TREND: The Global South’s Rising Megacities: A Challenge to Urban Living
The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South, and this is having a profound effect on how the world’s people live. Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. The urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.
It is this unprecedented speed and scale that are challenging governments and policymakers.
Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health. At the same time, unprecedented change in technology and communications is taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gains access to 21stcentury communications such as smart phones and the Internet or “apps” (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.
Many are weighing the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy, packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.
Regardless of the perspective, many agree that there must be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work. The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.
Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure that public health is improved and that the transition to denser living conditions improves human well-being rather than making it worse.
The number of megacities will double over the next 10 to 20 years. Many of these cities are in South and East Asia and by 2025, seven of the world’s top-10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are appearing that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.
One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced that the country had become a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million surpassed the rural population of 656.56 million people. – (May 2012)