Rapid Urbanization

April 2009 • Volume 3, Issue 4
Can cities cope with rampant growth?
By Jennifer Weeks


The Morumbi slum (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
The sprawling Morumbi favela, or slum, bumps up against the high-rises of São Paulo, Brazil — the fifth-largest city in the world. By 2030, at least 60 percent of the globe's population will live in cities, reflecting unprecedented urban growth in the developing world. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

About 3.3 billion people — half of Earth's inhabitants — live in cities, and the number is expected to hit 5 billion within 20 years. Most urban growth today is occurring in developing countries, where about a billion people live in city slums. Delivering services to crowded cities has become increasingly difficult, especially in the world's 19 “megacities” — those with more than 10 million residents. Moreover, most of the largest cities are in coastal areas, where they are vulnerable to flooding caused by climate change. Many governments are striving to improve city life by expanding services, reducing environmental damage and providing more jobs for the poor, but some still use heavy-handed clean-up policies like slum clearance. Researchers say urbanization helps reduce global poverty because new urbanites earn more than they could in their villages. The global recession could reverse that trend, however, as many unemployed city dwellers return to rural areas. But most experts expect rapid urbanization to resume once the economic storm has passed.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Urban Planning
Jun. 03, 2022  The Future of the City
Jun. 04, 2021  Rebuilding America's Infrastructure
Aug. 21, 2020  Economic Clustering
Nov. 01, 2019  Caregiving Crunch
Jul. 27, 2012  Smart Cities
Apr. 09, 2010  Earthquake Threat
Apr. 2009  Rapid Urbanization
Jun. 23, 2006  Downtown Renaissance Updated
May 28, 2004  Smart Growth
Oct. 03, 1997  Urban Sprawl in the West
Mar. 21, 1997  Civic Renewal
Oct. 13, 1995  Revitalizing the Cities
Jun. 09, 1989  Not in My Back Yard!
Apr. 28, 1989  Do Enterprise Zones Work?
Nov. 22, 1985  Supercities: Problems of Urban Growth
Jul. 23, 1982  Reagan and the Cities
Nov. 18, 1977  Saving America's Cities
Oct. 31, 1975  Neighborhood Control
Nov. 21, 1973  Future of the City
Feb. 07, 1973  Restrictions on Urban Growth
May 20, 1970  Urbanization of the Earth
Nov. 06, 1968  New Towns
Oct. 04, 1967  Private Enterprise in City Rebuilding
Feb. 10, 1965  Megalopolis: Promise and Problems
Mar. 04, 1964  City Beautiful
Aug. 21, 1963  Urban Renewal Under Fire
Jan. 21, 1959  Metropolitan Areas and the Federal Government
Jul. 30, 1958  Persistence of Slums
Dec. 09, 1953  Outspreading Cities
Nov. 22, 1952  Slum Clearance: 1932–1952
Jan. 14, 1937  Zoning of Urban and Rural Areas
Regional Planning and Urbanization