Urbanization on the rise – trends, challenges, the road ahead

In 1950, urban populations accounted for only 30% of the global population. A hundred years later – in 2050 – urban populations are projected to account for 70%. Riding this fast-moving wave of urbanization will require a new vision for the planning and use of urban spaces. 

Our cities, our future – Urbanization, a trend which shows no signs of abating, will remarkably change the way we live, work, and interact in our communities.

Published on 15.11.2014

For the first time in human history, over half of the world’s population now live in cities. The ongoing trend toward urbanization will create a staggering increase in city populations of 2.8 billion by 2050. The vast majority of this growth will be in emerging market countries.

Driven by the desire for better living conditions, education, medical care and culture, this new migration is one of the most significant shifts in human habitation ever witnessed. One of the results of this is a change in the sources of economic prosperity, with 60% of the world’s GDP now generated by roughly 600 cities.

But this massive influx places tremendous burdens on existing urban infrastructures. Planners, officials, developers and builders are being forced to rethink urban life, and adapt.

Projected growth of urban centers

City growth trends worldwide

The fastest urban growth rates are in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. If we just look at urban conglomerations (metropolitan areas with over 1 million inhabitants), by 2020 China is projected to have 121 such areas – followed by India with 58.

In the meantime, new megacities of 10 million or more inhabitants have been springing up throughout the emerging economies, such as Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Istanbul, and Lagos.

The continued growth of large cities is also found in developed economies. By 2020, the USA will have 46 urban conglomerations, fueled by a growth rate that is over 30% higher than for the country as a whole. The trend is similar in the rest of North America and Europe.

Large urban center worldwide in 2020

Reimagining and restructuring urban life

Efficient urban planning and infrastructure development is crucial to maintaining a quality of life that sustains and supports business, industry and commerce, not to mention daily life. This includes managing basic services such as water, electricity, sewage and mobility.

It also includes creating additional residential and commercial space. For instance, an estimated 250 million new housing units will be required by 2030 across the 12 countries that account for 61% of the global population. This skyrocketing housing need further highlights the advantages of mid- to high-rise buildings as places to live and work. These buildings occupy less land space while also allowing for the centralized and intelligent control of energy.

The development of new commercial and residential properties presents an enormous opportunity to improve the way cities are organized, as current technology enables cleaner, greener and more cost-efficient high-rise buildings than ever before.


Managing the flow

Effectively managing the flow of people moving within and between buildings is not a luxury, but a necessity. For example, imagine the chaos, fear and lost revenue, if all the elevators in a large city suddenly stopped moving.

Recent developments in advanced people-moving technology by the world’s leading elevator companies include faster speeds, improved safety, the use of sophisticated algorithms in managing flows, and a sharp decrease in the floor-space taken up by elevator shafts.

Given the scale and geography of overall population growth, increase in aging population numbers, and the projected number of new constructions,  there is a pressing need for advancement in the technologies of non-vehicular horizontal and vertical mobility. The incentive is clear: by 2016, the global demand for these mobility solutions is projected to rise over 5% annually to 52 billion euros. Companies like thyssenkrupp are investing in the development of new technologies, in people, and in enlarging their global footprint to contribute to making existing and future cities the best living spaces on our planet.

The value created in cities already

Re-visioning the structures of human prosperity

The majority of the planet now lives and works in cities. If economic growth is coupled with better networked communities and more environmental friendly practices, human prosperity could be redefined as the win-win formula of the future.

In this vision, the entire urban space works interactively with its inhabitants, businesses and public sector to raise the shared value of their communities. They will be assisted by new connective technologies and by a flexible, inclusive approach to urban planning.

Cities around the world are waking up and seeing our planet for what it has become: an urban landscape. This new metropolitan century is just the start of an exciting new era in human existence. If we meet the challenges wisely, humanity could well be on its way to creating the most sustainable and inclusive urban ecosystem in history.


Header image of Tianjin Construction Site by Jakob Montrasio licensed under CC BY 2.0.