The rush to the city is more evident than ever before. Just half a century ago, only one-third of people lived in urban areas; now it is over half, and by 2050, the United Nations (UN) expects worldwide urbanisation to reach 70%. Given that both rapid urbanisation and strong population growth are concentrated in poorer countries, the UN estimates that cities in emerging markets will see their populations more than double to 5.2 billion by 2050, from 2.5 billion in 2009.
Rural populations are moving to the city to seek improvements to their quality of life—most notably through better economic opportunities. Cities generate around 80% of world gross domestic product (GDP), and accordingly attract the bulk of investment and create the lion’s share of new jobs. Yet, whilst the wave of urbanisation is strongest in developing countries, it is cities in these countries that appear least prepared to respond to this rapid urban growth.
“As billions more people want access to the same things that the middle class today has
access to, there is no other way to do it apart from thinking about how we define and manage urban sustainability,” says Molly Webb, head of smart technologies at The Climate Group, a non- governmental organisation based in London. Far from being a luxury for small, wealthy cities, urban sustainability is a vital part of managing rapid city growth in poorer countries. Indeed, cities in developing countries have the opportunity not only to work, but to work better than cities in developed countries.