Home 3.World population (II) 3.3. The current process of the world urbanisation

3.3. The current process of the world urbanisation

[SALADIÉ, Òscar; OLIVERAS, Josep (2010). Desenvolupament sostenible. Tarragona, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, p. 81-83]

It has been calculated that at the beginning of the 19th century, the urban population represented just 3% of the world population. As a result of the industrialisation, at the beginning of the 20th century, the developed countries cities have continued their growth, thus, the urban population has reached 13%. In the second half of the 20th century, this percentage increases considerably, in a similar way to the spectacular population growth of the developing countries. In 1950, the global urban population reached 29,1%, and in 2005, 48,7%. Nowadays, the 50% threshold has already been reached; moreover, future projections indicate that, within a middle growth scenario, it can reach 60% by 2030.

In addition, the evolution of the global urban and rural population between 1950 and 2005 and the future projection for year 2030 are shown. It can be observed that while the rural population slightly grows until becoming stable, the urban population constantly grows and exceeds the rural rates. If we take into account the development level of the countries, it can be observed that in 1950, 52,1% of developed countries population was urban, meanwhile 81,9% of the developing countries was rural. This fact means that more than half (57,9%) of the global urban population is living in developed countries, while it only represents 32,1% of the world population.

The developing countries urban population has continued its growth in the second half of the 20th century. Consequently, in 2005, it represented 42,9%  of  these countries’ population (2.273,3 million) and 71,6% of the global urban population. On the other hand, the developed countries urban population growth has been much lower: in 2005, it represented 74,1% of the total population (around 900 million).

The 2030 projections indicate that there will be a very low growth in the developed countries (1.018,7 million), though it will represent 80% of the total population. On the contrary, there will be a high growth in the developing countries, thus, this urban population will represent 79,5% of the global one and will exceed the 50% of the country population.

By analysing the data by continents, it can be observed that the 1950 European urban population consisted of 276,8 million inhabitants and represented 37,7% of the global world population, that is, the highest percentage worldwide, followed by the Asian one (32,3%). In 2005, Asia had the highest world urban population rate (49,5%) and Europe had the second highest one (16,6%), which was similar to the American Latin (13,6%) and the African one (11,1%). In 2030, accordingly to a middle growth scenario, 53,8% of the global urban population will be living in Asia; 15,5% in Africa; 12,1% in Latin America; and just 11,2% in Europe (555,3 million inhabitants).

The fact that Asia and Africa will have the largest urban population is due to its growth in absolute numbers, since the urban population of both continents with regard to their 2005 total populations didn’t reach 40%, but, by 2030, it may slightly exceed 50% (Table 3.3), a percentage that has been reached by 1950 in Europe, Oceania and North America. In 2005, 80,7% of the North American population was urban. According to the calculations, in 2030, Latin America will have the highest percentage of urban population (84,3%).

In 1900, the five most populated cities in the world were European or North-American. London was the first one, followed by New York and Paris. According to United Nations Population Division, an agglomeration contains the population within the contours of contiguous territory inhabited at urban levels of residential density without regard to administrative boundaries.

In 1950, the three first cities still maintained their position. However, in 1975, Tokyo took the first position, and will still maintain it until 2015. Any European city is no longer on this list. Nevertheless, there is an increasing presence of developing countries cities. Thus, whereas in 1950 there was just one city (Shanghai, which was the fourth one), since 2005 there are three of them, or a total of eight cities if we consider the ten most populated ones.

Reference: Veure Aplicació (


DOW/URV Chair Sustainable Development.