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Urbanization refers to the population shift from rural to urban areas, "the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas", and the ways in which each society adapts to the change. It is predominantly the process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger as more people begin living and working in central areas. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008. It is predicted that by 2050 about 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. That is equivalent to approximately 3 billion urbanites by 2050, much of which will occur in Africa and Asia. Notably, the United Nations has also recently projected that nearly all global population growth from 2017 to 2030 will be absorbed by cities, about 1.1 billion new urbanites over the next 13 years.

Urbanization is relevant to a range of disciplines, including geography, sociology, economics, urban planning, and public health. The phenomenon has been closely linked to modernization, industrialization, and the sociological process of rationalization. Urbanization can be seen as a specific condition at a set time (e.g. the proportion of total population or area in cities or towns) or as an increase in that condition over time. So urbanization can be quantified either in terms of, say, the level of urban development relative to the overall population, or as the rate at which the urban proportion of the population is increasing. Urbanization creates enormous social, economic and environmental changes, which provide an opportunity for sustainability with the “potential to use resources more efficiently, to create more sustainable land use and to protect the biodiversity of natural ecosystems.”