Understanding Urbanisation

Understanding Urbanisation

What mix of policy and planning is important in responding to urbanisation?

Understanding the demographics

  • At the beginning of the 21st century, the urban population was higher than the rural for the first time in history
  • 95% of urban growth in the next two decades will be in the 'less-developed' world
  • There will be 80 million new city dwellers a year
  • By 2030, 53% of the population in Africa will be urban

Urbanisation and poverty

  • A third of urban dwellers currently live in slums without clean water, adequate toilet facilities, or durable housing
  • The poor are urbanising faster than the population as a whole
  • The pattern of falling overall poverty with urbanisation is far less evident in Sub-Saharan Africa


National Resource Council (1999) UN World Urbanization Prospects: www.un.org/esa/population


Further reading:

United Nations (2005) World Urbanization Prospects, www.un.org/esa/population

The Endless City, Urban Age Project, London School of Economics, www.urban-age.net

World Bank Research Brief (2007) econ.worldbank.org

Understanding the problem

One key observation is that while cities generate positive forces of creativity, innovation and economic development, rapid urbanisation can also induce negative spill-over effects that can aggravate social inequality and adversely impact the environment. Understanding the drivers behind urbanisation can help quantify some of its future impacts and help early identification of possible interventions/solutions that are likely to be needed to face the massive developmental challenges of cities in the 21st century.


Balance land, labour and housing reform, underpinnned by investments in basic infrastructure

Drivers and responses

Drivers for urbanisation are multiple, interlinked and complex. Many contextual factors will determine what drives urbanisation in specific circumstances and also what the impacts and challenges will be coming out of the process. Some of the key drivers (at both macro and personal scales), challenges and potential interventions are summarised below:


Complexity and flexibility

Because urban growth shows predictable trends at the macro level, there is an opportunity to adapt policy and planning practices to effectively incorporate flexibility in design of social, environmental and infrastructural programs. Understanding the overlap between the economic, social, cultural and environmental factors that drive urbanisation, and its outcomes, is central to this process.

Approaches and case studies