In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but
momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its
human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By
2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new
urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in
developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very
much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.
While the world’s urban population grew very rapidly (from 220 million to 2.8
billion) over the 20th century, the next few decades will see an
unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world. This will
be particularly notable in Africa and Asia where the urban population
will double between 2000 and 2030: That is, the accumulated urban
growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be
duplicated in a single generation. By 2030, the towns and cities of the
developing world will make up 81 per cent of urban humanity.
Urbanization—the increase in the urban share of total population—is inevitable, but it
can also be positive. The current concentration of poverty, slum growth
and social disruption in cities does paint a threatening picture: Yet
no country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic
growth without urbanization. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also
represent the best hope of escaping it.