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Thanks to Urbanization, Tomorrow’s Megalopolises Will Be in Africa and Asia

Tokyo will still be the world’s largest city in 2030, but it will have many more contenders on its heels. According to a fascinating new report from the United Nations, the globe will have 41 “mega-cities” — defined as those with 10 million or more inhabitants — up from 28 now. Although the world’s largest ...

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

Tokyo will still be the world’s largest city in 2030, but it will have many more contenders on its heels. According to a fascinating new report from the United Nations, the globe will have 41 “mega-cities” — defined as those with 10 million or more inhabitants — up from 28 now. Although the world’s largest urban centers have historically been concentrated in the developed world, fast-paced urbanization in Africa and Asia means that the megalopolises of tomorrow will be found in the developing world.

By 2030, Asia and Africa will host nine of the world’s 10 largest cities, according to the report. China, home to six mega-cities, is projected to grow to seven. It will also add six cities between 5 and 10 million people by then. Indian city population growth will explode too. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad are expected to become “mega-cities,” giving India seven cities with more than 10 million people. In Africa, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Johannesburg in South Africa, and Luanda in Angola are expected to join the ranks of the continent’s other mega-cities, Cairo, Kinshasa, and Lagos.

North America, Latin America, and Europe will remain the world’s most heavily urbanized regions but Africa and Asia will catch up in the decades beyond 2030. Africa and Asia are home to 90 percent of the world’s rural population. However, as more people urbanize, that figure will shrink dramatically. By 2050, 56 percent of Africans and 64 percent of Asians will live in cities. Asia will account for the largest growth in the sheer number of city dwellers, but Africa will urbanize at a faster rate.

In total, urbanization in Africa and Asia will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s cities. India — home to the world’s largest rural population — is projected to see a 37 percent increase in its urban population. India, China, and Nigeria — the three countries with the world’s highest urbanization rates — are projected to add 404 million, 292 million, and 212 million, respectively, to their urban populations. Alone, these three countries will add 908 million people to the world’s cities.

These trends reflect the rapid urbanization process that has been taking place over the last 60 years. In the 1950s, 70 percent of the world’s population lived in rural areas, with less than one-third in urban centers. Over the coming decades, the reverse will be true, with two-thirds of the world population living in urban areas by 2050.

Graphics: Ed Johnson/ FP

Tokyo will still be the world’s largest city in 2030, but it will have many more contenders on its heels. According to a fascinating new report from the United Nations, the globe will have 41 “mega-cities” — defined as those with 10 million or more inhabitants — up from 28 now. Although the world’s largest urban centers have historically been concentrated in the developed world, fast-paced urbanization in Africa and Asia means that the megalopolises of tomorrow will be found in the developing world.

By 2030, Asia and Africa will host nine of the world’s 10 largest cities, according to the report. China, home to six mega-cities, is projected to grow to seven. It will also add six cities between 5 and 10 million people by then. Indian city population growth will explode too. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad are expected to become “mega-cities,” giving India seven cities with more than 10 million people. In Africa, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Johannesburg in South Africa, and Luanda in Angola are expected to join the ranks of the continent’s other mega-cities, Cairo, Kinshasa, and Lagos.

North America, Latin America, and Europe will remain the world’s most heavily urbanized regions but Africa and Asia will catch up in the decades beyond 2030. Africa and Asia are home to 90 percent of the world’s rural population. However, as more people urbanize, that figure will shrink dramatically. By 2050, 56 percent of Africans and 64 percent of Asians will live in cities. Asia will account for the largest growth in the sheer number of city dwellers, but Africa will urbanize at a faster rate.

In total, urbanization in Africa and Asia will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s cities. India — home to the world’s largest rural population — is projected to see a 37 percent increase in its urban population. India, China, and Nigeria — the three countries with the world’s highest urbanization rates — are projected to add 404 million, 292 million, and 212 million, respectively, to their urban populations. Alone, these three countries will add 908 million people to the world’s cities.

These trends reflect the rapid urbanization process that has been taking place over the last 60 years. In the 1950s, 70 percent of the world’s population lived in rural areas, with less than one-third in urban centers. Over the coming decades, the reverse will be true, with two-thirds of the world population living in urban areas by 2050.

Graphics: Ed Johnson/ FP

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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