Sustainable Cities I

The Patterns of Urbanization Around the World

We’ve spent quite a bit of time now, talking about how the world can feed itself and what’s happening to the great ecosystems, rainforests, oceans the polar regions. Now it’s time for us to focus on where most of the people live, and that’s in the cities. Something remarkable happened in recent years and that is that for the first time in all of human history, more than half of the human population now lives in cities. We know from time and memorial that our species started out as hunters and gatherers all in vast rural areas.[1]

1117 About 10,000 years ago, civilization began with sedentary agriculture rather than roaming, hunting and gathering. Humanity started to stay in one place, and as a food surplus was generated in the farm sector, a urban economy could arise, characterized most importantly by the fact that the people in the urban areas weren’t agriculturalists. They were trading urban services, the administration manufactured goods, other kinds of services for the food produced by the farm communities. We know that up to the time of the industrial revolution, the farm sector simply wasn’t productive enough to support a large urban economy. And even though the history of urban areas is known by the great monuments of Rome, or you know, or London, or other great cities of the world before the industrial age, the share of the world’s population actually living in cities we’ve already noted was under 10% of the world’s population. The vast majority of people up to the time of the industrial revolution were smallholder, peasant farmers. With the industrial revolution and with the vast advances in agricultural productivity made possible by, advances in scientific knowledge. The high yield seed varieties we talked about, that, gave us the green revolution.

1116The process that gave humanity, chemical based fertilizers, allowing a huge increase of agricultural productivity. Machinery, tractors harvesters, combines. That allowed one farmer to farm a vast area as opposed to many, many peasant farmers with hoes each farming a very smaller area meant that a smaller and smaller proportion of the population could feed the country or feed the region. Ever since the start of the industrial revolution, therefore, we have been on a trajectory in which our economic activities worldwide have been less and less in the farm sector and more and more heavily concentrated in industry including manufacturing and construction and in services. And as the industrial and the service economy has risen, so to has urbanization. This is really the key starting point for our discussion about sustainable cities. Agriculture is based on people and land. And farmers live apart from other farmers on larger and larger farms as economic development takes place. Working larger farm areas with more equipment. But for industries like manufacturing, finance, retail and wholesale trade, going to the movies. Other forms of entertainment. Sports events. Public administration. It’s not the land to the people that matters, it’s people in the face of other people, it’s the human interactions. The highest productivity for manufacturing, for construction, for wholesale and retail services, for finance, for public administration.

For other specialized services, law, and medicine, public health are when people are concentrated in an urban setting.  What this means is that as the need for farmers has diminished because each individual farmer is more productive and able to grow more food, not only for the farmer’s own family. Not only for a local community, but for, the country. As the demand for farm activities, has declined as a proportion of the total labor force, as more people have moved into, manufacturing, and services, those activities are located in, urban settings, not in rural areas with large distances between people. So together with the shift from agriculture to industry and services, is a parallel absolutely fundamental shift from rural areas of dispersed populations to urban areas of densely settled populations.

1115We know looking at the crowds in New York, at the unbelievable traffic jams in Dhaka, Bangladesh of people in Shanghai. These are people on the move, densely settled facing challenges in urban areas of navigating people. Rather than of harvesting crops giving a completely different tenor and feel and pace and nature of life. Cities are throughout the modern history where the vast proportion of research and development, scientific innovation, engineering breakthroughs have taken place as well. And so cities have been the source of a tremendous amount of the technological advances for the countryside as well. This leads to a dynamic process where productive cities make the farms more productive. More productive farms actually release populations for urbanization because fewer farmers feed the whole country. That brings larger and larger cities, more and more concentration of people, and the tendency is towards more productivity, more intensive innovation.

Which then has a feedback, a positive feedback, spurring more productivity in the countryside as well. But cities are also where politics is settled, and our capital cities are often places of great political contention. As well as the activities of industry and services, and entertainment. And these sites that we have come to know in recent years are not sites of entertainment, there sites of great drama. In the major cities around the world there has been rising instability in recent years. As public so protested some of the consequences of globalization itself. The rising inequalities. The rising unemployment that has occasioned shifting technologies and shifting trade patterns in many countries. Of course the information age has made people more aware.

1114It’s allowed people to organize more easily. It’s made people demand their say in government as well, overthrowing dictatorships. It’s also enabled governments in many cases to impose stronger order themselves because they use these technologies for clashing with their own citizens or cracking down on their own citizens in many cases. The result is a lot of instability, and the instability shows up in the cities. So what can we say as a starting point to an exploration of what will it mean for the cities to be sustainable. Let’s understand what is really distinctive about cities. Understand the basic trends of cities today and where we are likely to see developments in the future and from there. To define what a sustainable city really means, give examples of how cities are taking innovations for sustainability, and how cities can plan ahead so that they are ready to confront the rising challenges of environmental change, for example, that will confront them in future years.

1113What’s distinctive about city’s first population density? High definition in urban area is a densely settled area. Of course, the large cities are now not thousands but millions. And the megacities are places of over 10 million population, and their number is growing significantly. Second, is the economic activity. There may be a little bit of urban farming, but by and large, cities are about industry and services, and in the high income countries, overwhelmingly in services because services are the economic activity most demanding of face to face meetings where population density is of the essence for efficiency. Industry somewhere in between farming and services, and it can be on a periphery of these cities, but the cities and the city’s centers. Are dominated by retail and wholesale trade, by finance, and by other public services, including public administration. Generally cities are high productivity areas. What does that mean? If you compare the output per person in urban areas and in rural areas. It’s quite typical that urban areas within a country might be two or three times more productive on average than the rural areas. Higher value added per person in the cities. Cities, as I mentioned, are also places of innovation.

1112Whether it’s a university’s research laboratories, major businesses introducing new  products, cities are the locusts of tremendous amount of innovative activities. And it’s from the cities that innovation spread to outlying areas. Cities in general are coastal. We’ve already noted why that is when we  first looked at the patterns of the industrial revolution. And when Adam Smith noted way back in 1776, that development starts at the coast and moves gradually to the interior. Big cities are coastal because that’s where trade is lowest cost. That’s where it’s possible to move goods internationally, to take inputs from the rest of the world, and often for the great cities to move goods along major river ways. To the port that constitutes the hub for that city, and from that port out to world markets. Consider New York city, my, my hometown for example, it is not only a great trading city, but it is the terminus of a major sea-based network.

On the one hand, taking goods of, from the Atlantic Ocean freight, and on the other connecting the interior of the United States through a waterway system that was already operating at the beginning of the 19th century. Goods could come from Chicago, an inland city through the Great Lakes region. Through the Erie Canal and then down the Hudson River with the New York City at the base of the Hudson where the Hudson enters the Atlantic Ocean. And that marvelous location, the unique location, on the Eastern seaboard allowed New York not only to connect the United States with the world, but to connect the interior of the United States with the coast. And that is one of the reasons why the Chicago, New York linkage was so essential. Think of the counterpart in China, Shanghai, China’s most important economic city, it’s major industrial city. It is, like New York, on the coast, and like New York, also the terminus of the major river of China, the Yangtze river which connects Shanghai with great interior cities in China. Notably Zhoushan and Chongqing, two very large cities in the center of China, connected by waterway to Shanghai and from Shanghai to world markets. Cities are places of rapid population growth will see and be, they’re the only places in the world on average, growing right now because the rural areas have peaked in population. And finally, cities are places of extraordinary, glaring inequality. Rural areas can be as well, between large land owners and the landless. Cities can put the rich and the poor next to each other often in shocking ways just as we already have seen in the sights of Rio with its grand towering, modern buildings right next door to the favelas of Rio.

1111 What you’re looking at here is the demonstration that economic development is accompanied by urbanization on the horizontal axis is per capita income. And on the vertical axis is the proportion of the country that is living in urban areas. What you see is an upward sloping curve. Higher incomes, more urbanization. That’s why we expect the world as it continues to achieve economic growth, also to become increasingly urbanized. The United Nations population division makes the following forecast, and that is that the rural, urban populations crossed around 2010 when half the world for the first time in history became urban. But then there’s no looking back. By 2030, urban areas will be an estimated 60% of the world’s population. By 2050, the UN population division estimates that two thirds, 67% of the world’s population, will live in urban areas. On other words, all of the increase of population expected, hereon, going from 7.2 billion to 8 billion to 9 billion to 10 billion and beyond. Will be associated with a rising urban population and a stable or even gently declining rural population in absolute size. And just as with income levels there’s now a tendency towards convergence of urbanization rates. Just as poor countries are tending, to grow faster than rich countries, poor countries are tending to urbanize, more rapidly than rich countries, which are already, nearly entirely urban. And so, we see, in this graph, which shows for different regions, the increase of urbanization rates. That Asia and Africa are the two dynamic urbanizing regions of the world now. And their urbanization rates are carrying them to become urban societies after their long history of being village-based rural societies. If you look at the share of the world population in different regions, therefore, something quite remarkable is happening. And it’s changing our world fundamentally. In 1950, looking at this bar chart 38% of the world’s urban population was in Europe. Europe ruled the roast. Europe where, was the site of the imperial powers dominating the rest of the world, and dominating largely rural societies. If you add Europe and North America, that is the United States and Canada together in 1950, those two regions constituted 53% of the world’s urban population. Move the clock fast forward indeed all the way to the forecast of 2050. At time in which Asia and Africa will have substantially urbanized. The UN forecasts that as of 2050, Europe will only be 9% of the world’s population in urban areas, because Europe’s total share of population is falling and because the rest of the world is urbanizing. And North America will be 6%. Add them together rather than 53% of the world’s urban areas, Europe and North America will constitute just 15%. Imagine how different the world will be in culture in the sense of where things are happening, where the dynamism is taking place. The era in which European and U.S. cities were the dominant cities of the world is coming to an end. This is also borne out by the dynamics of the world’s largest cities. If we look at the places in the world that have populations of 10 million or more. These are so called, urban agglomerations, they don’t necessarily mean areas within a legal city limit of 10 million, they mean a concentrated area that may include many political jurisdictions within one concentrated agglomeration. What we’re seeing is, first of all, a sharply rising number of these giants, these mega-cities. But also we’re seeing that those mega-cities are arising in what are today’s developing countries. Back in 1950 there were just two mega-cities: Tokyo and New York. Both in the developed world. As of 1990, there were now 10 mega cities, four of them were in the high income countries 40%. The other 60% were now big agglomerations in developing countries, from the most populous downward. That’s Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, San Paulo, Mumbai, Osaka, Calcutta, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Buenos Aires. Four of them, Tokyo and New York, Osaka and Los Angeles, in the high income countries. By 2011 there are now 23 such megacities and only six of them little over one fourth are in the high income countries and the other 17 are in todays developing world. And according to the UN’s forecast for 2025, astoundingly there will 37 megacities, 37. And only seven of them, or roughly little over one in five will be in the high income world 30 of the 37 megacities or mega urban agglomerations will be in the developing countries. Have a look at top 10 on the list. Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mumbai, Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo, Dhaka, Beijing and Karachi. So only two of the top 10, in what is today’s high income countries Japan and the United States, the same two that were the only two back in 1950. And the other eight are megacities in the developing countries today, of course many of those countries are reaching high income level status as a result of the economic convergence. And have a look at where the biggest cities are located. These are overwhelmingly coastal cities. Cities that face special opportunities in trade and in being cosmopolitan areas connected to the world, but cities that face special challenges of being threatened by more extreme storms, and by rising sea levels, as a result of the long term trends of human induced climate change. Of these top 25 cities, only three, only three are a long distance from the coast. Those are Moscow, Tehran, and Delhi. The other 22 of the cities shown in this graph are essentially coastal cities. A couple of them a little bit away from their port, but by and large we can say that they are close to the sea and taking advantage but also threatened by some of the dynamics yet to come.

[1] Fontes,,,1117

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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OpenEdition sugere que esta publicação seja citada da seguinte forma:
Pedro Pereira Leite (24 de Abril de 2015). Sustainable Cities I. Global Heritages. Recuperado em 21 de Julho de 2024 de

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