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Urban Population Growth

An important element of urbanization that we need to understand is a specific process where the number of urban inhabitants grows more, or at least shrinks less, in comparison to the non-urban population in a given area. This process can be assessed based on comparing the function of live births, deaths and migration in urban and non-urban areas. Understanding how urban population growth can be calculated is crucial to analyzing how present-day and future urbanization processes unfold, as well as for urban planning.
Population Growth
© University of Groningen

An important element of urbanization that we need to understand is a specific process where the number of urban inhabitants grows more, or at least shrinks less, in comparison to the non-urban population in a given area. This process can be assessed based on comparing the function of live births, deaths and migration in urban and non-urban areas. Understanding how urban population growth can be calculated is crucial to analyzing how present-day and future urbanization processes unfold, as well as for urban planning.

For example, consider the most populous municipality in the Netherlands: Amsterdam. In 2019, the Dutch capital roughly welcomed 10,500 newborn inhabitants, and bid farewell to 5,200 deceased people. Meanwhile, 77,600 people moved into the city, and 73,100 left.

Urban Growth and Urbanization

Overall, Amsterdam thus grew by (10,500 – 5,200) + (77,600 – 73,100) = 9,800 inhabitants (CBS, 2020). Whether this urban growth amounts to urbanization, however, requires you to consider its share in the urban-rural population distribution at higher administrative levels, such as the region, province, or upwards to the national level. Dynamics also have to be monitored over longer periods of time.

Large crowd walking and ice skating in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam Crowd in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. By Red Morley Hewitt on Unsplash via Unsplash.

Urban Population Growth Rates

To get a better idea of the pace at which these changes in urban development occur, we can also express them in terms of average annual growth rates; either that of the urban population or of its share in the total population. Every year since 1950 on average, the world’s urban population increased by 2.54%, while the Earth’s total population only grew by 1.62%, and the share of the urban population thus rose by 0.92% (UN DESA, 2018).

Please keep in mind that these global aggregates and averages aim to cover widely diverging trajectories of urbanization across space and time. According to some estimates, the current degree of urbanization in the Americas, for example, is almost double that of Africa (UN DESA, 2018). These are, however, averages resulting from broad comparisons within and across countries. Local processes such as shrinking cities or urban depopulation, which may amount to negative urbanization, can be observed as well.

Global Urban Population Growth

At the global level, the latest estimates are that the urban share of the world’s population rose from 30% in 1950 to over 55% now, and projections that it will have risen to 68% by 2050. (UN DESA, 2018). Considering estimates that the total world population was over 2.5 billion in 1950, is more than 7.5 billion now, and may be over 9.5 billion in 2050 (UN DESA, 2017), take a moment to calculate the futute urban population in absolute numbers.

References:

CBS – Statistics Netherlands, Population development (2020).

UN DESA – United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects (2017).

UN DESA – Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Urbanization Prospects (2018).

© University of Groningen
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