May 05, 2010
The World Moving Into Cities

The future is bright lights and big cities.

In 1950, fewer than 30 percent of the world's 2.5 billion inhabitants lived in urban regions. By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world's estimated 10 billion inhabitants or more than the number of people living today will be part of massive urban networks, according to the Population Division of the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Part of this trend is due to massive migrations into cities. But another part of it is due to expansion of cities into surrounding areas as populations grow.

What amazes me about this trend is the fact it happens even among poor populations. My picture of cities is a relative degree of affluence. But the scale of the migration into cities is so large that it must include hundreds of millions of very poor people

Today, on average, 3 out of 4 people living in modern industrialized states are already building their lives within an urban area a ratio that will jump to more than 5 in 6 by 2050. By contrast, today in the least-developed regions of the world, more than 2 out of 3 people still eke out a living in a rural area. For these people, even the slumdog existence in places like Dharavi can offer more opportunities than their villages ever could. And within these developing regions, according to UN-HABITAT, cities are gaining an average of 5 million new residents per month.

Humanity is losing its experience and understanding of nature while at the same time humans reduce the amount of ground that is still in any sense wild.

Will this trend continue? Can the world really support 10 billion mostly urbanized people?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 May 05 11:43 PM  Trends Demographic


Comments
MarkyMark said at May 6, 2010 5:15 AM:

I suspect that cities in developing countries will grow relentlessly over the coming years but James Howard Kunstler has written and spoken extensively about how he expects that peak oil will make the existing structure of US cities uneconomic and that American cities will contract as a consequence. American cities also have complicated racial politics and it is not too hard to imagine "white flight" from the suburbs to smaller towns.

BernardZ said at May 6, 2010 6:51 AM:

Nature what would a caveman hunter think of a farm?


It is cheaper on society for people to live in cities rather than the bush. You also live better there. In a small country town there are often complaint about no doctors, internet not good etc. There is also less work in the farms.


Paul from Texas said at May 6, 2010 8:10 AM:

Yes, Bernard, but try eating without farms. Even if Peak Oil isn't here or immediately around the corner (and there's some evidence that the world is at least close, in terms of economically-available oil), prices will go up substantially over the next few years, if from depreciation of our currency if nothing else. Since agriculture as we know it today is intensely dependent on oil and NG (mainly a by-product of oil), food will get both more expensive and less available. Cities cannot sustain themselves - not even if everyone grows veggies in a box on their balcony, so there will HAVE to be a movement out of the cities to more rural areas where people can start large gardens (1/2 acres or more) and perhaps raise some relatively easy-to-care-for livestock (chickens and goats, primarily). We simply cannot support 300 million people in this country, much less continue to export food and to burn increasing amounts of food in our gas tanks, on $150 or higher oil. Such a move to "the boonies" likely won't happen all of a sudden, but it almost certainly will start within the next 10 years.

James Bowery said at May 6, 2010 9:36 AM:

The solution I propose is to help technological civilization complete its evolution as fast as possible which is essentially to become a "multicellular" organism that makes far more efficient use of resources. This, of course, means humanity per se, especially individuals as such, are going to rapidly be replaced by more appropriate parts*, but that's not the point. The point is to get land turned back to a more natural state and let technological civilization leave earth for the natural habitat it needs:

Solar-energy-drenched space.

*This is not to say humans as individuals will have no use for technological civilization, nor that "cells" that descend from humanity aren't in the cards. Its just to say technological civilization will have no use for humans as individuals in any meaningful sense of the word.

Christian Nesheim said at May 6, 2010 10:06 AM:

"Humanity is losing its experience and understanding of nature while at the same time humans reduce the amount of ground that is still in any sense wild."

I don't think we're losing our understanding of nature, that's taking it too far. Every year we understand more and more of it, and I'm surprised to see you write that, since I know you follow human progress pretty closely. I think urbanization is of the good and it's easier to support a global population of 10 billion if they mostly live in cities rather than the countryside. I think urbanization will free up a lot of rural land, increasing the amount of wilderness, not decreasing it. I think the larger proportion of humanity we can concentrate in cities, the less strain we'll put on wild areas. But 90 per cent of the urban growth we'll see over the next 20 years is projected to occur in the developing world. In the industrialized world, urbanization has already plateaued. I posted an article to ilookforwardto.com about the ten largest metropolitan areas of 2030 which i think would be of interest to you. You can follow the URL I've included if you'd like to see it.

PacRim Jim said at May 6, 2010 11:57 AM:

Once herded into corrals, humans will be more manageable.

JCee said at May 6, 2010 12:15 PM:

"We simply cannot support 300 million people in this country, much less continue to export food and to burn increasing amounts of food in our gas tanks, on $150 or higher oil. Such a move to "the boonies" likely won't happen all of a sudden, but it almost certainly will start within the next 10 years."

What a load of BS! We easily could support 300 million people. India has ~1.2 billion on ~3.3million sq kilometers. The US has ~300million on ~9.8 million sq kilometers. If the US goes to all nuclear(plus misc. hydro)electricity we'll have plenty of electricity (yes I know about the waste just recycle it). We can then convert coal to synthetic diesel for vehicles ~$0.8 per gallon(plus diesel vehicles get ~30% better mileage)plus wont need to divert corn to ethanol production. Nothing prevents us from making fertilizer from coal too. With the elimination of burning coal and natural gas for electricity we could still reduce CO2 output by ~50% for thoughs who are worried about global warming.

kurt9 said at May 6, 2010 4:33 PM:

Resource limits of Earth.

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/

PacRim Jim said at May 6, 2010 8:58 PM:

FYI, cities occupy only 5 percent of the U.S. land area.

Tj Green said at May 9, 2010 7:35 AM:

With electric vehicles and vertical farming we could see 90 percent living in cities.

cancer_man said at May 9, 2010 4:19 PM:

Dumb projection out to 2050. Why would be move to cities when virtual reality improves and transportation becomes faster and cheaper in the 2020s? Remember, this is FUTURE pundit?

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