World Urbanization Prospects Worldwide

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Revealing urbanization trends worldwide

feature3_smallThe world’s urban population has grown rapidly since 1950 and the coming decades will bring further profound changes to its size and distribution. On 10 July, UN DESA’s Population Division will release the latest urbanization trends, providing data that are critical for assessing current and future needs with respect to urban growth.

Scheduled for launch on 10 July, just one day before World Population Day, the latest version of the World Urbanization Prospects will provide new and updated information on global urbanization trends and city growth, which are vital for setting policy priorities to promote inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for urban and rural areas alike.

Virtually all of the world’s population growth for the foreseeable future will occur in urban areas, and this fact will have enormous implications for the success of the post 2015 development agenda” ~ John Wilmoth, Director, UN DESA’s Population Division

Database covers expanded number of cities

The 2014 revision of World Urbanization Prospects will provide a wide array of statistics on levels and trends of urbanization for all countries of the world. Recognizing the importance of smaller cities and towns, this latest revision will expand the number of cities and provide, for the first time, population estimates and projections for all of the world’s urban settlements with 300,000 inhabitants or more in 2014.

“We are very excited that we were able to expand the database in this revision so that now it includes information on approximately 1,700 cities covering roughly 60 percent of the world’s urban population,” said John Wilmoth.

Major patterns for societal transformation

The new study confirms three major elements of emerging patterns of urbanization and city growth. First, more than half of the world’s population resides in urban settlements, and by 2050 it is projected that about two-thirds of all humans will live in urban areas. This unique societal transformation will affect many aspects of our lives.

Second, most of the anticipated urban growth by 2050 will occur in Asia and Africa.


Since many countries, particularly in Africa, are urbanizing at lower levels of economic development than most of today’s highly urbanized countries, they will face important challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, especially with regard to housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as for basic services such as education and health care.

Third, in many discussions of sustainable development, there is a tendency to focus on the growth of very large cities, including megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants. However, as the new revision of the World Urbanization Prospects makes clear, in 2014 roughly half of all urban dwellers live in settlements with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.

Looking at megacities around the world today, there are twenty-eight worldwide, with sixteen located in Asia, four in Latin America, three each in Africa and Europe and two in Northern America. In 1970, Tokyo, New York-Newark and Osaka were the only megacities. Tokyo still remains the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 38 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million, and Mexico City, Mumbai and São Paulo, each with around 21 million inhabitants.

Sustainable urbanization beyond 2015

As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development challenges will be increasingly concentrated in cities, particularly in lower-middle-income countries, where the pace of urbanization is the fastest. At the same time, cities offer opportunities to expand access to services, such as health care and education, for large numbers of people in an economically efficient manner.

Providing public transportation, as well as housing, electricity, water and sanitation for a densely settled urban population is typically cheaper and less environmentally damaging than providing a similar level of services to a dispersed rural population. Urban dwellers also have access to larger and more diversified labour markets, and enjoy healthier lives overall.

We need to raise a generation of global citizens who use science and technology to develop green technologies that will further sustainable urbanization” ~ UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

At the recent Integration Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) focusing on sustainable urbanization, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted some of the challenges facing cities today. “Climate change is increasing risks in all cities, where the poorest people are hit the hardest,” he said. But he also pointed to opportunities and how people are at the core of every success story.


“In all our urban policies, we should think of the people they affect,” the Secretary-General said highlighting what is important when considering for example urban transport policies and encouraging businesses activities. “Education is essential. We need to raise a generation of global citizens who use science and technology to develop green technologies that will further sustainable urbanization,” he added.

The 2014 revision of World Urbanization Prospects will provide critical new information on trends in urbanization and city growth, which will inform policymakers throughout the world on the scale of urban challenges in the foreseeable future.

Photo credit: Asst. Prof. Chen Siyuan

For more information: World Urbanization Prospects

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