From New World Encyclopedia

The city of Los Angeles, California is an example of urbanization

Urbanization is the increase over time in the population of cities in relation to the region's rural population. It has been the trend of many countries since the Industrial Revolution and continuing through the twentieth century, a trend that has shown few signs of slowing down. Although initially regarded as an advance in the quality of human life, as advances in technology, diversity of people, and cultural opportunities were abundant, problems quickly emerged. Without clear attempts to adapt the city to the population increase, urbanization may prove detrimental to the city's survival. Traffic congestion, increased pollution, limited real estate, and decreasing resources are all possible side effects of urbanization. The realization of these dangers has led to city planning that de-emphasizes the automobile and encourages walking, car pooling, or public transportation to reduce pollution. Movements, such as the New Urbanism movement, have shown that city architecture and construction can be a display of art, not just functional buildings. With this rise in urban artistic expression comes a greater cultural pride for living in the city—it no longer looks overpopulated, crowded, and stifling, and so city life becomes more attractive.

At the same time, the rise of computer technology, and particularly the internet, has resulted in an opposite trend, that of telecommuting, or working from home. With advances in communications technology, many people are able to work in a location of their choosing, often a rural area, in constant and close contact with their colleagues all over the world. Such advances herald possibilities of developing living environments that cater to all needs and interests, while allowing people to pursue their educational and career goals without geographical constraints. In such a world, urbanization can reach an equilibrium, with those who prefer to live in cities doing so, and many others choosing alternative locations.


Urbanization is the growing number of people in a society living in urban areas, or cities. Urbanization means increased spatial scale and density of settlement as well as business and other activities in the area. Urban areas tend to attract businesses because of their large and dense population. This in turn draws more people to the area, working in a kind of circular process.

Urbanization could occur as a result of natural expansion of the existing population, however most commonly it results from a large influx of people from outside.

Economic effects

The most striking impact of urbanization is the rapid change in the prevailing character of local areas. As agriculture, more traditional local services, and small-scale industry give way to modern industry, the urban area draws on the resources of an ever-widening area both for its own sustenance and goods to be traded or processed.

Larger cities provide more specialized goods and services to the local market and surrounding areas, function as a transportation and wholesale hub for smaller places, and accumulate more capital, financial service provision, and an educated labor force, often concentrating administrative functions for the area in which they lie.

As cities develop, there can be a dramatic increase in rents, often pricing the local working class out of the market, including such functionaries as employees of the local municipalities:

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 specialised 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.[1]

This separation of the quality of housing into east and west sides is likely due the prevailing southwest wind, which carried coal smoke and other airborne pollutants downwind, making the western sides of towns preferable to the eastern ones.


Around two thousand years ago, the world had less than 250,000 people, and cities exceeding over twenty thousand citizens were rare. Cities ranged from two thousand to twenty thousand up until the sixteenth century, when cities with populations climbing to and exceeding one hundred thousand began to spring up. From 1800 to 2000, the population climbed to six times its size, greatly increasing the numbers of urban inhabitants. In 1900, only a handful of cities had populations over one million. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, roughly half of the world's population lived in urban areas, with the number of cities of over one million inhabitants increased many times over compared to 1900.[2]

Important cities in ancient times, such as Rome, had very large populations and developed infrastructures to support their needs. Thus, the Roman Empire built aquaducts to bring drinking water to the inhabitants. After the Industrial Revolution, great advances in technology drew people to cities.

Cities emerged from villages due to improvement in the cultivation, transportation, and preservation of food and other resources. The rise of the city broke down a mechanical way of life and led to an organic society: Cities were not closed to outsiders, and often many different types of people with new ideologies would come to live together within the same city. Cities developed an organized social core, where the entire community centered itself; villages often lacked this cohesiveness.

These early towns and cities were often quite small but densely populated. Distances were small enough that people could walk everywhere; particularly to a source of water. To protect the inhabitants from attacks, cities were often walled, limiting their ability to expand spatially despite increases in population. The elite lived in the center, close to the important buildings—government, religious, and so forth—while the poor lived nearer the edge, sometimes even outside the walls.

The variety of people and activities found in the cities became attractions that drew more and more people. Samuel Johnson, well-known for his statement, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,"[3] suggested that indeed "A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life."[4]

However, a city often breaks the bonds human beings have with nature—in a city, one is surrounded by man-made structures and technologies, and the former connection with nature as a provider is severed. These processes are detailed in different stages of urbanization.

The first stage of urbanization was dependent upon the amount and productivity of the available agricultural land. Population increases had to be limited—more people could mean fewer resources. The second stage of urbanization was the development of sea-river transports and the creation of roads. This built on the first stage, but because trade and industry were developed, populations were no longer limited in their growth. The third stage, which is still currently in progress, is the shift in the economy to technological advances and population growth. This stage is set for an indeterminate amount of time, and is proving to change the interaction between urban dwellers and cities.[5]

Examples of Urbanization

Urbanization rates vary across the globe. The United States and United Kingdom have a far higher urbanization level than China, India, Swaziland, or Nigeria. Their annual urbanization rates are far slower, however, since a much smaller proportion of the population is still living in a rural area and in the process of moving to cities. Areas that have been affected by urbanization in these countries in more recent times include:

  • In the United Kingdom, two major examples of new urbanization can be seen in Swindon, Wiltshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. These two towns show some of the quickest growth rates in Europe.

Seoul, South Korea

Few cities have seen such a rapid population growth as Seoul in South Korea. Starting at a population of 900,000 in 1945, the population rose to over ten million by 1990.[6] This urbanization boom brought increased revenue and economic prosperity for the city, but it also created new kinds of problems. Incineration plants and garbage dumps were constructed without consulting local residents, leading to angry residents and their migration from the area. Transportation systems have not been easy to coordinate, as competing transit systems have different bus routes and time tables. Construction also has played a role, as physically expanding a city requires heavy construction, which creates traffic congestion. The government of Seoul has found it essential to work closely with local authorities and citizens to manage these issues.[7]


At the turn of the nineteenth century, Africa south of the Sahara had a total urban population of less than five percent, most opting for more traditional agricultural jobs. By 2000, the number of urban inhabitants reached nearly 38 percent, with an expected jump to over 45 percent by 2015.[8] The growth of urbanization in Africa is slow, but it is steady.

Predictions regarding Africa's urbanization have been inaccurate, however, and this is partially due to the AIDS epidemic, unexpected government coups, and wars between nations. Times of war have seen a strong rural-urban population flux. Nevertheless, the Nigerian city of Lagos which, in 1963, had 665,000 residents,[9] jumped to nearly nine million residents in 2000, and is expected to reach 16 million residents by 2015, making it the eleventh largest city in the world. Urbanization is happening in Africa, just slower than originally anticipated.

Planning for Urbanization

The construction of new towns by the Housing Development Board of Singapore, is an example of planned urbanization
Did you know?
Urbanization can be planned or organic.

Urbanization can be planned or organic. Unplanned (organic) cities are the oldest form of urbanization and examples can be seen in many ancient cities. With exploration, however, came the collision of nations, which meant that many invaded cites took on the desired planned characteristics of their occupiers. Many ancient organic cities experienced redevelopment for military and economic purposes—new roads were carved through the cities, and new parcels of land were cordoned off serving various planned purposes giving cities distinctive geometric designs.

Planned urbanization, such as New Urbanism and the Garden City Movement, is based on an advance plan, which can be prepared for military, aesthetic, economic or urban design reasons. Generally, it is preferable to install urban infrastructure before urbanization occurs. landscape planners are responsible for landscape infrastructure (such as public parks, sustainable urban drainage systems, greenways) which can be planned before urbanization takes place, or afterward to revitalize an area and create a more pleasant living environment within a region.

Garden City Movement

Ebenezer Howard's three magnets diagram which addressed the question “Where will the people go?”—the choices being “Town,” “Country” or “Town-Country”

The Garden City Movement is an approach to urban planning that was initiated in 1898 by Ebenezer Howard. Garden cities were to be planned, self-contained communities surrounded by greenbelts, and containing carefully balanced areas of residences, industry, and agriculture.

Inspired by Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward, Howard organized the Garden City Association and founded two cities in England: Letchworth Garden City in 1903 and Welwyn Garden City in 1920. Both designs are durable successes and healthy communities today, although not a complete realization of Howard's ideals.

The idea of the garden city was influential in the United States (in Pittsburgh's Chatham Village; Sunnyside, Queens, New York City; Radburn, New Jersey; Jackson Heights, Queens; the Woodbourne neighborhood of Boston; Garden City, New York; and Baldwin Hills Village in Los Angeles) and in Canada (Walkerville, Ontario). The first German garden city, Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden, was founded in 1909. The concept was drawn upon for German worker housing built during the Weimar years, and again in England after World War II when the New Towns Act triggered the development of many new communities based on Howard's egalitarian vision. The garden city movement also influenced the British urbanist Sir Patrick Geddes in the planning of Tel Aviv, Israel. Contemporary town planning charters like New Urbanism and Principles of Intelligent Urbanism find their origins in this movement.

American New Urbanism

New urbanism was a movement in urban design which started in the late 1980s in the United States. The idea is to shift design focus from the car-centric development of suburbia and the business park, to concentrated pedestrian and transit-centric, walkable, mixed-use communities. New urbanism is an amalgamation of old-world design patterns merged with present day demands. It is a backlash to the age of suburban sprawl, which splintered communities, and isolated people from each other, as well as had severe environmental impacts. Concepts for new urbanism include bringing people and destinations into dense, vibrant communities, and decreasing dependency on vehicular transportation as the primary mode of transit.

European New Urbanism

The European Urban Renaissance, a movement stemming from American new urbanism, was unveiled in 1996. Many of the criteria for urbanism in Europe included revitalizing the city garden, healing the city, founding new traditional cities, urbanizing the suburbs, and constructing new traditional public buildings. The success of urbanism projects in Europe has led to new projects throughout the continent, some of which include re-inventing major cities to the standards of new urbanism.

Urbanization Today

The 2005 Revision of the UN World Urbanization Prospects report described the twentieth century as witnessing "the rapid urbanization of the world’s population," as the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 percent (220 million) in 1900, to 29 percent (732 million) in 1950, to 49 percent (3.2 billion) in 2005. The same report projected that the figure was likely to rise to 60 percent (4.9 billion) by 2030.[10]

The 2009 Revision World Urbanization Prospects confirmed that the level of world urbanization crossed the 50 percent mark in 2009.[11] Nonetheless, in both Africa and Asia 60 percent of the population continued to live in rural areas. Population growth is projected to involve increasing the urban population in developing nations.

Between 2009 and 2050, the world population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, passing from 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion. At the same time, the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.9 billion, passing from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.3 billion 2050. Thus, the urban areas of the world are expected to absorb all the population growth expected over the next four decades while at the same time drawing in some of the rural population. ... Furthermore, most of the population growth expected in urban areas will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the less developed regions.[11]


Traditional urbanization involves a concentration of human activities and settlements around the downtown area. When the residential area shifts outward, this is called suburbanization. A number of researchers and writers suggest that suburbanization has gone so far as to form new points of concentration outside the downtown. This networked, poly-centric form of concentration may be considered an emerging pattern of urbanization. Los Angeles is the best-known example of this type of urbanization.

Internet and Counter-urbanization

Counter-urbanization is the process whereby people move from urban areas to rural areas. It first took place as a reaction to inner-city deprivation and overcrowding. The process involves the moving of the population away from urban areas such as towns and cities to a new town, a new estate, a commuter town, or a village. The first two of these destinations were often encouraged by government schemes whereas the latter two were generally the choice of more middle class, socially mobile persons on their own prerogative. With the improvement of inner-city transportation infrastructure, and more sustainable public transport, people no longer have to live close to their work, and so can easily commute each day from more distant living areas.

The creation of the internet has impacted the way that people interact, work, and spend their leisure time. Office work and data entry is becoming dominated by internet protocol and programs, and so it is not uncommon to find employees working from their homes. This is seen as ideal for many—being able to work from the comfort of home while completing the same duties as one would at an office appears to be a desirable prospect. This type of work has come to be known as telecommuting.

The idea of telecommuting is to replace the commute to a work or business by the transfer of information from a computer to another computer—it brings the work to the worker. As well as being convenient for workers, this system has many beneficial results on society as a whole. For one, it cuts back on traffic congestion, since fewer commuters have to travel to work on a daily basis. This also decreases the amount of pollution in the city's air. A healthier environment benefits every person living in the area, increases the attractiveness of the city, and improves the quality of life for the population.[12]


  1. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of the Revolution: 1789–1848 (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith Publisher, 1999, ISBN 084466992X).
  2. "History of Urbanization" Encyclopaedia Britannica Online (2007).
  3. Samuel Johnson, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” (September 20, 1777). The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  4. Samuel Johnson, Quotes on Cities, The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  5. Lewis Mumford, The Natural History of Urbanization, (Chicago 1956). Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  6. Vernon Henderson, "Urbanization in Developing Countries." The World Bank Research Observer 17(1) (2002): 89-112. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  7. Chan Gon Kim, Urban and Metropolitan Management of Seoul: Past and Present,” Policy Planning Bureau, 2000.
  8. Population Division 2003: World Population Prospects (New York: United Nations, 2002).
  9. Carole Rakodi, The Urban Challenge in Africa: Growth and Management of its Large Cities (New York: United Nations University, 1996).
  10. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, United Nations. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, United Nations. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  12. Kathy Daniel, CMAQ and Telecommute Programs, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved July 30, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Champion, A. G., Graeme Hugo, and Tony Champion (eds.). 2003. New Forms of Urbanization: Beyond the Urban-Rural Dichotomy. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0754635880
  • Connell, John. 2001. Urbanization of the Pacific. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415246709
  • Correa, Charles. 2000. Housing and Urbanization: Building Solutions for People and Cities. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0500282102
  • De Vries, Jan. 1984. European Urbanization: 1500-1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674270150
  • Dutt, A.K., A.G. Noble, G. Venugopal, and S. Subbiah (eds.). 2003. Challenges to Asian Urbanization in the 21st Century. Springer. ISBN 1402015763
  • Falola, Toyin and Steven J. Salm. 2005. Urbanization and African Cultures. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. ISBN 0890895589
  • Keil, Roger. 1998. Los Angeles: Globalization, Urbanization, and Social Struggles. Academic Press. ISBN 0471983527
  • Osborne, Robin and Barry Cunliffe (Eds). 2007. Mediterranean Urbanization 800-600 B.C.E. British Academy. ISBN 978-0197263259
  • Rakodi, Carole. 1996. The Urban Challenge in Africa: Growth and Management of Its Large Cities (Mega-city). United Nations University Press. ISBN 9280809520

External links

All links retrieved May 3, 2023.


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