Mapping the World’s Urban Population from 1500 – 2050
In 133 BC, Rome was the first city to hit a population of one million people.
While that number might seem small now, the truth is that modern megacities are just a blip in the long timeline of human history.
Today’s interactive data visualization from Our World in Data maps out how many people have lived in urban areas over time, as well as the powerful economic pull of cities after the Industrial Revolution.
Shifting Human Geography
The stages of urbanization can be roughly broken into two parts.
1500s – 1900s
Most people lived an agrarian life until the first Industrial Revolution. The urban population quadrupled over this lengthy timeframe, from 4.1% to 16.4%.
Urbanization accompanied the moves away from agricultural employment, but it was still a slow burn until the 20th century.
1900s – Present
The expansion of the global economy and population saw urbanization skyrocket along with it. The urban public leaped from 16% to 55% today, a trend which comes from both births within urban areas and rising human migration out of rural areas.
This turning point between the centuries becomes pretty clear when we look at the population shifts relative to each other:
What Defines An Urban Area?
While this widely cited data comes from the United Nations, many researchers suggest that the actual numbers are much more dramatic.
Why is there a discrepancy? It turns out that the definition of an urban population varies widely around the world. The UN figures are based on nationally-defined urban shares – but the thresholds and metrics used to calculate these are not uniform. Here are just a few examples:
|Argentina||Localities with 2,000 inhabitants or more.|
|Australia||Significant Urban Centres representing concentrations of urban development with 10,000 inhabitants or more.|
|Belgium||Communes with 5,000 inhabitants or more.|
|Canada||Areas with 1,000 inhabitants or more and at least 400 inhabitants per square kilometre.|
|Iceland||Localities with 200 inhabitants or more.|
|Japan||Cities defined as shi (A municipality that is 50,000 inhabitants or more); 60 per cent or more of the population engaged in urban type of business.|
|Netherlands||In the present publication, municipalities with 20,000 inhabitants or more.|
|United States of America||Territory that meets minimum population density requirements and with 2,500 inhabitants or more.|
Cities That Never Sleep
In 1950, two-thirds of the global population lived in rural areas, but this distribution will be reversed in a matter of decades. Almost 70% of the world will live in urban areas by 2050.
In total, 2.5 billion people could be added to global urban areas by 2050, and a whopping 90% of this increase will take place in Asia and Africa.
By the time the dust has settled, large portions of the urban population will be concentrated in megacities, which are areas defined as having 10 million or more inhabitants. These are projected to be the top 10 megacities by the middle of the 21st century:
|City||Country||2010 Population (millions)||2050 Population (millions)|
Upward Momentum: Charting a Year of Skyscraper Construction
Nearly 150 skyscrapers were completed around the world last year. Find out which cities and regions are growing skyward the fastest.
Ever since the first towering spires broke through the clouds in New York and Chicago, skyscrapers have remained a potent symbol of economic might.
The tallest buildings require vast amounts of materials, expertise, and capital to make them a reality, but the cities that add these landmarks to their skylines gain prestige and send a powerful message to competing economic centers.
Skyscraper Construction in 2018
Where are the most skyscrapers popping up? Let’s take a look at regional hot-spots around the world.
Note: For the purposes of this article, “skyscraper” will refer to buildings 656 feet (200 meters) or more in height.
China is Flying High
For well over two decades, China has led the world in skyscraper construction, and 2018 was no exception.
The country’s fixation on urban growth and continued economic success is producing tall buildings at a staggering rate. Last year, a mind-boggling 89 skyscrapers were completed in 28 different cities around China.
To put this building boom into perspective, China completed more skyscrapers in one year than New York City’s entire stock of 656ft and taller buildings.
In 2018, no city reached for the stars quite like Shenzhen. The city, which is a hub of China’s high-flying tech sector, now has the second-most skyscrapers in the world, surpassed only by Dubai.
Shenzhen isn’t just building a lot of skyscrapers, it’s building extremely tall ones too.
In 2017, for example, the ribbon was cut on the massive Ping An Finance Center, which is currently the 4th tallest building in the world. Last year alone, four new towers cracked the 1,000ft (300m) barrier.
While China’s scale is hard to beat, other cities in the region are also undergoing dramatic changes, particularly in Southeast Asia. Malaysia and Indonesia completed a combined 13 new skyscrapers, and the Vincom Landmark 81 was added to Ho Chi Minh City’s growing roster of unique skyscrapers.
While there are two skyscrapers under construction in Japan – one in Tokyo and one in Yokohama – none of them were completed last year.
A New Era of American Skyscrapers
After a two-decade lull in skyscraper construction, the United States is embracing taller buildings again. Last year alone, the U.S. added 14 new skyscrapers into the mix, particularly in New York City, where construction cranes dot the horizon. In the past decade, NYC has added 25 new skyscrapers to its iconic skyline.
This trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Between now and 2022, 44 skyscraper projects are expected to be completed in the United States, with the vast majority being built in the Big Apple.
Infographic: The Anatomy of a Smart City
The city will remain the centerpiece of economic growth in the 21st century. Here’s how we’re using smart city technology to optimize them even further.
The Anatomy of a Smart City
There is no doubt that the city will be the defining feature of human geography for the 21st century.
Globally, there are 1.3 million people moving to cities each week – and by 2040, a staggering 65% of the world’s population will live in cities.
At the same time, the 600 biggest urban areas already account for 60% of global GDP, and this will only rise higher as cities become larger and more prosperous. In fact, experts estimate that up to 80% of future economic growth in developing regions will occur in cities alone.
The Smart City: A Necessary Step
As cities become an even more important driver of the global economy and wealth, it’s becoming crucial to ensure that they are optimized to maximize efficiency and sustainability, while enhancing the quality of life in each urban conglomeration.
Today’s infographic from Postscapes helps define the need for smart cities, and it also gives great examples of how technology can be applied in urban settings to facilitate cities that work better for their citizens.
Features of Tomorrow’s Cities
Smart cities will use low power sensors, wireless networks, and mobile-based applications to measure and optimize everything within cities.
Here are just some examples: (click below image to open full-size version)
Smart city solutions will fall into six broad categories, transforming the urban landscape:
Smart lighting is one of the most important solutions that will be implemented in citywide infrastructure. While smart lighting sounds trivial at first glance, it’s worth noting that lighting alone consumes a whopping 19% of the world’s total electricity.
Heating, energy usage, lighting, and ventilation will be managed and optimized by technology. Solar panels will be integrated into building design, replacing traditional materials. Fire detection and extinguishing is tailored to individual rooms.
Smart grids (used for energy consumption monitoring and management), water leakage detection, and water potability monitoring are just some smart city aspects on the utilities side.
Intelligent, adaptive fast lanes and slow lanes (cycling, walking) will be implemented, while charging stations through the city will power EVs.
Air pollution control, renewable energy, and waste management solutions will make for greener cities. Rooftop gardens or side vegetation will be integrated into building designs, to help with insulation, provide oxygen, and absorb CO2.
There will be citywide Wi-Fi for public use, while real-time updates will provide citizens information on traffic congestion, parking spaces, and other city amenities.
Cisco estimates that smarter cities will have impressive increases in efficiency: using many of the above concepts, cities can improve energy efficiency by 30% in 20 years.
Simultaneously, it’s estimated that the broad market for smart cities products and services will be worth $2.57 trillion by 2025, growing at a clip of 18.4% per year on average.
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