[ARTICLE] Urban Planet

by Philippe Testard-Vaillant


Now a worldwide phenomenon, urbanisation keeps gaining ground, transforming our landscapes as well as our lifestyles and social organisation. By 2050 the world’s urban population will have increased 30-fold compared with 1900, and cities will represent 2% of the surface of the planet. A situation that raises many questions, whether economic, social, or environmental.

Ever since the Neolithic revolution that led to the development of the first towns several millennia before our era, humanity has kept building cities. But this technical-socio-economical phenomenon had never experienced such tremendous growth as in the 20th century, to the point that in the span of a few generations, Homo sapiens has mostly become “Homo urbanus”.

“In 1900 only one in eight people was a city dweller, even in the wake of the industrial revolution, which sparked the rapid growth of cities across Europe,” explains Michel Lussault of the Environment, City, Society (EVS) research unit.1 “In 1950, which signalled the beginning of the most powerful urbanisation phase in history, the ratio had already reached 3 out of 10. Then a decisive threshold was reached in 2008: for the first time since our species began making its mark on the planet, more than 50% of humanity – in other words at least 3.3 to 3.5 billion people – lived in urban areas.”

Far from losing momentum, the process is intensifying. According to projections by the United Nations, every region of the globe will be more urban than rural by 2030. And by 2050, nearly 75% of the estimated world population of 10 billion will be living in cities. Asia will be home to more than half of the planet’s urban dwellers and Africa one-fourth. “In 150 years (1900-2050), the world’s population will have grown about six-fold and urban communities, concentrated on 2% of the Earth’s land surface, at least 30-fold,” the researcher points out. He also stresses that one key characteristic of “post-1950 and especially post-1980 urbanisation” is “planetarisation”, primarily due to the ultra-rapid expansion of cities in China, whose rural population has dropped from 90% in the early 1980s to only 40% today.

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