China in Transition #1

Bridging towards the future


Urbanization (or urbanisation) refers to the increasing amount of people that live in urban areas. It predominantly results in the physical growth of urban areas, be it horizontal or vertical. The United Nations projected that half of the world’s population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008. By 2050 it is predicted that 64.1% and 85.9% of the developing and developed world respectively will be urbanized.

Urbanization is closely linked to modernization, industrialization, and the sociological process of rationalization. Urbanization can describe a specific condition at a set time, i.e. the proportion of total population or area in cities or towns, or the term can describe the increase of this proportion over time. So the term urbanization can represent the level of urban development relative to overall population, or it can represent the rate at which the urban proportion is increasing.

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 last 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 in the next few decades, mushrooming cities to sizes incomprehensible only a century ago. Indeed, today, in Asia the urban agglomerations of  Dhaka,  Karachi,  Mumbai,  Delhi,  Manila, Seoul and Beijing are each already home to over 20 million people, while the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai-Suzhou and Tokyo are forecast to approach or exceed 40 million people each within the coming decade. Outside Asia, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York City, Lagos and Cairo are fast approaching being, or are already, home to over 20 million people.


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 insubsistence 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.

With the onset of the 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, the urban population jumped from 17% in 1801 to 72% 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 Americaand 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 thedeveloping 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.


As more and more people leave villages and farms to live in cities, urban growth results. The rapid growth of cities like Chicago in the late 19th century, Tokyo in the mid twentieth, and Mumbai in the 21st century can be attributed largely to rural-urban migration. This kind of growth is especially commonplace in developing countries. This phenomenal growth can also be attributed to the lure of not just economic opportunities, but also to loss or degradation of farmland and pastureland due to development, pollution, land grabs, or conflict, the attraction and anonymity of hedonistic pleasures of urban areas, proximity and ease of mass transport, as well as the opportunity to assert individualism.

‘Urbanization is not about simply increasing the number of urban residents or expanding the area of cities. More importantly, it’s about a complete change from rural to urban style in terms of industry structure, employment, living environment and social security.

Li Keqiang, Premier-elect of China

Environmental effects

The phenomenon of Urban heat islands has become a growing concern. Incidence of this phenomenon as well as concern about it has increased over the years. An urban heat island is formed when industrial and urban areas are developed resulting in greater production and retention of heat. A large proportion of solar energy that affects rural areas is consumed evaporating water from vegetation and soil. In cities, where there is less vegetation and exposed soil, the majority of the sun’s energy is absorbed by urban structures and asphalt. Hence, during warm daylight hours, less evaporative cooling in cities results in higher surface temperatures than in rural areas. Vehicles and factories release additional city heat, as do industrial and domestic heating and cooling units.

As a result, cities are often 2 to 10 °F (1 to 6 °C) warmer than surrounding landscapes. Impacts also include reducing soil moisture and a reduction in re-uptake of carbon dioxide emissions.

Source: Wikipedia

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