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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

The Growth of Large Cities

An increasing proportion of humankind lives in large cities (defined here as cities with more than one million inhabitants). During the last 50 years the number of such cities has increased from 80 in 1950,(3) to 365 in the year 2000 (see table 4). Some 1,506 million people worldwide are currently living in cities with more than one million inhabitants. By the year 2015, it is expected that the number of such cities will have reached 410.

Table 4. Growth of large cities (one million plus), by region (1980-2015)

Region(4)

Number of large cities

Population of large cities
(millions)


1980

2000

2015

1980

2000

2015

Industrial countries

104

123

135

274

339

371


High-income economies

76

90

102

225

277

306


Transitional economies

28

33

33

49

62

65

Developing countries

109

242

275

500

1,167

1,732


Latin America & Caribbean

25

52

59

87

167

212


Sub-Saharan Africa

7

33

34

13

75

134


North Africa & Middle East

13

24

28

30

73

108


Asia & Pacific

64

133

154

185

426

639



India

10

37

44

39

113

173



China

34

54

65

83

165

248



Rest of Asia & Pacific

20

42

45

63

148

218

World total

213

365

410

774

1,506

2,103

Source: Based on United Nations, 1996c.

In the industrial countries, some 27 per cent of the population currently live in such cities, compared to 15 per cent in 1950. This increase has been more dramatic in the developing countries, where this proportion has quadrupled from 4 per cent in 1950 to 15 per cent today. By the year 2015 it is projected that 18 per cent of the population in developing countries will live in such cities, compared to 28 per cent in industrial countries.(6)

Not only is the number of large cities increasing, the size of such cities is also increasing rapidly, particularly in developing countries. During the last half of the twentieth century, the number of cities with more than five million inhabitants has increased from two to 35 in developing countries, and from six to 10 in industrial countries. By the year 2015 it is projected that a total of 53 cities in developing countries and 11 cities in industrial countries will have populations of more than five million inhabitants.