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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References


"Rapid urbanization, the concentration of the urban population in large cities, the sprawl of cities into wider geographical areas and the rapid growth of mega-cities are among the most significant transformations of human settlements."(1) "During the course of history, urbanization has been associated with economic and social progress, the promotion of literacy and education, the improvement of the general state of health, greater access to social services, and cultural, political and religious participation.... Cities and towns have been engines of growth and incubators of civilization and have facilitated the evolution of knowledge, culture and tradition, as well as of industry and commerce."(2)

The continued rapid growth of urban populations in developing countries - i.e. those countries with the least financial resources to deal with the problems of urbanization - will be one of the major challenges to humankind in the twenty-first century. Cities in developing countries are already faced by enormous backlogs in shelter, infrastructure and services and confronted with increasingly overcrowded transportation systems, unsustainable consumption patterns, deteriorating sanitation and environmental pollution.

National and local governments in developing countries have only a very limited capacity to cope with this transformation. This contributes to rapid increases in urban poverty, manifested through poor housing conditions, insecure land tenure, urban crime and homelessness. Moreover, poorly managed cities have negative impacts on environmental conditions. Taking into consideration pressing issues of human settlements development, the Habitat Agenda states that "Urban settlements, properly planned and managed, hold the promise for human development and the protection of the world's natural resources through their ability to support large numbers of people while limiting their impact on the natural environment."(3)

The purpose of this booklet is to provide the reader with an overview of the basic facts on urbanization. It highlights demographic and economic trends, the growth of large cities, the state of the environment, housing and living conditions in urban areas.