Urbanization refers to the population shift from rural to urban "the gradual increase in the population of people living in urban areas", and the ways in which each society adapts to the change. It is predominantly the process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger as more people begin living and working in central areas. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008. It is predicted that by 2050 about 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. That is equivalent to approximately 3 billion urbanites by 2050, much of which will occur in Africa and Asia. Notably, the United Nations has also recently projected that nearly all global population growth from 2017 to 2030 will be absorbed by cities, about 1.1 billion new urbanites over the next 13 years.
Urbanization is relevant to a range of disciplines, including urban planning, geography, sociology, economics, and public health. The phenomenon has been closely linked to modernization, industrialization, and the sociological process of rationalization. Urbanization can be seen as a specific condition at a set time (e.g. the proportion of total population or area in cities or towns) or as an increase in that condition over time. So urbanization can be quantified either in terms of, say, the level of urban development relative to the overall population, or as the rate at which the urban proportion of the population is increasing. Urbanization creates enormous social, economic and environmental changes, which provide an opportunity for sustainability with the “potential to use resources more efficiently, to create more sustainable land use and to protect the biodiversity of natural ecosystems.”
Urbanization is not merely a modern phenomenon, but a rapid and historic transformation of human social roots on a global scale, whereby predominantly rural culture is being rapidly replaced by predominantly urban culture. The first major change in settlement patterns was the accumulation of hunter-gatherers into villages many thousand years ago. Village culture is characterized by common bloodlines, intimate relationships, and communal behavior, whereas urban culture is characterized by distant bloodlines, unfamiliar relations, and competitive behavior. This unprecedented movement of people is forecast to continue and intensify during the next few decades, mushrooming cities to sizes unthinkable only a century ago. As a result, the world urban population growth curve has up till recently followed a quadratic-hyperbolic pattern.
Today, in Asia the urban agglomerations of Osaka, Karachi, Jakarta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Manila, Seoul and Beijing are each already home to over 20 million people, while Delhi and Tokyo are forecast to approach or exceed 40 million people each within the coming decade. Outside Asia, Mexico City, São Paulo, London, New York City, Istanbul, Lagos and Cairo are, or soon will be, home to over 10 million people each.
From the development of the earliest cities in Mesopotamia and Egypt until the 18th century, an equilibrium existed between the vast majority of the population who engaged in subsistence agriculture in a rural context, and small centres of populations in the towns where economic activity consisted primarily of trade at markets and manufactures on a small scale. Due to the primitive and relatively stagnant state of agriculture throughout this period, the ratio of rural to urban population remained at a fixed equilibrium. However, a significant increase in the percentage of the global urban population can be traced in the 1st millennium BCE. Another significant increase can be traced to Mughal India, where 15% of its population lived in urban centers during the 16th–17th centuries, higher than in Europe at the time. In comparison, the percentage of the European population living in cities was 8–13% in 1800.
With the onset of the British agricultural and industrial revolution in the late 18th century, this relationship was finally broken and an unprecedented growth in urban population took place over the course of the 19th century, both through continued migration from the countryside and due to the tremendous demographic expansion that occurred at that time. In England and Wales, the proportion of the population living in cities with more than 20,000 people jumped from 17% in 1801 to 54% in 1891. Moreover, and adopting a broader definition of urbanization, we can say that while the urbaized population in England and Wales represented 72% of the total in 1891, for other countries the figure was 37% in France, 41% in Prussia and 28% in the United States.
As labourers were freed up from working the land due to higher agricultural productivity they converged on the new industrial cities like Manchester and Birmingham which were experiencing a boom in commerce, trade and industry. Growing trade around the world also allowed cereals to be imported from North America and refrigerated meat from Australasia and South America. Spatially, cities also expanded due to the development of public transport systems, which facilitated commutes of longer distances to the city centre for the working class.
Urbanization rapidly spread across the Western world and, since the 1950s, it has begun to take hold in the developing world as well. At the turn of the 20th century, just 15% of the world population lived in cities. According to the UN, the year 2007 witnessed the turning point when more than 50% of the world population were living in cities, for the first time in human history.
Yale University in June 2016 published urbanization data from the time period 3700 BC to 2000 AD, the data was used to make a video showing the development of cities on the world during the time period.
Urbanization occurs as individual, commercial flight, social and government action reduce the time and expense of commuting and transportation and improve opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and transportation. Living in a city can provide opportunities of proximity, diversity, and marketplace competition. As against this, there may be alienation issues, stress, increased cost of living, and negative social aspects that result from mass marginalization. Suburbanization, which is happening in the cities of the largest developing countries, may be regarded as an attempt to balance these negative aspects of urban life while still allowing access to the large extent of shared resources.
In cities, money, services, wealth and opportunities are centralized. Many rural inhabitants come to the city to seek their fortune and alter their social position. Businesses, which provide jobs and exchange capital, are more concentrated in urban areas. Whether the source is trade or tourism, it is also through the ports or banking systems, commonly located in cities, that foreign money flows into a country.
Many people move into cities for the economic opportunities, but this does not fully explain the very high recent urbanization rates in places like China and India. Rural flight is a contributing factor to urbanization. In rural areas, often on small family farms or collective farms in villages, it has historically been difficult to access manufactured goods, though the relative overall quality of life is very subjective, and may certainly surpass that of the city. Farm living has always been susceptible to unpredictable environmental conditions, and in times of drought, flood or pestilence, survival may become extremely problematic.
In a New York Times article concerning the acute migration away from farming in Thailand, life as a farmer was described as "hot and exhausting". "Everyone says the farmer works the hardest but gets the least amount of money". In an effort to counter this impression, the Agriculture Department of Thailand is seeking to promote the impression that farming is "honorable and secure".
However, in Thailand, urbanization has also resulted in massive increases in problems such as obesity. City life, especially in modern urban slums of the developing world, is certainly hardly immune to pestilence or climatic disturbances such as floods, yet continues to strongly attract migrants. Examples of this were the 2011 Thailand floods and 2007 Jakarta flood. Urban areas are also far more prone to violence, drugs, and other urban social problems. In the United States, industrialization of agriculture has negatively affected the economy of small and middle-sized farms and strongly reduced the size of the rural labour market.
Particularly in the developing world, conflict over land rights due to the effects of globalization has led to less politically powerful groups, such as farmers, losing or forfeiting their land, resulting in obligatory migration into cities. In China, where land acquisition measures are forceful, there has been far more extensive and rapid urbanization (54%) than in India (36%), where peasants form militant groups (e.g. Naxalites) to oppose such efforts. Obligatory and unplanned migration often results in rapid growth of slums. This is also similar to areas of violent conflict, where people are driven off their land due to violence. Bogotá, Colombia is one example of this.
Cities offer a larger variety of services, including specialist services not found in rural areas. These services requires workers, resulting in more numerous and varied job opportunities. Elderly people may be forced to move to cities where there are doctors and hospitals that can cater for their health needs. Varied and high quality educational opportunities are another factor in urban migration, as well as the opportunity to join, develop, and seek out social communities.
Urbanization also creates opportunities for women that are not available in rural areas. This creates a gender-related transformation where women are engaged in paid employment and have access to education. This may cause fertility to decline. However, women are sometimes still at a disadvantage due to their unequal position in the labour market, their inability to secure assets independently from male relatives and exposure to violence.
People in cities are more productive than in rural areas. An important question is whether this is due to agglomeration effects or whether cities simply attract those who are more productive. Economists have recently shown that there exists a large productivity gain due to locating in dense agglomerations. It is thus possible that agents locate in cities in order to benefit from these agglomeration effects.
The dominant conurbation(s) of a country can benefit to a greater extent from the same things cities offer, making them magnets for not just the non-urban population, but also urban and suburban population from other cities. Dominant conurbations are quite often primate cities, but do not have to be. For instance Greater Manila is rather a conurbation than a city: its 20 million overall population (over 20% national population) make it very much a primate city, but Quezon City (2.7 million), the largest municipality in Greater Manila, and Manila (1.6 million), the capital, are not. A conurbation's dominance can be measured by output, wealth, and especially population, each expressed as a percentage of an entire country. Greater Seoul is one conurbation with massive dominance over South Korea, it is home to 50% of the entire national population.
Though Greater Busan-Ulsan (15%, 8 million) and Greater Osaka (14%, 18 million) exhibit strong dominance in their respective countries, yet they are losing population to their even more dominant rivals, Seoul and Tokyo respectively.
As cities develop, effects can include a dramatic increase and change in costs, often pricing the local working class out of the market, including such functionaries as employees of the local municipalities. For example, Eric Hobsbawm's book The age of revolution: 1789–1848 (published 1962 and 2005) chapter 11, stated "Urban development in our period [1789–1848] was a gigantic process of class segregation, which pushed the new labouring poor into great morasses of misery outside the centres of government and business and the newly specialized residential areas of the bourgeoisie. The almost universal European division into a 'good' west end and a 'poor' east end of large cities developed in this period." This is likely due the prevailing south-west wind which carries coal smoke and other airborne pollutants downwind, making the western edges of towns preferable to the eastern ones. Similar problems now affect the developing world, rising inequality resulting from rapid urbanization trends. The drive for rapid urban growth and often efficiency can lead to less equitable urban development. Think tanks such as the Overseas Development Institute have proposed policies that encourage labor-intensive growth as a means of absorbing the influx of low-skilled and unskilled labor. One problem these migrant workers are involved with is the growth of slums. In many cases, the rural-urban low skilled or unskilled migrant workers, attracted by economic opportunities in urban areas, cannot find a job and afford housing in cities and have to dwell in slums. Urban problems, along with infrastructure developments, are also fueling suburbanization trends in developing nations, though the trend for core cities in said nations tends to continue to become ever denser. Urbanization is often viewed as a negative trend, but there are positives in the reduction of expenses in commuting and transportation while improving opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and transportation. Living in cities permits individuals and families to take advantage of the opportunities of proximity and diversity. While cities have a greater variety of markets and goods than rural areas, infrastructure congestion, monopolization, high overhead costs, and the inconvenience of cross-town trips frequently combine to make marketplace competition harsher in cities than in rural areas.
In many developing countries where economies are growing, the growth is often erratic and based on a small number of industries. For young people in these countries barriers exist such as, lack of access to financial services and business advisory services, difficulty in obtaining credit to start a business, and lack of entrepreneurial skills, in order for them to access opportunities in these industries. Investment in human capital so that young people have access to quality education and infrastructure to enable access to educational facilities is imperative to overcoming economic barriers.
The existence of urban heat islands has become a growing concern over the years. An urban heat island is formed when industrial and urban areas produce and retain heat. Much of the solar energy that reaches rural areas is consumed by evaporation of water from vegetation and soil. In cities, where there is less vegetation and exposed soil, most of the sun's energy is instead absorbed by buildings and asphalt; leading to higher surface temperatures. Vehicles, factories and industrial and domestic heating and cooling units release even more heat. As a result, cities are often 1 to 3 °C (1.8 to 5.4 °F) warmer than surrounding landscapes. Impacts also include reducing soil moisture and a reduction in reabsorption of carbon dioxide emissions.
The occurrence of eutrophication in bodies of water is another effect large urban populations have on the environment. When rain occurs in these large cities, the rain filters down the pollutants such as CO2 and other green house gases in the air onto the ground below. Then, those chemicals are washed directly into rivers, streams and oceans, causing a decline in water quality and damaging marine ecosystems.
In his book Whole Earth Discipline, Stewart Brand argues that the effects of urbanization are primarily positive for the environment. First, the birth rate of new urban dwellers falls immediately to replacement rate, and keeps falling, reducing environmental stresses caused by population growth. Secondly, emigration from rural areas reduces destructive subsistence farming techniques, such as improperly implemented slash and burn agriculture.
In July 2013 a report issued by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs warned that with 2.4 billion more people by 2050, the amount of food produced will have to increase by 70%, straining food resources, especially in countries already facing food insecurity due to changing environmental conditions. The mix of changing environmental conditions and the growing population of urban regions, according to UN experts, will strain basic sanitation systems and health care, and potentially cause a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
In the developing world, urbanization does not translate into a significant increase in life expectancy. Rapid urbanization has led to increased mortality from non-communicable diseases associated with lifestyle, including cancer and heart disease. Differences in mortality from contagious diseases vary depending on the particular disease and location.
Urban health levels are on average better in comparison to rural areas. However, residents in poor urban areas such as slums and informal settlements suffer "disproportionately from disease, injury, premature death, and the combination of ill-health and poverty entrenches disadvantage over time." Many of the urban poor have difficulty accessing health services due to their inability to pay for them; so they resort to less qualified and unregulated providers.
While urbanization is associated with improvements in public hygiene, sanitation and access to health care, it also entails changes in occupational, dietary and exercise patterns. It can have mixed effects on health patterns, alleviating some problems and accentuating others.
One such effect is the formation of food deserts. Nearly 23.5 million people in the United States lack access to supermarkets within one mile of their home. Several studies suggest that long distances to a grocery store are associated with higher rates of obesity and other health disparities.
Food deserts in developed countries often correspond to areas with a high-density of fast food chains and convenience stores that offer little to no fresh food. Urbanization has been shown to be associated with the consumption of less fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and a higher consumption of processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Poor access to healthy food and high intakes of fat, sugar and salt are associated with a greater risk for obesity, diabetes and related chronic disease. Overall, body mass index and cholesterol levels increase sharply with national income and the degree of urbanization.
Food deserts in the United States are most commonly found in low-income and predominately African American neighborhoods. One study on food deserts in Denver, Colorado found that, in addition to minorities, the affected neighborhoods also had a high proportion of children and new births. In children, urbanization is associated with a lower risk of under-nutrition but a higher risk of overweight.
Urbanization has also been associated with an increased risk for asthma as well. Throughout the world, as communities transition from rural to more urban societies, the number of people effected by asthma increases. The odds of reduced rates of hospitalization and death from asthmas has decreased for children and young adults in urbanized municipalities in Brazil. This finding indicates that urbanization may have a negative impact on population health particularly affecting people’s susceptibility to asthma.
In low and middle income countries many factors contribute to the high numbers of people with asthma. Similar to areas in the United States with increasing urbanization, people living in growing cities in low income countries experience high exposure to air pollution, which increases the prevalence and severity of asthma among these populations. Links have been found between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and allergic diseases. Children living in poor, urban areas in the United States now have an increased risk of morbidity due to asthma in comparison to other low-income children in the United States. In addition, children with croup living in urban areas have higher hazard ratios for asthma than similar children living in rural areas. Researchers suggest that this difference in hazard ratios is due to the higher levels of air pollution and exposure to environmental allergens found in urban areas.
Exposure to elevated levels of ambient air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), can cause DNA methylation of CpG sites in immune cells, which increases children’s risk of developing asthma. Studies have shown a positive correlation between Foxp3 methylation and children’s exposure to NO2, CO, and PM2.5. Furthermore, any amount of exposure to high levels of air pollution have shown long term effects on the Foxp3 region.
Despite the increase in access to health services that usually accompanies urbanization, the rise in population density negatively affects air quality ultimately mitigating the positive value of health resources as more children and young adults develop asthma due to high pollution rates. However, urban planning as well as emission control can lessen the effects of traffic-related air pollution on allergic diseases such as asthma.
Historically crime and urbanization have gone hand in hand. The simplest explanation is that areas with a higher population density are surrounded by a greater availability of goods. Committing crimes in urbanized areas is also more feasible. Modernization has led to more crime as well. There is a greater awareness of the income gap between the rich and poor due to modern media. This leads to feelings of deprivation which can lead to crime. In some regions where urbanization happens in wealthier areas, a rise in property crime and a decrease in violent crime is seen.
Data shows that there is an increase of crime in urbanized areas. Some factors include per capita income, income inequality, and overall population size. There is also a smaller association between unemployment rate, police expenditures and crime. The presence of crime also has the ability to produce more crime. These areas have less social cohesion, and therefore less social control. This is evident in the geographical regions that crime occurs in. As most crime tends to cluster in city centers, the further the distance from the center of the city, the lower the occurrence of crimes are.
Migration is also a factor that can increase crime in urbanized areas. People from one area are displaced and forced to move into an urbanized society. Here they are in a new environment with new norms and social values. This can lead to less social cohesion and more crime.
Although urbanization tends to produce more negative effects, one positive effect that urbanization has impacted is an increase in physical activity in comparison to rural areas. Residents of rural areas and communities in the United States have higher rates of obesity and engage in less physical activity than urban residents. Rural residents consume a higher percent of fat calories and are less likely to meet the guidelines for physical activity and more likely to be physically inactive. In comparison to regions within the United States, the west has the lowest prevalence of physical inactivity and the south has the highest prevalence of physical inactivity. Metropolitan and large urban areas across all regions have the highest prevalence of physical activity among residents.
Barriers such as geographic isolation, busy and unsafe roads, and social stigmas lead to decreased physical activity in rural environments. Faster speed limits on rural roads prohibits the ability to have bike lanes, sidewalks, footpaths, and shoulders along the side of the roads. Less developed open spaces in rural areas, like parks and trails, suggest that there is lower walkability in these areas in comparison to urban areas. Many residents in rural settings have to travel long distances to utilize exercise facilities, taking up too much time in the day and deterring residents from using recreational facilities to obtain physical activity. Additionally, residents of rural communities are traveling further for work, decreasing the amount of time that can be spent on leisure physical activity and significantly decreases the opportunity to partake in active transportation to work.
Neighborhoods and communities with nearby fitness venues, a common feature of urbanization, have residents that partake in increased amounts of physical activity. Communities with sidewalks, street lights, and traffic signals have residents participating in more physical activity than communities without those features. Having a variety of destinations close to where people live, increases the use of active transportation, such as walking and biking. Active transportation is also enhanced in urban communities where there is easy access to public transportation due to residents walking or biking to transportation stops.
In a study comparing different regions in the United States, opinions across all areas were shared that environmental characteristics like access to sidewalks, safe roads, recreational facilities, and enjoyable scenery are positively associated with participation in leisure physical activity. Perceiving that resources are nearby for physical activity increases the likelihood that residents of all communities will meet the guidelines and recommendations for appropriate physical activity. Specific to rural residents, safety of outdoor developed spaces and convenient availability to recreational facilities matters most when making decisions on increasing physical activity. In order to combat the levels of inactivity in rural residents, more convenient recreational features, such as the ones discussed in this paragraph, need to be implemented into rural communities and societies.
Different forms of urbanization can be classified depending on the style of architecture and planning methods as well as historic growth of areas.
In cities of the developed world urbanization traditionally exhibited a concentration of human activities and settlements around the downtown area, the so-called in-migration. In-migration refers to migration from former colonies and similar places. The fact that many immigrants settle in impoverished city centres led to the notion of the "peripheralization of the core", which simply describes that people who used to be at the periphery of the former empires now live right in the centre.
Recent developments, such as inner-city redevelopment schemes, mean that new arrivals in cities no longer necessarily settle in the centre. In some developed regions, the reverse effect, originally called counter urbanization has occurred, with cities losing population to rural areas, and is particularly common for richer families. This has been possible because of improved communications, and has been caused by factors such as the fear of crime and poor urban environments. It has contributed to the phenomenon of shrinking cities experienced by some parts of the industrialized world.
When the residential area shifts outward, this is called suburbanization. A number of researchers and writers suggest that suburbanization has gone so far to form new points of concentration outside the downtown both in developed and developing countries such as India. This networked, poly-centric form of concentration is considered by some emerging pattern of urbanization. It is called variously exurbia, edge city (Garreau, 1991), network city (Batten, 1995), or postmodern city (Dear, 2000). Los Angeles is the best-known example of this type of urbanization. In the United States, this process has reversed as of 2011, with "re-urbanization" occurring as suburban flight due to chronically high transport costs.
Rural migrants are attracted by the possibilities that cities can offer, but often settle in shanty towns and experience extreme poverty. The inability of countries to provide adequate housing for these rural migrants is related to overurbanization, a phenomenon in which the rate of urbanization grows more rapidly than the rate of economic development, leading to high unemployment and high demand for resources. In the 1980s, this was attempted to be tackled with the urban bias theory which was promoted by Michael Lipton.
Most of the urban poor in developing countries unable to find work, can spend their lives in insecure, poorly paid jobs. According to research by the Overseas Development Institute pro-poor urbanization will require labour-intensive growth, supported by labour protection, flexible land use regulation and investments in basic services.'
Urbanization can be planned urbanization or organic. Planned urbanization, i.e.: planned community or the garden city movement, is based on an advance plan, which can be prepared for military, aesthetic, economic or urban design reasons. Examples can be seen in many ancient cities; although with exploration came the collision of nations, which meant that many invaded cities took on the desired planned characteristics of their occupiers. Many ancient organic cities experienced redevelopment for military and economic purposes, new roads carved through the cities, and new parcels of land were cordoned off serving various planned purposes giving cities distinctive geometric designs. UN agencies prefer to see urban infrastructure installed before urbanization occurs. Landscape planners are responsible for landscape infrastructure (public parks, sustainable urban drainage systems, greenways etc.) which can be planned before urbanization takes place, or afterward to revitalize an area and create greater livability within a region. Concepts of control of the urban expansion are considered in the American Institute of Planners.
As population continues to grow and urbanize at unprecedented rates, new urbanism and smart growth techniques are implemented to create a transition into developing environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable cities. Smart Growth and New Urbanism’s principles include walkability, mixed-use development, comfortable high-density design, land conservation, social equity, and economic diversity. Mixed-use communities work to fight gentrification with affordable housing to promote social equity, decrease automobile dependency to lower use of fossil fuels, and promote a localized economy. Walkable communities have a 38% higher average GDP per capita than less walkable urban metros (Leinberger, Lynch). By combining economic, environmental, and social sustainability, cities will become equitable, resilient, and more appealing than urban sprawl that overuses land, promotes automobile use, and segregates the population economically.
The process whereby a society changes from a rural to an urban way of life. It refers also to the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas.