Urbanisation: City and Urban Areas

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Urbanization is increasing in both the developed and developing countries. However, rapid urbanization, particularly the growth of large cities, and the associated problems of unemployment, poverty, inadequate health, poor sanitation, urban slums and environmental degradation pose a formidable challenge in many developing countries. Available statistics show that more than half of the world’s 6.6 billion people live in urban areas, crowded into 3 percent of the earth’s land area (Angotti, 1993; UNFPA, 1993). The proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas, which was less than 5 percent in 1800 increased to 47 percent in 2000 and is expected to reach 65 percent in 2030 (United Nations, 1990; 1991). However, more than 90 percent of future population growth will be concentrated in cities in developing countries and a large percentage of this population will be poor. In Africa and Asia where urbanization is still considerably lower (40 percent), both are expected to be 54 percent urban by 2025 (UN 1995; 2002). Although urbanization is the driving force for modernization, economic growth and development, there is increasing concern about the effects of expanding cities, principally on human health, livelihoods and the environment. The implications of rapid urbanization and demographic trends for employment, food security, water supply, shelter and sanitation, especially the disposal of wastes (solid and liquid) that the cities produce are staggering (UNCED, 1992). The question that arises is whether the current trend in urban growth is sustainable considering the accompanying urban challenges such as unemployment, slum development, poverty and environmental degradation, especially in the developing countries.

Urbanization defined

Urbanization, simply defined, is the shift from a rural to an urban society, and involves an increase in the number of people in urban areas during a particular year. Urbanization is the outcome of social, economic and political developments that lead to urban concentration and growth of large cities, changes in land use and transformation from rural to metropolitan pattern of organization and governance.

Major causes of urbanization

Natural population increase (high births than death) and migration are significant factors in the growth of cities in the developing countries. The natural increase is fuelled by improved medical care, better sanitation and improved food supplies, which reduce death rates and cause populations to grow. In many developing countries, it is rural poverty that drives people from the rural areas into the city in search of employment, food, shelter and education. Most people move into the urban areas because they are ‘pushed’ out by factors such as poverty, environmental degradation, religious strife, political persecution, food insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure and services in the rural areas or because they are ‘pulled’ into the urban areas by the advantages and opportunities of the city including education, electricity, water etc. Even though in many African countries the urban areas offer few jobs for the youth, they are often attracted there by the amenities of urban life (Tarver, 1996).

Processes of urbanization

One significant feature of the urbanization process in today’s local governments is that much of the growth is taking place in the absence of significant industrial expansion. Although local municipalities are fast urbanizing, mega-cities defined as cities with 10 million inhabitants or more are few. Urbanization also finds expression principally in outward expansion of the built-up area and conversion of prime agricultural lands into residential and industrial uses. An alternative to the present expansion of the urban population across a wide area of the country in order to save prime land for agriculture is to construct high-rise buildings and promote commercial development in specific zones, which would...
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