New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 290

CITIES - The Facts

More people in the world today live in cities and towns than in the countryside.
And they keep coming – an increasing flow of people is moving from farm to town, from village to city, from town to metropolis. Many end up living in slums like Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, with few sanitary facilities and little money.
They find work in the burgeoning informal sector as snack-sellers, construction workers and domestic servants.
Life is hard, but not as hard as it was back in the villages.
And people will continue to move unless there is a reason for them to stay; a way to make a living off the land.

By the year 2000 China and India will between them have over 700 million urban inhabitants; more than all of Africa and all of North America. And while India still remains overwhelmingly rural – more than 70 per cent – numerically, it has the largest urban population in the world.

Percentage of population urbanized2
Percentage of population urbanized 2

Millions and multitudes 1
The average size of the world’s largest 100 cities has grown from 200,000 in 1800 to 5.1 million in 1990. Asia contains three-fifths of the world’s population and 44.5 per cent of the world’s urban population. It also contains many of the world’s fastest-growing cities. None of these are in the North. Some, like London and Chicago, have negative or zero growth.
Ten fastest-growing major cities 1980-90

City size
In 1950 almost all the world’s largest cities were in the North; today almost all are in the South.

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World's ten largest urban aggolmerations in 1950 World's ten largest urban aggolmerations in 1950 [image, unknown]

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World's ten largest urban aggolmerations in the year 2000 World's ten largest urban aggolmerations in the year 2000 [image, unknown]

Poor relations
More people are poor in the countryside than in the cities; they also have fewer facilities. In countries with ‘low human development’, 78% of urban dwellers have access to safe water while only 64% of rural people do; 64% in cities have access to sanitation but only 20% in villages.

Percentage of urban and rural people living in poverty in 19902
Percentages of urban and rural people living in poverty in 1990

Bright lights
People leave their villages for a variety of reasons; they are pulled by the city and pushed by the countryside. They end up replacing one kind of poverty for another.

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1. An Urbanizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements 1996 UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)
2. Human Development Report 1996
3. States of Disarray (UNRISD)

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