Mapped: The World's Fastest Growing Cities
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Mapped: The World’s Fastest Growing Cities

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Mapped: The World's Fastest Growing Cities

Mapped: The World’s Fastest Growing Cities

The single most important demographic trend over the last century has been the rapid urbanization of the world. Just as recently as 1950, less than 30% of the total population lived in cities.

By the year 2030? It is expected that 60% of the world will be urbanized.

Highly developed countries already heavily rely on cities. People living in the United States (81%), Canada (82%), Australia (89%), or Germany (75%) mainly reside in urban areas, and there’s good reason for it. Take a look at this 3d map showing GDP contribution by city in the United States and you will notice that places like New York or Los Angeles have massive contributions to economic production. In fact, an impressive 52% of total economic output in the U.S. comes from the top 20 urban areas in the country.

This is true throughout the rest of the world as well. According to McKinsey, the world’s 600 largest cities generate 60% of all economic output. It is this great economic opportunity that is driving people from their farms to the newest urban centers. Specifically, it is in Africa and Asia that the world’s fastest growing cities can be found.

Countries such as China and India are at the forefront of this rapid development. New citizens are joining Delhi at a rate of 79 people per hour, while Shanghai continues to welcome 51 new citizens an hour. Africa will look very different than it has in the past as well. The World Economic Forum pointed out that in 1960 that Johannesburg was the only city in sub-Saharan Africa to have more than 1 million people. Fifty years later, there are 33 cities with more than 1 million in the region.

Change in urban population from 1950 to 2025

The world’s fastest growing megacity? It’s Lagos, Nigeria and Fortune calls it the “Big Apple of Africa”. In the 1970s it had a measly 2 million people, but today it boasts 16 million people with a growth rate of 85 new Lagosians per hour.

Original graphic by: The Guardian

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Demographics

Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries

These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.

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beautifully rendered population density maps of six major countries

As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.

In the last 50 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.

This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.

France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs

Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.

This image shows a map of France and its population spread.

France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.

Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.

This image shows a map of Germany and its population spread.

Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.

That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).

Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast

In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.

This image shows a map of Italy and its population spread.

Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.

The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.

This image shows a map of Chile and its population spread.

Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.

However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.

Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes

Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.

This image shows a map of Türkiye and its population spread.

Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.

Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.

This image shows a map of Canada and its population spread.

In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.

Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.

Increasing Urbanization

According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.

By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.

It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.

As Teo puts it:

“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”

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