Urbanization deserves urgent attention from policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and social reformers of all stripes. Nothing else will create as many opportunities for social and economic progress. The urbanization project began roughly 1,000 years after the transition from the Pleistocene to the milder and more stable Holocene interglacial. In 2010, the urban population in developing countries stood at 2.5 billion. The most important citywide projects -- successes like New York and Shenzhen -- show even more clearly how influential human intention can be. The developing world can accommodate the urban population growth and declining urban density in many ways. One is to have a threefold increase in the average population of its existing cities and a six fold increase in their average built-out area. Another, which will leave the built-out area of existing cities unchanged, will be to develop 625 new cities of 10 million people -- 500 new cities to accommodate the net increase in the urban population and another 125 to accommodate the 1.25 billion people who will have to leave existing cities as average density falls by half.
From a demographic point of view, more than 9 billion people are expected to live on planet earth in 2050, two-thirds of them in cities. Actually, the entire anticipated population increase is to take place in urban areas, with over 90 percent in Africa, Asia, and Latin American and the Caribbean ; so, global urbanization has long since shifted to developing countries and emerging economies. Approximately 2.7 billion people live in urban agglomerations in developing and emerging economies today; in 2030, that number will rise to 3.9 billion – and reach 5.1 billion in 2050. Around 95 percent of this urban momentum is going to take place in metropolitan regions. Established mega regions like Sao Paulo or Mumbai, as well as urban agglomerations composed of rapidly growing small and medium-sized cities will become the key living and economic spaces of the urban millennium.
The recently launched report by the High Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Agenda puts forward that the post-2015 agenda needs to be driven by five big, transformative shifts. The first one it highlights is that the new agenda should leave no one behind. It states that:
“We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities. We should design goals that focus on reaching excluded groups.”
Clearly, the world will have to pay particular attention to slum-dwellers, who are left behind in many areas of development and in the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The world reached 50 percent urbanization some years ago. By 2020, the less-developed world will have followed suit. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser’s vivid 2011 paperback “The Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier” leaves no doubt about it. Cities set in motion a virtuous machinery of agglomeration economies, with economic growth and happiness following suit.
Not so fast, argue equally many learned scholars! Didn’t Vernon Henderson, another acclaimed urban economist, report in the Journal of Economic Growth that higher levels of urbanization are not necessarily associated with higher rates of economic growth. And, hasn’t Africa been urbanizing rapidly over the past 15 years without much poverty reduction?
As the world turns to ending extreme poverty and fostering shared prosperity, the impact of urbanization, and different urbanization patterns, on poverty and inequality, clearly requires more attention. Can urbanization, for example, occurgo too quickly, inducing poverty to urbanize, instead of to declininge? Or can it be too concentrated geographically, generating faster growth (from larger agglomeration economies and economies of scale), but also higher inequality? Or is maximizing poverty reduction from urbanization simply a matter of smart urban management?
This year’s report card on where the world, the regions, and the developing countries are with regard to attaining the various Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), shows quite a diverse picture. As the Global Monitoring Report 2013 points out, progress toward the MDGs has not been universal and there are many poor countries that are still very far away from the targets where we want them to be by 2015.
If we take a look at progress towards attainment of the MDGs, we can conclude that four out of 21 targets have been met by 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Note that even though there are 8 Goals, there are 21 targets and about 56 indicators through which the world tries to monitor their progress.