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Author: Llewellyn van Wyk ~ Senior Resarcher CSIR (Boutek)

( Article Type: Explanation )

The term ‘Urbanisation’ describes the growing trend of populations to gravitate toward living in city or urban environments. The towns and cities of the world are growing at ever increasing rates. Only slightly less than 30% of the global population lived in urban areas 50 years ago. Today, three billion people – almost half the global population – live in urban areas. In some parts of the developed world, the percentage is already beyond the 50% mark. By 2020, it is estimated that the figure will have reached 57%. When the global average breaches the 50% mark, a major transformation will have occurred in human society.

Not surprisingly, cities have become the economic powerhouses of national economies, often showing economic growth rates in excess of the national growth rate. Throughout history, cities have been synonymous with economic, social, and cultural growth. Yet, almost one third of today’s urban population is desperately poor and live in slums without even the most basic of services.

The burgeoning growth in urban populations has resulted in greater demands for municipal services. In most developing economies it has become a common feature that the demand has substantially exceeded municipalities financial and resource capabilities to deliver such services.

In view of the growing trend toward urbanisation, two questions must be answered when determining the future of the city:
Firstly, has the world the capacity to become fully urbanised?
Secondly, what will the effect be on human society?

In response to the first, it would appear that unless urgent and drastic interventions are introduced, it is likely that urbanisation will increase, but with a marked and continuing degradation in the quality of urban life. The second question may however be more difficult to assess, as we must consider whether the anonymity, mobility, impersonality, specialisation, and sophistication that characterises the city dweller, can become the attributes of a stable society, or will the society fall apart?

It seems likely that a completely urbanised world would be significantly different in its social structure from anything we currently know of today. But, for such a technologically advanced and substantially urbanised society to survive and thrive, it will need to adopt very different management strategies from those currently in place. Early trends are already manifesting, indicating that a new urbanised world will be far more integrated, less segregated, more community-orientated, more institutionalised, with ethics, culture and tradition being highly valued.