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Delanceyplace: Megacities

The world is now more urban than rural, and the century
of the megacity has begun. In 1950, there were two cities with a population of more than ten million. By 1975, there were three. As of 2007, there were nineteen, and by 2025, the United Nations estimates that there will be twenty-seven. There are ninety cities in China alone that have a population of greater than one million, writes Laurence C Smith.

[Since 2008], for the first time ever, we have more people living in cities than
out on the land. For the first time, most of us have no substantive ability to feed
or water ourselves. We have become reliant upon technology, trade, and commerce
to carry out these most primitive of functions. Sometime in 2008, the human species
crossed the threshold toward becoming a different animal: an urban creature, geographically
divorced from the natural world that still continues to feed and fuel us. ...

The reason that the world's rural people are moving into cities is that they can
make more money in town. This is partly because of the described growth of urban
economies, and partly because demand for farm labor falls as agriculture commercializes,
mechanizes, and becomes export-oriented. Worldwide employment in agriculture is
falling fast and in 2006, for the first time ever, it was surpassed by employment
in the services sector. ...

This urban shift is driving major demographic changes around the globe. City dwellers
are projected to roughly double in number by 2050, rising from 3.3 billion in 2007
to 6.4 billion in 2050. However, the geography of this is not uniform. Urban majorities
came to Europe and America decades ago, in the 1960s, 1950s, or even sooner. These
places are already more than 70% urban today. This new trend is most dramatic in
the developing world, especially Asia and Africa, the most populous places on Earth.

For the last two decades, cities in the developing world have been growing by about
three million people per week. That is equivalent to adding one more Seattle to
the planet every day. Asia is only about 40% urban today, but by 2050 that number
will top 70% in China, with over one billion new city slickers in that country alone.
Already, places like Chongqing, Xiamen, and Shenzhen are growing more than 10% annually.

About 38% of Africans live in cities today, but by 2050 more than half will. While
Africa will still be less urbanized than Europe or North America today, this is
nonetheless a profound transformation. When combined with its fast population growth
rate, this means that Africa will triple the size of its cities over the next forty
years. At 1.2 billion people, Africa will hold nearly a quarter of the world's urban
population. ...

The century of megacities has already begun. From just two in 1950 and three in
1975, we grew to nineteen by 2007 and expect to have twenty-seven by 2025. Furthermore,
in sheer size alone our global urban culture is shifting east. Of the eight new
megacities anticipated over the next fifteen years, five are in Asia, two in Africa,
and just one in Europe. Zero new megacities are anticipated for the Americas. Instead,
this massive urbanization is happening in some of our most populous countries:
Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. New York City was the
world's second-largest metropolis in 1977, when Liza Minnelli first sang the hit
song 'New York, New York' (later popularized by Frank Sinatra) to Robert De Niro
in a Martin Scorsese movie. By 2050, the 'City That Never Sleeps' will be struggling
just to stay in the top ten."

World Megacities of Ten Million or More
(population in millions)
2008 report by the United Nations PopulaČtion Division


New York -- Newark, USA (12.3)

Tokyo, Japan (11.3)


Tokyo, Japan (26.6)

New York -- Newark, USA (15.9)

Mexico City, Mexico (10.7)


Tokyo, Japan (35.7)

New York -- Newark, USA (19.0)

Mexico City, Mexico (19.0)

Mumbai, India (19.0)

Sao Paulo, Brazil (18.8)

Delhi, India (15.9)

Shanghai, China (15.0)

Kolkata (Calcutta), India (14.8)

Dhaka, Bangladesh (13.5)

Buenos Aires, Argentina (12.8)

Los Angeles -- Long Beach -- Santa Ana, USA (12.5)

Karachi, Pakistan (12.1)

Al-Qahirah (Cairo), Egypt (11.9)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (11.7)

Osaka -- Kobe, Japan (11.3)

Beijing, China (11.1)

Manila, Philippines (11.1)

Moskva (Moscow), Russia (10.5)

Istanbul, Turkey (10.1)


Tokyo, Japan (36.4)

Mumbai, India (26.4)

Delhi, India (22.5)

Dhaka, Bangladesh (22.0)

Sao Paulo, Brazil (21.4)

Mexico City, Mexico (21.0)

New York -- Newark, USA (20.6)

Kolkata (Calcutta), India (20.6)

Shanghai, China (19.4)

Karachi, Pakistan (19.1)

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (16.8)

Lagos, Nigeria (15.8)

Al-Qahirah (Cairo), Egypt (15.6)

Manila, Philippines (14.8)

Beijing, China (14.5)

Buenos Aires, Argentina (13.8)

Los Angeles -- Long Beach -- Santa Ana, USA (13.7)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (13.4)

Jakarta, Indonesia (12.4)

Istanbul, Turkey (12.1)

Guangzhou, Guangdong, China (11.8)

Osaka -- Kobe, Japan (11.4)

Moskva (Moscow), Russia (10.5)

Lahore, Pakistan (10.5)

Shenzhen, China (10.2)

Chennai, India (10.1)

Paris, France (10.0)

Author: Laurence C. Smith
Title: The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future
Publisher: Plume, Penguin Group
Date: Copyright 2011 by Laurence C. Smith
Pages: 30-34

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