UN Cyberschoolbus - HomeUN Cyberschoolbus - Home
Cities of Today, Cities of Tomorrow

Unit 4: What Makes Cities Grow?
Objectives Summary Text Activities

The Growth of Cities
It's often thought that cities today are growing faster than ever. That is not quite true for every city, but it is true that most cities are becoming larger than ever. Whereas in 1800 A.D.—only two hundred years ago—there was one city with a population of 1 million, and in 1900 there were three, today there are 281 'million cities'. Over the same two hundred years, the average population of the world's 100 largest cities has multiplied 25 times!

Why are cities growing?
Why are so many people concentrated in cities?

Urban growth for every city takes place in a different way, though the early stages often follow a similar pattern. The geography, the history and the economics of each city influence the way it grows and the size it grows to. Nevertheless, we can point to certain patterns that contribute to urban growth in general.

Population growth has been the main factor in the growth of cities in developing countries, whereas cities in industrialized nations have grown to their current size mainly due to rural-urban migration. Global economic growth has also affected urban growth. Finally, an extra dimension has been added by the more recent phenomena of urban-urban migration and international migration.
Population growth Sixty percent of urban growth is due to natural increase Migration New forms of migration are contributing to urban growth Economic growth The size of the world economy has tripled since 1960, contributing to sustained urban growth Poverty
The flow of large numbers of people places a heavy burden on cities. The infrastructure is unable to cope with such large numbers and the job market can not provide enough jobs. The result is poverty—and by extension poor health and homelessness. This is especially true for cities in poor countries.

Up to 600 million people in urban areas in developing regions (nearly 28% of the developing world's urban population ) cannot meet their basic needs for shelter, water and health from their own resources. Up to half the population of cities in some of the world's poorest countries are living below official poverty levels, women and children being among the poorest people in the world. The World Health Organization estimates that there may be as many as 100 million street children worldwide.

Within urban centers, inadequate income is one of the causes of poverty. Other forms of poverty make low-income groups vulnerable to "shocks" that can send them reeling into absolute poverty. These "shocks" can be sudden increases in the prices of food, rent, or utilities; eviction from the land or the demolition of homes in order to make way for 'development' projects; or the loss of possessions and serious damage to the home from natural disasters since they had little choice but to occupy unsafe or unprotected lands such as river banks or mountain slopes.

In short, income does not tell the whole story of urban poverty as many who may be considered above the poverty line are still exposed to environmental hazards, poor housing, inadequate sanitation and the threat of eviction.


Objectives Summary Text Activities
TEACHING UNITS   MENU   1 2 3 4 5 6

UN Cyberschoolbus - Home comments and suggestions: cyberschoolbus@un.org Copyright © 1996- United Nations