This short article was first published in September 2018; and also last modification in November 2019. We’d like to say thanks to Diana Beltekian for an excellent research assistance.

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More than half of the world’s populace now live in urban areas — significantly in highly-dense cities. However, urban settings are a relatively new phenomenon in human history. This shift has revolutionized the method we live, work, travel and build networks.

This entry presents an introduction of urbanization across the world, extending from the far-off past, come present, and projections the future trends.


For most of human being history, many people throughout the human being lived in tiny communities. End the past couple of centuries – and an especially in recent decades – this has shifted dramatically. There has actually been a mass migration of populations from rural to urban areas.

How many civilization live in urban locations today?

In the visualization we see approximates from the UN human being Urbanization Prospects ~ above the number of people around the world who live in urban and also rural areas. In 2017, 4.1 billion world were living in metropolitan areas.

This means over fifty percent of the people (55%) live in urban settings. The UN estimates this milestone occasion – when the number of people in urban areas overtook the number in rural setups – developed in 2007.

You can discover the data ~ above urban and rural populaces for any type of country or an ar using the “change country” toggle on the interactive chart.


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Click to open up interactive variation

How urban is the world?


What we know about urban populations and why that matters
Before looking in much more detail at the differences in estimates of city populations, we should first clarify what we do know:

globally much more people live in urbanized setups than no (disputes in these numbers are all over the 50 percent city mark);the wide distribution and also density of where world live throughout the civilization (sometimes at very high resolution);rates the urbanization have been increasing rapidly across all areas (in 1800, much less than 10 percent of people throughout all regions lived in urban areas);disagreements in urban populace numbers happen from meaning or boundary distinctions in what provides a population ‘urban’.

Whilst disagreement ~ above the numbers can seem irrelevant, understanding cities, urbanization rates, the distribution and density of people matters. The allocation and also distribution the resources — varying from housing and also transport accessibility to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities — have to all it is in dependent on where world live. Understanding the circulation of civilization in a given nation is necessary to make certain the ideal resources and also services are accessible where they’re needed.

The UN’s 11th Sustainable advance Goal (SDG) is to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and also sustainable“. If our target is to develop resource-efficient, inclusive cities, understanding exactly how many civilization they must provide for is essential for urban planning.

Let’s as such look at the conflicting estimates of exactly how urban our civilization is, and also where these differences come from.


At very first glance this seems like a basic question come answer. Numbers reported from the United nations (UN) deliver a straightforward answer.3

In the chart listed below we watch the total number of people defined as life in urban and also rural areas, prolonging from 1960 come 2016.4 This is based on nationally-collated census figures, an unified with UN estimates where census data is unavailable. Here we see that in 1960 twice as many civilization lived in rural settings (2 billion) 보다 in urban locations (1 billion). In 2007, urban and rural populations were almost exactly equal at 3.33 exchange rate each. In 2016, metropolitan populations boosted to 4 billion; while the world’s rural populace had enhanced only marginally come 3.4 billion.

UN estimates thus report that 54 percent of people in the human being lived in urban locations in 2016. Utilizing UN Urbanization future projections, in 2018 this is estimated to be simply over 55 percent of the world.5

The UN numbers are the many widely referenced and cited on an international urbanization. However, they’re no without their critics: some researchers suggest that far an ext people live in urban areas than these numbers suggest. Why are they so contested?


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Critics of current UN figures therefore contest that such varied meanings of ‘urban’ cause a far-ranging underestimation that the world’s urban population. Researchers from the european Commission, because that example, reported that 85 percent of world live in metropolitan areas.7

the project, Atlas that the person Planet, combine high-resolution satellite imagery with national census data to have its approximates of urban and also rural settlements.

The europe Commission used a universal meaning of settlements across all countries:

Urban centre: must have actually a minimum the 50,000 citizens plus a population density that at least 1500 civilization per square kilometre (km2) or density of accumulation area higher than 50 percent.Urban cluster: must have actually a minimum the 5,000 citizens plus a populace density of at the very least 300 human being per square kilometre (km2).Rural: fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

Using this definitions, it reports the 52 percent that the world lived in city centres, 33 percent in city clusters, and 15 percent in rural areas in 2015. This provides the complete urban re-superstructure 85 percent (more 보다 6.1 exchange rate people). The reported urban share through continent is displayed in the graph below.

The europe Commission’s estimates are additionally not there is no its critics. Researcher at the Marron institute of urban Management (New York University) challenged these figures as a gun overestimation.8

The authors imply multiple factors why such figures are also high: based on agricultural employment figures, they calculation urban populations cannot exceed 60 percent; the low urban-density threshold embraced by the european Commission way entire cropland regions are classified together urban; and also that this low-density threshold is inconsistent through observed populace densities top top the edge of cities.


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Clearly how we specify an city area has actually a significant impact ~ above its estimated population. UN numbers report 4 billion, whilst the european Commission reports 6 billion (a distinction of one-third).

Whilst over there is plainly differences in approximates at the an international level, the all at once trend in urbanization at nationwide levels (regardless of your definition) is tho important. It’s an essential for India, because that example, to understand that native 1990 come 2016, that is urban population increased by 148 million (increasing native every fourth to every 3rd person). The rate of this change is crucial for its review of progress, demographic change, and also national planning. The lack of agreement on numbers at the worldwide level therefore shouldn’t overshadow what they represent at nationwide levels.

But would certainly the world take on a standardized definition? The UN Statistics department aims to convene an experienced group (featuring representatives from 24 member states) later this year to try to with consensus. It’s not the an initial time this has been attempted though: two previous meetings have actually failed in detect a usual definition. Through the target of having actually countries embrace this meaning for their own estimates, that would have to acquire a really high approval rate.

With together a wide array of national definitions, it will certainly be a daunting task. Countries have the appropriate to specify what they think about to it is in urban and also rural settlements. One proposed option is to preserve individual definitions for national figures, yet to adopt a new universal an interpretation for estimating the an international and/or regional share.

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This may, at least, carry us one action closer to commitment on how urban the people really is.