The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950-2020)
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Demographics

Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

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The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.

A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.

Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?

Out of the Farms and Into the Cities

The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.

Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.

Global Urban Population vs Rural

Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.

The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots

Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.

Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.

global cities by size 1990 to 2030

Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.

It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.

Urbanization and its Complications

Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.

Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.

As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.

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Demographics

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Which cities rank as the best places to live worldwide? This map reveals the world’s most and least livable cities.

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livable cities

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Pandemic restrictions changed the livability of many urban centers worldwide as cultural sites were shuttered, restaurant dining was restricted, and local economies faced the consequences. But as cities worldwide return to the status quo, many of these urban centers have become desirable places to live yet again.

This map uses annual rankings from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to show the world’s most livable cities, measuring different categories including: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

A Quick Note on Methodology

The ranking attempts to assess which cities across the globe provide the best living conditions, by assigning a score on 30 quantitative and qualitative measures across the five categories with the following weightings:

  1. Healthcare (20%)
  2. Culture & Environment (25%)
  3. Stability (25%)
  4. Education (10%)
  5. Infrastructure (20%)

Of the 30 factors within these categories, the qualitative ones are assigned as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, or intolerable by a team of expert analysts. Quantitative measures are given a score based on a number of external data points. Everything is then weighted to provide a score between 1-100, with 100 being the ideal.

Ranked: The 10 Most Livable Cities

Of the 172 cities included in the rankings, many of the most livable cities can be found in Europe. However, three of the top 10 are located in Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Vienna has been ranked number one many times, most recently in 2019. According to the EIU, the Austrian capital only fell out of the top slot during the pandemic years because its famous museums and restaurants were shuttered.

RankCityCountryScore
#1Vienna🇦🇹 Austria99.1
#2Copenhagen🇩🇰 Denmark98.0
#3Zurich🇨🇭 Switzerland96.3
#3Calgary🇨🇦 Canada96.3
#5Vancouver🇨🇦 Canada96.1
#6Geneva🇨🇭 Switzerland95.9
#7Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany95.7
#8Toronto🇨🇦 Canada95.4
#9Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands95.3
#10Osaka🇯🇵 Japan95.1
#10Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia95.1

Only one Asian city, Osaka, makes the top 10 list, tying with Melbourne for 10th place. Notably, not a single U.S. city is found in the top ranks.

Editor’s note: Two cities tie for both the #3 and #10 ranks, meaning that the “top 10” list actually includes 12 cities.

Ranked: The 10 Least Livable Cities

Some of the least livable cities in the world are located across Africa and Central Asia.

RankCityCountryScore
#163Tehran🇮🇷 Iran44.0
#164Douala🇨🇲 Cameroon43.3
#165Harare🇿🇼 Zimbabwe40.9
#166Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh39.2
#167Port Moresby🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 38.8
#168Karachi🇵🇰 Pakistan37.5
#169Algiers🇩🇿 Algeria37.0
#170Tripoli🇱🇾 Libya34.2
#171Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria32.2
#172Damascus🇸🇾 Syria30.7

Many of the least livable cities are within conflict zones, contributing to the low ratings. However, these regions are also home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities, presenting many opportunities for ambitious residents.

The Biggest Changes in Ranking

Let’s take a look at the cities that moved up the global rankings most dramatically compared to last year’s data.

Moving Up: The 10 Most Improved Cities

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany#7+32
Hamburg🇩🇪 Germany#16+31
Dusseldorf🇩🇪 Germany#22+28
London🇬🇧 UK#33+27
Manchester🇬🇧 UK#28+26
Paris🇫🇷 France#19+23
Brussels🇧🇪 Belgium#24+22
Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands#9+21
Athens🇬🇷 Greece#73+19
Los Angeles🇺🇸 US#37+18

Here’s a look at the cities that fell the most in the rankings since last year’s report.

Moving Down: The 10 Cities That Tumbled

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Wellington🇳🇿 New Zealand#50-46
Auckland🇳🇿 New Zealand#34-33
Adelaide🇦🇺 Australia#30-27
Perth🇦🇺 Australia#32-26
Houston🇺🇸 US#56-25
Reykjavik🇮🇸 Iceland#48-25
Madrid🇪🇸 Spain#43-24
Taipei🇹🇼 Taiwan#53-20
Barcelona🇪🇸 Spain#35-19
Brisbane🇦🇺 Australia#27-17

According to the report, a number of cities in New Zealand and Australia temporarily dropped in the ranking due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that some Eastern European cities moved down in the rankings because of their close proximity to the war in Ukraine. Finally, Kyiv was not included in this year’s report because of the conflict.

Urbanization and Livability

As of 2021, around 57% of the world’s population lives in urban centers and projections show that people worldwide will continue to move into cities.

While there are more amenities in urban areas, the pandemic revealed many issues with urbanization and the concentration of large populations. The stress on healthcare systems is felt most intensely in cities and restrictions on public outings are some of the first measures to be introduced in the face of a global health crisis.

Now with the cost of living rising, cities may face pressures on their quality of life, and governments may be forced to cut spending on public services. Regardless, people worldwide continue to see the benefits of city living—it’s projected that over two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

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Demographics

Ranked: The 20 Countries With the Fastest Declining Populations

Population decline is a rising issue for many countries in Eastern Europe, as well as outliers like Japan and Cuba.

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Visualizing Population Decline by Country

Since the mid-1900s, the global population has followed a steep upwards trajectory.

While much of this growth has been concentrated in China and India, researchers expect the next wave of growth to occur in Africa. As of 2019, for example, the average woman in Niger is having over six children in her lifetime.

At the opposite end of this spectrum are a number of countries that appear to be shrinking from a population perspective. To shed some light on this somewhat surprising trend, we’ve visualized the top 20 countries by population decline.

The Top 20

The following table ranks countries by their rate of population decline, based on projected rate of change between 2020 and 2050 and using data from the United Nations.

RankCountryDecline 2020-2050
1🇧🇬 Bulgaria22.5%
2🇱🇹 Lithuania22.1%
3🇱🇻 Latvia21.6%
4🇺🇦 Ukraine19.5%
5🇷🇸 Serbia18.9%
6🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina18.2%
7🇭🇷 Croatia18.0%
8🇲🇩 Moldova16.7%
9🇯🇵 Japan16.3%
10🇦🇱 Albania15.8%
11🇷🇴 Romania15.5%
12🇬🇷 Greece13.4%
13🇪🇪 Estonia12.7%
14🇭🇺 Hungary12.3%
15🇵🇱 Poland12.0%
16🇬🇪 Georgia11.8%
17🇵🇹 Portugal10.9%
18🇲🇰 North Macedonia10.9%
19🇨🇺 Cuba10.3%
20🇮🇹 Italy10.1%

Many of these countries are located in or near Eastern Europe, for reasons we’ll discuss below.

The first issue is birth rates, which according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), have fallen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across the region, the average number of children per woman fell from 2.1 in 1988 to 1.2 by 1998.

Birth rates have recovered slightly since then, but are not enough to offset deaths and emigration, which refers to citizens leaving their country to live elsewhere.

Eastern Europe saw several waves of emigration following the European Union’s (EU) border expansions in 2004 and 2007. The PIIE reports that by 2016, 6.3 million Eastern Europeans resided in other EU states.

The Outliers

There are two geographical outliers in this dataset which sit on either side of Europe.

Japan

The first is Japan, where birth rates have fallen continuously since 1970. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that the country’s overall population began to shrink.

By the numbers, the situation appears dire. In 2021, 811,604 babies were born in Japan, while 1.44 million people died. As a result of its low birth rates, the island nation also has the world’s highest average age at 49 years old.

The Japanese government has introduced various social programs to make having kids more appealing, but these don’t appear to be getting to the root of the problem. For deeper insight into Japan’s low birthrates, it’s worth reading this article by The Atlantic.

Cuba

The second country is Cuba, and it’s the only one not located within the Eastern Hemisphere. Cuba’s fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman is the lowest in the Latin American region. It can be compared to countries like Mexico (2.2), Paraguay (2.5), and Guatemala (3.0).

Cuba’s immigration is also incredibly low compared to its neighboring countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, immigrants account for just 0.1% of its total population.

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