Urbanization's Second Wave: A Difference of Scale
Comparing future to past trends helps put current urban growth trends into perspective. The scale of current change is unprecedented—though rates of urban growth in most regions have slowed. The underlying socio-economic and demographic factors behind the urban transition in developed and less developed countries also differ, as explained in Box 2.
The huge increases in urban population in poorer countries are part of a “second wave” of demographic, economic and urban transitions, much bigger and much faster than the first. The first wave of modern transitions began in Europe and North America in the early 18th century. In the course of two centuries (1750-1950), these regions experienced the first demographic transition, the first industrialization and the first wave of urbanization. This produced the new urban industrial societies that now dominate the world. The process was comparatively gradual and involved a few hundred million people.
In the past half-century, the less developed regions have begun the same transition. Mortality has fallen rapidly and dramatically in most regions, achieving in one or two decades what developed countries accomplished in one or two centuries, and the demographic impacts of these mortality changes have been drastically greater. Fertility declines are following—quite rapidly in East and South-East Asia and Latin America and more slowly in Africa.
In both waves, population growth has combined with economic changes to fuel the urban transition. Again, however, the speed and scale of urbanization today are far greater than in the past. This implies a variety of new problems for cities in poorer countries. They will need to build new urban infrastructure—houses, power, water, sanitation, roads, commercial and productive facilities—more rapidly than cities anywhere during the first wave of urbanization.
Two further conditions accentuate the second wave. In the past, overseas migrations relieved pressure on European cities. Many of those migrants, especially to the Americas, settled in new agricultural lands that fed the new cities. Restrictions on international migration today make it a minor factor in world urbanization.
Finally, the speed and size of the second wave are enhanced by improvements in medical and public health technology, which quickly reduce mortality and enable people to manage their own fertility. Developing and adapting forms of political, social and economic organization to meet the needs of the new urban world is a much greater challenge.
The first urbanization wave took place in North America and Europe over two centuries, from 1750 to 1950: an increase from 10 to 52 per cent urban and from 15 to 423 million urbanites. In the second wave of urbanization, in the less developed regions, the number of urbanites will go from 309 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2030. In those 80 years, these countries will change from 18 per cent to some 56 per cent urban.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the now developed regions had more than twice as many urban dwellers as the less developed (150 million to 70 million). Despite much lower levels of urbanization, the developing countries now have 2.6 times as many urban dwellers as the developed regions (2.3 billion to 0.9 billion). This gap will widen quickly in the next few decades.
At the world level, the 20th century saw an increase from 220 million urbanites in 1900 to 2.84 billion in 2000.(7) The present century will match this absolute increase in about four decades. Developing regions as a whole will account for 93 per cent of this growth, Asia and Africa for over 80 per cent.
Between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population will increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa’s from 294 million to 742 million, and that of Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million. As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030. By then, Africa and Asia will include almost seven out of every ten urban inhabitants in the world.
The impact of globalization on city growth patterns marks a critical difference between past and present transitions.(8) Cities are the main beneficiaries of globalization, the progressive integration of the world’s economies. People follow jobs, which follow investment and economic activities. Most are increasingly concentrated in and around dynamic urban areas, large and small.
However, very few developing-country cities generate enough jobs to meet the demands of their growing populations. Moreover, the benefits of urbanization are not equally enjoyed by all segments of the population; left out are those who traditionally face social and economic exclusion—women and ethnic minorities, for example. As Chapter 2 describes, the massive increase in numbers of urbanites, coupled with persistent underdevelopment and the shortage of urban jobs, are responsible for conditions that can outmatch the Dickensian squalor of the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, like Adegoke Taylor in the story presented at the beginning of this chapter, rural-urban migrants generally prefer their new life to the one they left behind.