CityWorld 3.0

Sometime during 2008, for the first time in human history, more than one-half of the entire human race lived in cities. (National Geographic  [which includes a nice interactive map of global urban growth]).  By 2010 the urban population of the earth was estimated at 50.5% of total population, with an ongoing rate of urbanization at 1.85% per annum.  Just this past Tuesday, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that for the first time in China’s history, more Chinese are now living in cities.

(WSJ photo: A billboard against the backdrop of San Cristobal hill in Lima, Peru)

What are we to make of this situation, which is new to human experience?  Here are some good places to start:

1. “City Planet” (a wonderful article from from strategy+business magazine).

2. Among other things the Guardian’s article “UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions'” tells us that “Research shows that the world’s largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world’s population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation.”

3. For a quick introduction to the new urbanites and their environment please watch Stewart Brand’s 3 minute TED talk on squatter cities .

4. Related to this is the difference in economy and work for people in these and other developing world environments – see the recent article, “Why Black Market Entrepreneurs Matter to the World Economy”  by Robert Neuwirth (See also Robert Neuwirth’s TED Talk on “shadow cities” [bit less exciting than Stewart Brand – and a bit longer – but very interesting]).

5. See also professor Walter Russell Mead’s #3 trend from his “Top 10 Global Trends of the 2010s Recap” (from nearly 2 years ago).

My thoughts on urbanization follow economic history: first villages after people began agriculture several thousand years ago. These grew in to the first cities in places like Mesopotamia, Egypt and northern India.  With the coming of the Industrial Revolution (starting in the 1700’s) the second type of urbanization occurred as people moved in to cities to work at factories. Now a third wave of economic change is occuring and cities are again changing their nature and growing in size. Alvin Toffler’s “Economic Waves” theory captures this very well:

First Wave

Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution 9000 to 7000 BC-on

Second Wave

Industrial Revolution 18th century-on

Third Wave

Current Information/Biologic Revolution 1945-on

Source: Toffler, Alvin.  Futureshock.  New York:  Bantam, 1970 (additional, general historical material covering the technological and economic-historic background of the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution is covered by Coogan [1998], Diamond [1994], Higgs [1999], Law [2000], McNeill [1997], and Muhlberger [1998]).

So, what is next?

Bell’s Stages of Development (taken from a US point of view) would hold that we will eventually develop a more diffuse urban structure – suburbs – and largely live (and perhaps work) in electronic cottages:

Stage of development

Major Technological Innovation

Principal Economic Activity

Social Systems

Date of Origin


Simple Tools and Weapons


Simple tribal nomadic

Origin of man (2-4 million years)


Metal Working


Rural settlements

c. 7000 B.C.


Steam Power


Industrial cities

c. AD 1800




Suburban communities

AD 1965

Source: Bell, Daniel.  The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.  New York:  Basics, 1973


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Filed under Brazil, China, Developing Nations, Economy, History, India, Russia

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