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

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More than fifty percent of the world’s population now live in urban areas — significantly in highly-dense cities. However, urban setups are a relatively new phenomenon in person history. This transition has changed the method we live, work, travel and build networks.

This entrance presents an overview of urbanization throughout the world, prolonging from the remote past, to present, and projections of future trends.

For most of human being history, most people throughout the world lived in little communities. End the past couple of centuries – and specifically in recent decades – this has actually shifted dramatically. There has actually been a fixed migration of populations from rural to city areas.

How many human being live in urban areas today?

In the image we see estimates from the UN world Urbanization Prospects on the number of people internationally who live in urban and also rural areas. In 2017, 4.1 billion world were living in urban areas.

This way over fifty percent of the people (55%) live in metropolitan settings. The UN approximates this milestone occasion – as soon as the number of people in urban areas overtook the number in rural settings – emerged in 2007.

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


Click to open interactive variation

How metropolitan is the world?

What us know around urban populations and why the matters
Before feather in an ext detail in ~ the distinctions in approximates of urban populations, us should very first clarify what we do know:

globally an ext people live in urbanized settings than not (disputes in these numbers are all over the 50 percent metropolitan mark);the broad distribution and density of where people live throughout the human being (sometimes at very high resolution);rates that urbanization have been enhancing rapidly across all areas (in 1800, less than 10 percent that people across all regions resided in urban areas);disagreements in urban populace numbers to happen from an interpretation or boundary differences in what makes a population ‘urban’.

Whilst disagreement top top the numbers deserve to seem irrelevant, expertise cities, urbanization rates, the distribution and density of civilization matters. The allocation and also distribution that resources — varying from housing and transport accessibility to healthcare, education, and also employment opportunities — need to all be dependent top top where world live. Understanding the distribution of civilization in a given nation is important to make sure the appropriate resources and services are available where they’re needed.

The UN’s 11th Sustainable breakthrough Goal (SDG) is to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable“. If our target is to build resource-efficient, inclusive cities, understanding how many civilization they must carry out for is crucial for city planning.

Let’s thus look at the conflicting estimates of just how urban our human being is, and where these distinctions come from.

At first glance this seems favor a straightforward question to answer. Figures reported native the United nations (UN) supply a simple answer.3

In the chart listed below we view the total number of people identified as living in urban and also rural areas, expanding from 1960 to 2016.4 This is based upon nationally-collated census figures, linked with UN estimates where census data is unavailable. Below we watch that in 1960 twice as many human being lived in rural setups (2 billion) 보다 in urban areas (1 billion). In 2007, urban and also rural populaces were almost exactly same at 3.33 exchange rate each. In 2016, metropolitan populations raised to 4 billion; while the world’s rural populace had enhanced only marginally come 3.4 billion.

UN estimates as such report the 54 percent of human being in the civilization lived in urban areas in 2016. Making use of UN Urbanization future projections, in 2018 this is approximated to be simply over 55 percent that the world.5

The UN figures are the many widely referenced and cited on global urbanization. However, they’re not without your critics: some researchers imply that far an ext people live in urban areas than these figures suggest. Why room they therefore contested?


Critics of current UN figures as such contest the such varied interpretations of ‘urban’ cause a far-reaching underestimation the the world’s city population. Researcher from the european Commission, for example, reported the 85 percent of human being live in urban areas.7

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

The europe Commission applied a universal an interpretation of settlements across all countries:

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

Using these definitions, the reports the 52 percent of the world lived in city centres, 33 percent in urban clusters, and 15 percent in rural locations in 2015. This makes the full urban share 85 percent (more than 6.1 billion people). The reported metropolitan share by continent is presented in the graph below.

The european Commission’s estimates are also not there is no its critics. Researcher at the Marron institute of metropolitan Management (New York University) tested these figures as a gross overestimation.8

The authors imply multiple reasons why such figures are too high: based on agricultural employment figures, they estimate urban populations cannot exceed 60 percent; the low urban-density threshold adopted by the european Commission means entire cropland areas are classified as urban; and that this low-density threshold is inconsistent v observed populace densities on the edge of cities.


Clearly just how we define an metropolitan area has a far-reaching impact on its estimated population. UN figures report 4 billion, whilst the european Commission reports 6 billion (a distinction of one-third).

Whilst there is clearly differences in approximates at the worldwide level, the all at once trend in urbanization at nationwide levels (regardless of their definition) is quiet important. It’s crucial for India, because that example, to recognize that native 1990 to 2016, that urban populace increased through 148 million (increasing from every fourth to every 3rd person). The price of this readjust is essential for its evaluation of progress, demography change, and national planning. The lack of consensus on numbers at the an international level because of this shouldn’t overshadow what they stand for at nationwide levels.

But would the world embrace a standardized definition? The UN Statistics division aims to convene an expert group (featuring to represent from 24 member states) later on this year to try to with consensus. It’s not the very first time this has actually been check though: two previous meetings have failed in recognize a usual definition. V the target of having actually countries adopt this definition for their own estimates, the would have actually to get a an extremely high approval rate.

With together a vast array of national definitions, it will certainly be a complicated task. Nations have the ideal to define what they think about to be urban and also rural settlements. One proposed option is to preserve individual meanings for national figures, but to take on a brand-new universal definition for estimating the worldwide and/or regional share.

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This may, at least, carry us one action closer to agreement on how urban the human being really is.