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Environment / Sustainability

This amazing map shows how urbanisation has accelerated since 1950

Times change. A hundred years ago London, New York and Paris were the biggest cities in the world. Today, all three retain cultural and economic might – but when it comes to their population, they’re tumbled way down the league tables.

Tokyo was the first emergent megacity, outgrowing its western peers in the middle of the 20th century. Today, New York barely scrapes in to a global top ten; London and Paris fall well outside. That trend looks set to continue for the next few decades.


Duncan Smith, at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, has come up with a clever map to help us visualise all this. Drawing on UN data from 1950, 1990 and 2015, and projections for 2030, his map uses circles of different colours to represent the population of hundreds of cities at different points in time. The darker the circle, the earlier the growth happened. 

The result is a map that’s both beautiful and rich in data, which allows you to see eighty years of urbanisation at a glance. In the developed world, where the circles are mostly dark, urbanisation was largely complete by 1950; but in Asia, Africa and Latin America, lighter circles show that it’s still underway.

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Here are some of the headlines:

Europe is pretty stable

Despite all our talk of urbanisation, the populations of Western European cities have actually remained fairly static – especially when compared to how fast cities further afield have been growing.

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Few have boomed to the extent of Istanbul, which during the last 50 years has swollen from 1m to 15m, in the process overtaking London, Paris and Moscow to become Europe’s biggest city. Turkey’s population explosion has mirrored states across the Middle East, where urban populations are all on a substantial upward trajectory.

North America’s geography is shifting

Much like Europe, the populations of Canada and the northern parts of the USA have stayed pretty solid. But the growth further south has been much more significant.

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Mexico City and Guadalajara both boomed in the last 60 years and are still on the rise; so, too, have the populations of cities in California, Texas and Florida.

East Asia has seen three different phases of growth

The circles representing the major Japanese cities generally have large dark centres – equating to sizable populations prior to 1950. Already in the midst of a population boom which been going for 50 years, the likes of Tokyo and Osaka would get even bigger by 1990. Starting from a lower base, Korean cities also grew substantially in the latter half of the 20th Century.

 

Click to expand.

More recently, though, East Asian growth has been all about China. Shanghai, Beijing, Chonqing, Guangzhou – all megacities which, by 2030, will have grown either trebled or quadrupled their 1990 populations.

The boom to come

Cities in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have seen a pretty steady population boom in the latter half of the last century. Whilst Chinese cities have recently grown faster, their growth rate is set to fade – while that of their South Asian counterparts will continue unabashed. By 2030, Mumbai, Dhaka and Karachi will all have populations of over 25m. Delhi will have closer to 40m.

Click to expand.

You can see that parts of west and central Africa are hurtling towards megacity status, too. For a long time Africa’s urban growth has been concentrated in the Mediterranean north and in South Africa. Cairo will continue its steady growth to remain the continent’s largest city. But, to its south, the faster growth of Kinshasa, Lagos and Dar es Salaam epitomizes a gradual shift in the continent’s perceived centre of gravity towards, well, the centre.

The interactive map contains loads of other information, too. You can hover over an individual city to find out more about its population change. And in the “analysis” tab, you can check out the rankings of the biggest 10 cities from different time periods. The scale of urban growth is staggering: 65 years ago a city with a population of 20m would have been by far the largest in the world; by 2030 it wouldn’t even make it into the top ten.

Why not play around with the map – you can check it out here.

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All images courtesy of Duncan Smith, CASA UCL.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.