 10%). In relative terms (built-up as share of the total territory), the densely populated Malta, Belgium and the Netherlands topped the list with 35%, 22% and 21% respectively.
- By 2030, built-up areas are expected to expand across most of the EU. Italy will see the largest absolute increase (+144 thousand ha), followed by Germany (+128 thousand ha) and Poland (+121 thousand ha). The highest relative growth, around 6%, is expected in Romania and Belgium. On the other hand, some decrease in built-up land is likely in Bulgaria and Croatia.
Increasing importance of cities
- Cities are estimated to generate 80% of all economic growth.
- OECD studies showed that, for each doubling of population size, the productivity level of a city increases by 2-5% as a result of better labour distribution, education, entrepreneurship, spread of ideas, etc.
- The organisations of mayors now represent an emergent global governance power and platforms for addressing the most important challenges – e.g. the C40 networks.
- In the last two decades, cities ambition has risen remarkably to go beyond the national governments’ climate-change targets: for example, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C warns that current nationally determined contributions for the Paris Agreement are not sufficient.
Challenges faced due to urbanisation
While having many advantages in terms of economies of scale, the high density of both population and infrastructure in urbanised areas can also make many of the implications related to the megatrends even more outspoken, for example:
- While being responsible for a high level of energy consumption and, therefore, generating about 70% of global GHG emissions, cities are also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
- Cities worldwide generate over 720 billion tons of waste annually, and in cities in the global south, the production of waste has been increasing exponentially since the 1980’s to reach levels almost equivalent to that of Western Europe and North America. However, over 70% of waste generated worldwide still goes to landfill or waste dumps, (leading to soil and water contamination, the production of greenhouse gases and representing threat to public health) and solutions to better recycle and manage waste are urgently needed.
- Resource consumption influences not only local, but also global sustainable development. Four out of nine planetary boundaries have already been exceeded due to human activities.
- Providing water, energy and food security, amongst other services, for urban populations results in significant environmental pressure beyond city boundaries.
- Whereas water use by most economic sectors in Europe has fallen since 1990, increased uncertainty over water availability is foreseen, also driven by extreme weather events and the changing demography.
- In 2016, some 91% of the urban population worldwide were breathing air with a level of particulate matter over the value recommended by the World Health Organization guidelines (PM 2.5). Over 50% of these people were exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times higher than WHO safety standards. Furthermore, high levels of ambient air pollution was a cause of death of an estimated 4.2 million people in 2016.
- In the EU, some 85% of the urban population is being exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at levels deemed harmful to health.
- Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, might become “unliveable” in a few years. Unsustainable rapid urbanisation caused a decline of 88% in the city’s vegetation between 1973 and 2016, while water bodies declined by 85% between 2000 and 2014. If present trends continue, the built up area in Bangalore is expected to increase from 77% in 2017 to 93% in 2020, with a remaining vegetation cover of a mere 3%. The city's e-waste is estimated at 20,000 tonnes per year. Respiratory and other health problems have drastically increased in the city in recent years.
- Some of Europe’s most in-demand cities have seen sharp increases in housing prices over the past years. This threatens housing affordability as prices are growing faster than earnings, and the availability of housing is low.
- Of the 220 million EU households, around 82 million citizens spend more than 40% of their disposable income on housing, and social housing waiting lists are at a record high.
- Surveys show that, in 2015, most EU citizens found it more difficult to find affordable housing in capital cities than in other cities. Real estate markets appear least accessible in Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Berlin, London and Dublin, where more than 80% of citizens indicate that they do not think it is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price.
- For example, the city of Amsterdam has experienced a significant boom in its real estate market in recent years: between 2016 and 2018, property prices increased by 45%, well above the national average. Concerns have been raised about the city’s affordability. It is estimated that if no measures are taken, the percentage of affordable housing will decline from 61% in 2015 to 43% in 2025, hitting low- to moderate-income households the hardest.
- The recent scale-up of foreign and corporate investments in residential urban property has transformed patterns of ownership, raising concerns on the social fabric of a city and on who can be held accountable for citizen’s rights to adequate and affordable housing.
- Short-term rental platforms, which are becoming increasingly popular, may cause property prices to spiral upwards, negatively affecting local liveability.
Mobility and provision of services
- Urban areas congestion continues to rise; time losses from traffic congestion are estimated to cost the equivalent of 2% GDP in Europe, and 2–5% in Asia.
- Mobility and service provision in cities are two of the sectors that are expected to change the most in the future as a result of technological innovation and behaviour changes.
- The ownership of private vehicles will likely decrease as mobility as a service (MaaS), combining multiple modes of transport, becomes more prominent in cities. Already more than 40% of trips are made on foot or by bike in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Amsterdam and Vienna.
- Capital cities have the lowest rates of residents using cars, although the variations amongst cities are stark: from over 70% in Lefkosia (CY) to less than 10% in Paris (FR) .
- Legislation and appropriate governance measures will be needed to ensure new transport modes complement rather than compete with public transport.
- Specialised (regional) services need a sizeable market close by and are thus more economically viable in larger cities. A person living in a city with less than 100 000 inhabitants is expected to travel on average 30 km to reach a (generic) regional or specialised facility, whereas it is possible to find a regional facility within 6 to 8 kilometres in cities with over 1 million inhabitants.
Urban Health and Ageing
- While tightly connected human networks in cities may facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, cities also ensure economies of scale in the provision and effectiveness of health measures and services.
- More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures, both indoors and outdoors
- Where you live in a city can determine your well-being – For example, life expectancy in London can vary by some 20 years depending on where you live. Similar observations hold true for other cities: Turin (IT), Barcelona (ES), Stockholm (SE) and Helsinki (FI) reveal a significantly higher risk of death amongst residents in more deprived neighbourhoods, although the correlation differs between cities.
- Mental well-being may be impacted negatively by urban surroundings. Increasing attention is currently being brought to this aspect.
- By 2070, life expectancy in the EU is expected to rise to 88 years, while the old-age dependency ratio (the number of elderly people as a share of those of working age) is expected to almost double. Additional strain will be put on the welfare system, as growing costs for health care, pensions and social benefits will need to be covered by a shrinking labour force, with the potential to impact overall GDP and innovation, too.
Inequalities and social segregation
- Extremely impoverished people are most at risk from climate change, water scarcity, flooding, limited access to energy and pollution. This is especially the case for informal settlements, which tend to occupy already degraded or more vulnerable areas in a city and have the fewest resources to adapt or recover quickly from shocks.
- In 2017, 112 million EU inhabitants were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, corresponding to 22% of the total population. Of this 112 million, 47 million people were living in cities. Whereas cities are often characterised by high standards of living, they are also the places extremes in inequalities and segregation can be found as well as high-income inequality.