Urbanisation is the process in which there is a growth in the percentage of a population living and working in urban areas.

The rate of urbanisation is affected by:

  • Birth-to-death rate – if there are more people being born than there are dying then the population will increase or if there are more people dying than there are being born the population will decrease.
  • Urban-to-rural development – urban development means more rural-to-urban migration whereas rural development means more urban-to-rural migration.
  • Transport advances – means that the city is not only easier to access but also increase its attractiveness.
  • General improvement – any general improvement of an area will attract people whether it be to urban or rural areas.

The Problems of Rapid Urbanisation

The world is rapidly becoming urbanised, and the pace of urbanisation is greatest in LICs. For example, the population of the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil grew from 7 million in 1970 to an estimated 20 million in 2010. Covering an area of 8000km, it is now the second largest urban area in the Americas. Here as elsewhere the developing world, this rapid and often unplanned growth has created a range of problems, mainly because of the speed at which it has occurred.

  1. Housing – The growth of LICs has been caused by people moving from rural areas or other parts of the country. When they arrive, there is nowhere for them to live, especially as many are looking for cheap, low-cost housing. Millions of people live in what where meant to be temporary housing have now become shanty towns or squatter settlements. Even for those with money, the demand for housing exceeds supply. As a result, housing is expensive relative to people’s wages and salary. In general, because of poor transport, the most sought after housing is close to the city centre with its shops and places of work.
  2. Access to water and electricity – It is commonly the case that the provisions of basic services does not keep up with the growth of population. As a consequence, not all parts of the built-up area are provided with running water, sanitation or electricity. Many people have no option but to rely on fires for cooking and lighting and on polluted steams for water and sewage disposal.
  3. Traffic congestion and transport – The provision of proper roads and public transport is another aspect city life that lags behind the growth in population. As a result the transport systems in cities are overloaded and overcrowded, and traffic congestion is a major problem for everyone – rick or poor. The high numbers of vehicles also causes high levels of atmosphere pollution in cities, many of which suffer regularly from smog (a mix of smoke and fog).
  4. Health – There are not enough doctors, clinics or hospitals to deal with the rapid increase in population. With large parts of the mushrooming city having little or no access to clean water or sanitation, diseases and infections, such as typhoid and cholera, spread quickly. Atmosphere pollution leads to widespread respiratory problems.
  5. Education – Rapid population growth also means a lack of schools. Although most cities manage to provide some primary education not all children go on to secondary school. This is because of the cost and because many children have to work to help support the family.
  6. Employment – Although people are attracted to cities for work, many are unable to find decently paid jobs and so become part of the massive informal sector, surviving as best as they can. This includes selling goods on the street, working as cleaners, shoeshine’s or cooking and selling food for home or by the roadside. Even where there is paid work in new factories, these are often many kilometres away from the shanty areas where most newcomers live.
  7. Social problems – Given how close to each other people live and the poor conditions experience by sometimes millions of city dwellers, it is not surprising that they also suffer from high crime rates, drugs trafficking and theft. The poorest areas are often inhabited by violent street gangs.

Mega Cities


More recently the term megacity has been used to describe cities with populations of over 10 million. In 1970 there were just four of theses, but by 2010 there were 24 of them. The United Nations estimates that by the year 2015 there will be nearly 3 mega cities, over half of which will be in Asia.

The four main factors for the growth of mega cities:

  1. Economic development – this is the drive of all economic growth and urbanisation. Presumably mega cities are produced by a fast and sustained rate of economic growth.
  2. Population growth – given the size of these cities, there must be high rates of population growth. Large volumes of rural-urban migration among young adults, plus high rates of natural increase are needed to explain the size of these cities. Young people will be drawn to live in these cities by the `buzz` of feeling close to `where it all happens`. There is kudos a want to be living and working in such a place.
  3. Economies of scale – There are advantages to be gained from cramming as much as possible into megacity rather than into a number of smaller cities. Since distances within a mega cities are less than between smaller cities, there are financial savings (economies of scale) to be made in terms of transport. Communication between people and businesses will be easier (another economy).
  4. Multiplier effect – with cities, success leads to more success. Once a large city is prospering, it gathers a momentum which will carry it forward. So it will lead to more prosperity and growth. There are more jobs so more people come which means there are more people who need goods and services, which creates more jobs and so the cycle goes on.

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