Are cities growing too much?
Humans are on the brink of a historic turning point - changing from being a rural to an urban species, a new United Nations report says.
According to UN-Habitat, 60% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2030.
The urban population will grow from 2.86 billion to nearly five billion.
The report says that nearly 200 million people are now on the move in search of better lives, mostly in Africa and Asia.
But it warns that the benefits of international migration - multicultural cities, economic growth, and higher incomes - are rapidly being offset by increased poverty, diminishing social safety nets for the poor, and rapidly expanding slums.
Are cities growing too much? Will governments be able to cope with the demands of rapid urbanisation? What would the impact for rural areas be if people keep moving to cities? What should urban planners consider when building 21st-Century cities?
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
The growth in use of the internet and the
telecommunications revolution already exports keyboard industries such as call centres
around the world. Many offices no longer require geographical proximity to their clients
for success. It may be better to provide real incentives to create such small enterprises
in rural areas. It is the impoverishment of the rural economy that lies at the heart of
the problem, and is the cause of the migration to the cities.
I'm a Londoner born and bred and I love this city and
the way it's developing. I love cities to be big, bright, fun and noisy. I also think that
the international migrants coming to London make it a more interesting and varied place.
Large cities should be multicultural world and national centres, with all the buzz and
vibes that brings. I love being able to go to different areas of one city and experience
many different cultures through them, such as Chinese, West Indian, and Asian. The bigger
and more varied the city, the better!
High population density can be blamed for a lot of
the social problems that exist. Places where you don't know your neighbours, where you are
afraid to make eye contact, where everyone is anonymous and no-one feels any fellowship or
responsibility towards others - it's a recipe for breeding crime, delinquency and mental
Having lived in NYC, Paris and London I love them
all. The math of population growth says they have to grow. Urban sprawl and rural planting
of urban populations just pollutes the countryside and disperse urban problems over a
wider area. The answer is thoughtful and forward thinking urban planning and maintenance.
There is nothing inherently wrong with high rises if living space, both internal and
external is built into them and mirco-communities planned and anticipated. Equally
important is infrastructure especially road, public transport, urban green spaces and
public safety. People and diversity are what makes cities. Creativity forward thinking can
make the urban future an enriching one, with the countryside preserved for all to enjoy.
Overcrowding always seems to produce problems - poor
physical and mental health, violence, social and political unrest and numerous and
widespread environmental problems. If we don't find a reasonable solution to reduce the
human population as a whole - as well as its growing density in cities, some other, less
palatable "solution" will almost certainly happen.
Being from a big city, most poor people there want to
leave it, for a slower simpler life. Governments can offer programs for low income
families to move to rural areas to help the decreasing population. That way the people who
want to move can and the people you want to be in the city can feed off the work of the
farmers who want to be there.
Mankind as a whole is welcome to become an urban
species - I for one will be doing my best to avoid ever living in a city. After a
countryside childhood, a town is bad enough!
In the past 38 years, I have witnessed the one huge
urban sprawl spanning from Ensenada, Baja California to Santa Barbara and working its way
through the desert towards Las Vegas. And we still have housing shortages. Problems:
healthcare, education facilities, water/electricity shortages, traffic all hours of the
day and so forth. One attempts to escape to a rural area and within 20 years, it's become
urban. It's only going to worsen.
Any step in this direction is not properly
programmed by any of the governments in the world till date. Best thing is to create
facilities in all the rural areas. So, there won't be migration to cities. This is the
only way out. All other ideas won't work.
Cities only grow with population increase. Look at
the cause and suggest a way to reduce the world population.
As our cities evolve so to must its inhabitants.
Recycling, healthy living and community development are issues that will become more
Firstly, as more and more people become dissociated
from the planet by inevitably experiencing less of where their food comes from (it doesn't
actually grow in supermarkets), there will be greater alienation and disrespect for our
planet, I fear.
This has been going on for 500 years. Why is it a
crisis now? Most of these people move by choice for a better life. Having grown up living
off the land on a homestead, I am now very happy to live in the city, go to a cinema or
coffee shop, and let the big commercial farmers grow my food. I just have to take the bad
with the good.
I live in Rome. This is a big city and the life has a
very frenetic rhythm. I love my city but I would like to live in the country, without
traffic, smog and pollution.
What annoys me is the amount of derelict property and
land in cities. Town planners all want to build and build all over new countryside but
ignore the brown field sites. The result is a patchwork of dereliction and affluence and
the countryside gets eaten up rapidly.
The real point of concern is why populace has
decided to move from their rural livings, what are the reasons behind this and what
actions can be taken to prevent this from happening. We should look at the problem from
In either the urban, or rural setting, achieving
sustainable economic activity, environmental preservation, and acceptable standard of
living for all the world's inhabitants is the great challenge of the 21st century.
The decrease of rural population affects local
industries, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The self-supply of foods has not
only economic but also cultural importance. Well-planed governmental policies towards
these industries are particularly important to maintain rural industry attractive
especially for young people.
Assuming that the migration being referred to is that
from villages to cities, it seems that the path lies in turning villages into towns so
that people do not have to move away from their settled lives in the countryside to highly
chaotic and financially depleting city dwellings in order to avail of an urban lifestyle
and urban facilities. How this is to be done is the moot question and the answers would
have to be found by involving people at all levels - the UN down to individual citizens of
Living a modern life have been the wish of most
people and this has partly played a significant role in the rapid expansion of most cities
in Africa were conditions in the rural areas leaves much to be desired. But this
development is not healthy one in the sense that governments have had loose control given
rise to slums which have become save havens for uncultured practises.
In Brazil we face this problem since 1888 when
slavery was banned. At that time the black population had nowhere to live but in slums.
Nowadays the only way to provide decent houses for the poor people is building them at low
costs. Thus the people have the opportunity to pay for the investment. But the main
problem is the lack of money available for new investments in projects like that in poor
We are sadly feeding the uncontrollable machine that
is advanced capitalism. The system was supposed to serve mankind, not mankind the system.
The incentives in the system are skewed, and we will suffer the social-environmental
I think it is about time we shifted our thinking from
decades-old laments (e.g. "Cities are in constant crisis.") and conventional
prescriptions (e.g. "Governments should do this or that"). There are effective
efforts right under our noses. As I describe in my forthcoming book, Planning for the
Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities, crisis recovery programs such as
"Renovacion Habitacional" Popular in Mexico City have been successful in not
only returning to normal living conditions but also improved the quality of life. Let us
spend more of our time on finding out what works, and why.
What alternative is there? Have we seen any
meaningful and realistic plans for the development of our cities? Tee bottom line is money
and birth control. Are we ready fir it?
From Studies of population growth that we carried out, a pattern is that poorer countries seemed to have high birth rates, partially due to the high mortality rates. This type of growth was evident during the 17-19th century in England, but this has begun to slow. In fact we believe the population in Europe will begin to decrease, due to rising costs of children and house prices.
The problem lies in trying to encourage the same in
poorer countries. If we help overcome problems such as Aids and other diseases, parents in
these countries will no longer have to have so many children as death rates will drop and
so will the need for children to work the land that they leave behind. Hopefully this will
stop things like the use of countryside as housing development areas.
We are 16 years old and we live in a suburb near
Rome. We think that live in a village is better than in a big city because these are more
polluted and grown. But in poor countries like Asia and Africa, people have to move in big
cities to search a job. So towns become full of people and smog. It's difficult to resolve
this problem because if a person wants a better life, he musts go in a city with more
factories and jobs.
There is nothing wrong with growing cities as such,
IF they are properly planned. Sadly, today's cities grow uncontrollably, spreading all
over the landscape with very little thought given to the infrastructure. From this lack of
planning we get traffic congestion, slums, and vast apartment building areas without any
services, suitable only for sleeping, not for living in. And cities need to grow up and
down, not all over the place; it is more expensive, but saves the landscape from being
paved over to make room for roads and parking lots, and also reduces the reliance on cars.
We think that the cities should grow only in the
poorest area in the world.
I live in Soria (a Spain's province) where the
population index (8,8 inhabitants / square kilometre)is between the lowest of the world
(together with Laponia and north of Scotland). Luckily here, the cities aren't growing and
our quality of life is wonderful.
Population growth will continue despite our best
efforts to put a brake on it. The question then arises where are these people to be
housed? Unless there is a rise in urbanisation and people are accommodated within cities
in greater numbers, the pressure on nature, land and our environment will intolerable. To
save the planet it may be desirable to actively encourage the growth of cities.
Citizens from industrial countries have developed a city conscience and they are attracted to the cities not only because of the higher salaries but also because the city provides better access to art, cultural diversity, education and technology. In the developing countries people are attracted to the cities because they are starving, are being displaced by civil wars or they lost their land through natural disasters.
People arrive completely confused and criminality
shoots up. Moreover, industry directors start developing the most complex industries they
can find, such as car and steel factories, without any regard for town planning and then
they forget the main resource the countries have which is rural land. After that it's a
cascade effect with pollution leading the list.
With the leaps and bounds in Communication
technology, physical proximity is slowly waning as the reason for urbanization. In the
developing world opportunities and better living choices are still the driving force,
however in the coming future the reasons for urbanization will probably be social,
political and security.
Our "post-industrial civilization" is
going to be completely changed after the communication revolution will be over: In many
cases, there would be no need of an actual presence at the workplace; everything could be
solved via the internet with email and video meetings. This could strip the cities their
most attractive feature: better jobs and higher incomes. The one thing the government
could do is encouraging the building of communications infrastructure in smaller
I am only 20, but I remember the rapid urbanization my city and shire has been having for 15 years. Industrial and commercial areas multiply and develop, soon followed by residential ones. Human impact is reduced thanks to a good building plans to match living requests (spaces for green, children, parking; houses with few flats; etc.). But the urbanisation of once countryside areas creates many environmental matters: smog or "urban heat island", less snow come and stay on the ground in winter, and summer days are hotter, water is polluted, etc.
It is a common problem to all the Padano-Veneta
Plain, the big northern plain of Italy. I think we cannot stop it because we need it, as a
modern society: our duty is to regulate it and to develop it in a sustainable way.
The most environmental friendly lifestyle is to live
together. It can reduce the growing demand on oil and reduce damages to the natural
environment. Why not?
Where are all these people coming from when the birth
rate here in Germany is 1,3 children per couple and Britain's population is almost 6
million lower than it was in the 50s, even London's population is lower than it was in the
60´s. I can only think there is lot more single people owning their own homes today,
because there aren't that many 8-10 children families anymore.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have never heard in
the history of mankind of a mass migration to villages! Cities are not evil juggernauts
that destroy everything. On the contrary, the facts are:
Massive growth in urbanisation is a worldwide
phenomenon, primarily effecting the developing countries. In India this process has taken
catastrophic proportions in terms of non planned growth in urban areas leading to the
social a chaos and anarchy. The problem is massive and solution too is massive that is
sustainable development of growth.
You've overlooked the point that by 2030, 40% of the
world's fast growing population will be living in rural areas. That's a lot of people.
Depends on where you are talking about really. In the
UK and other densely populated countries, increased urban living (and density) is
preferable to the destruction of the countryside and natural habitats.
Make a visit to 'Urbis' in Manchester if you can and
see for yourself what vibrant, exciting places cities can be with some forethought.
The rapid improvement of farming technologies have
left many agricultural employees obsolete. Hence the migration. Hopefully the miracle of
technology will allow us to devise new industries within city that will provide enough
employment for the population. Japan (Tokyo) is a good example of this. Will technology be
able to keep up?
I think that today's modern word is finding it very
hard to cope, If we don't do something soon, we may soon find ourselves in a world that is
just full of cities, and we will be choking on our own fumes.
Here in Oslo, we're surrounded by a Forest. The
attitude here is that they won't cut down the forest. As a result, the city doesn't
expand. It works. Keep a nice small city, and the environment is safe.
The population is out of control. There are too many
families having more than 2 or 3 children. It is better that the excessive population live
in dense cities rather than sprawl everywhere without restriction.
I think instead of complaining that there are to much
people on earth, wealthy societies like Americans and Europeans should share their
well-being with poor people.
If 60% live in cities then who would take care of
farming, there would be a great food shortage & everyone would realise how important
the farmers work is.
People want basic facilities of life, security and
job opportunity therefore they migrate from villages to cities and from backward
areas/countries to developed areas/countries.
You pessimistic people should come to San Francisco
to see a delightful model of a city.
I live in inner city, with family in the country. I
believe we have to plan carefully - well into the future. And we need to plan HOW our use
will affect the land - water run off, geographical influences, food and agriculture - then
we will adapt and change and cope as we always have.
Hey, it's an ADVENTURE driving around Los Angeles!
About 140 miles from top-to-bottom, and a hundred or so from side-to-side at the extremes,
it can take a while to see just from the air. Of course, the freeways are the product of a
deranged mind, and house prices are becoming like telephone numbers in length. But at
least it's not raining.
I can see that the time approaching fast when living
in rural area would become a luxury. Only rich would be able to afford it.
Perhaps the only beauty that is truly universal is
that which nature provides. Huge sprawling metropolises simply do not make adequate doses
of the kind of respite that the human soul receives from nature, available to us. I know
this is true from having lived in Tokyo. I can only hope that there is a swing or at least
a decrease in rapid urbanisation in the world, with other trends like telecommuting
available. But ultimately, more awareness about what is essential for true quality of life
is what is necessary.
It is impossible for villages and small towns not to
become large urbanized areas because of the world's rapid population growth. People
complain that property, food and the general cost of living is too high, but have you
stopped to think that these things are so expensive because you are now competing for your
place in the world? People are praised for having large families, but they don't
comprehend their impact on the rest of the world.
I love living in a metropolis like Seoul, but
development in the world is way over-accelerated to be sustainable. It is in our best
interest to be maintain the human-scale and stop emulating Manhattan, Hong Kong, or
Shanghai - in spite of the impressive chic urban image they present.
A factor in the move towards cities is the belief
that life is better there. Unfortunately there are lots of examples around the world of
people who have made this move only to end up in slums, with poorer quality of life than
if they had remained in rural areas. As cities grow we stand to lose agricultural land and
also the workforce needed to produce food. The real problem is our ever expanding
population and we should be addressing this as we think of planning future urban
Of course cities are growing too much, hence the
need for city planners to consider such when building city infrastructures like roads. In
Lusaka where I live we are only about two million people yet the roads are ever full of
cars. There's always traffic jam, whether morning, noon or evening. One of the solutions I
guess is to improve the rural setting by building schools, roads, hospitals and ultra
modern structures. Ok let's look at it this way; why do people come to urban areas? Some
things must really be done because the villages are almost depleted of human resources.
Personally I can not claim to know my village simply because I was born in a city and my
parents have never been to the village since 1960 and I believe they never will.
I moved from Singapore (a 5 million
city-island-state) to a 140 people village in the Pyrenees. I am not going back!
Thankfully humanity is always good at solving
problems like this. As overcrowding increases there will be a drop in hygiene, wages,
health facilities and then a war/famine/plague will sort us out again.
Migration for education and work is the problem.
Perhaps if there were more job opportunities and better schools around this country of
ours people would not feel the need to migrate.
The problem isn't urbanisation; it's population.
Whether people live in cities or in small settlements scattered over the countryside is
irrelevant, especially in the internet age. The critical parameter is the size of the
population, especially a population which "needs everything". Limiting
population has to be our number one priority for the World.
The unrestricted growth of cities is simply down to
the greed of international capitalism. This will mean that communities will be destroyed
and the gap between rich and poor will widen. The current problems with crime and the
destruction of society's basic institutions like the family will be made even worse. And
uncontrolled migration will be responsible for the destruction of our country's culture
(As well as the cultures of many other countries). Action is needed on all of these
fronts, and rural communities need to be helped to survive in the current climate of
commercial greed so their way of life can be preserved.
All will be well if the urban areas are planned
properly. The concept of the Garden City which was a success in Britain and was copied
overseas is an example. Several boroughs in London benefited from the green squares
mandated by planners. It is a sign of a civilized society that men plant trees they may
never see fully grown.
I live in what used to be a small suburb of
Milwaukee, WI, USA. It is growing bigger and bigger - what used to be farm land are now
very expensive housing projects. There is less land to farm (where will our food come
from?) and because there is more concrete instead of land we are starting to have flooding
problems - plus, the wildlife has no where to live so we have increased problems with wild
animals coming into town. What is the solution?
Cities aren't growing too much, the global population
is growing too much.
Maybe the world is becoming a friendlier place,
everyone wanting to live together.
I think this migration underscores the real
problem, too many people. We have or will soon exceed the carrying capacity of the planet.
We need to get population growth under control. Larger cities will reduce the amount of
land available for food production. Responsible growth with green spaces, integrated mass
transit and mixed-use complexes would be the best course of action regarding developing
Despite what some nostalgic of the past may argue,
cities are much more eco-friendly than a population spread around the country side:
efficiencies in heating, power and transportation and waste disposal are available. Of
course, it remains for governments to ensure that these efficiencies materialize through
adequate regulations and investments.
I don't think the problem is urbanization. The
problem is suburbanization. Large expanses of land are rarely threatened by multi-storey
housing built next to the downtown core. It is those people that want to live in a huge
house in the suburbs (former farmland) and commute for 2 hours a day. It is a waste of
land and lowers our air quality.
Having grown up in the suburbs and tried living in
the city in my early adult life, I moved to a rural area finding even the suburbs
unbearably overcrowded, polluted, noisy, and stressful. Peace, quiet, clean fresh air and
water which is the birthright of every human being alive now seems like a luxurious self
The current global population should be an urban one. Because of the continuation of "urban sprawl" we are loosing much needed land. Our watersheds are being reduced; our agricultural land is being developed. So the higher the cities go is a plus from certain environmental perspectives. The "ecological footprint" (Rees) has shown us that the city has become such a big consumer of our goods that we need to pay attention to the current development of cities.
If we are building these concrete jungles to cage us
into smaller dwelling to preserve the ecosphere and reduce human impacts it can be
positive. But if we build these cities for commerce then they will begin to crumble. We
must ask what cities are supposed to be and what they are. We must see how the resources
flow through the city to really understand what the city truly is. As for what urban
planners such as myself should do...we need to focus on moving away from linear systems
toward ones that are more regenerative.
In Enfield they are constantly cramming more houses
and flats onto brown field in already poor and dilapidated areas. All the while they are
failing to improve roads, services and other amenities sufficiently to cater for the
increase in population.
Urban planners need to consider the unintended
consequences of city design. Low income neighbourhoods will drive out mid to high income
populations - ultimately bankrupting a city.
I live in a very peaceful city. People live side by
side in relative harmony. Yet, we have, to my knowledge, the second highest per-capita
population in the world. However, I fear it will not continue. As has happened again and
again in history, people will begin to fight over available resources.
Urban planners should think of an urban setting
which is self sustaining and environmentally friendly. By the time these cities are built,
most of the natural resources maybe dwindling into very low levels, which may turn to
widespread panic in getting these resources. Educating the people who will live in these
cities should also be a priority, as well as basic services should be in place and be able
to cope if the demand for them would be greater than originally planned.
The majority of the population need to have access to
cities either for employment or education. The rise in population means that towns will be
enlarged and compete with cities and cities will have to expand for demographic trends in
I moved from Rugby to Leeds because of work. I simply
didn't want to commute for miles every day in order to get a decent job. So long as the
decent jobs are in the cities, people will always be moving there. The is also the stigma
of better lifestyle, yet I would much rather live in the country
I live and work in a city and can't say I like it
much. I appreciate the benefits, but over the long term they don't outweigh the downside -
smells, pollution, crowds, extra travel time. I live in a post-industrial revolution
country though and will be able to afford eventually to move back out of the city back to
where I came from. The evolution towards city living will, I think, eventually evolve into
a move back out again when (and if) people in the world can afford to do so. Hardly anyone
chooses to live in a city for anything other than economic reasons and maybe some day
those economic reasons will go away.
Katherine states ``Hardly anyone chooses to live in a
city for anything other than economic reasons''. I could not disagree more. I moved to
Manhattan from a much more rural setting because all you can do in the country is sit
around watching birds and contemplating your navel. In a real city, there is always
something to do. The country is great for a vacation, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Houston, TX is expanding the highway that runs east and west through it to be 22 lanes across. All the agricultural areas surrounding the city have been swallowed by housing and commercial development. Where do we go after we consume three or four more agriculture areas? Our local government can't maintain the city without going bankrupt and not being able to pay city employees and the national government thinks all the SUV's in the city are great.
We can't keep up. And the fact that Houston has had
to build a highway that is 22 lanes across screams there is a huge problem. The government
obviously doesn't have a clue about what to do with the insurgence of residence. Our slums
are neighbouring multi million dollar homes and you would be a fool to attempt to walk
anywhere in the city after dark. Warn Away! Houston isn't listening!
There is little to prevent cities from growing.
Fuelled by the promise of economic growth (or "greed", depending on your point
of view). The real cause for concern is not what the impact would be on rural areas from
people moving to the city, but rather, what would the impact be of the city moving to (and
consuming) the rural area?
I believe that nothing can stop the simple truth that
more people are going to have to work in cities in the future. If we want to preserve a
rural way of life, then hard choices will have to be made to do with commuting into
cities. Improve public transport, build better roads to train stations, get rid of
congestion charges and build more car parks in cities. Failure to do this will result in
the British countryside becoming a weekend retreat for the rich.