last 100 years, the world's urban population has grown more than
tenfold and now close to half the world's population lives in urban
areas. Many aspects of urban change are unprecedented, including
not only the size of the world's urban population but also the number
of countries becoming more urbanised and the size and number of
very large cities. Many urban changes are dramatic - there are dozens
of cities whose populations grew twentyfold in the last 50 years.
Rapid urban change has often brought serious environmental problems;
there are also serious (and growing) problems of urban poverty.
But there are many positive elements to these
urban changes. Within lower-income nations, rapid increases in the
proportion of people living in urban areas is usually a result of
stronger, more diverse economies. The increase in the proportion
of people living in urban centres worldwide over the last 100 years
has been fuelled by the expansion in the world's economy, most of
which took place in industrial and service enterprises located in
urban areas. Since most economic growth continues to be in urban-based
enterprises, the trend towards increasingly urban populations is
likely to continue.
For many nations, rapid urban change over the
last 50 years is associated with the achievement of independence
and the removal of colonial controls on people's right to move in
response to changing economic opportunities. The concentration of
population in urban areas greatly reduces the unit costs of providing
good quality water supplies and good quality provision for sanitation,
health care, schools and other services. It also provides more possibilities
for their full involvement in government. And, perhaps surprisingly,
urban areas can also provide many environmental advantages including
less resource use, less waste and lower levels of greenhouse gases.
These positive elements of urban change often
go unnoticed. And many publications exaggerate the scale and speed
of urban change. The most recent censuses (most of them held in
2000 or 2001) show that the world is less urbanized and less dominated
by large cities that had been expected. Many of the largest cities
had several million people less in 2000 than had been predicted.
Many also have more people moving out than in. In many nations,
more decentralized patterns of urban development are reducing the
dominance of 'mega-cities'. These are at odds with the commonly
held view that urban growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America is
"explosive", "unprecedented" or "out of
control". In addition, it often goes unnoticed that many of
the world's fastest growing cities over the last 50 years are in
the United States. This does not mean that there are not very serious
urban problems in low or middle income nations. Indeed, as described
in a later section, the scale and depth of urban poverty is under-estimated.
But it does question the assumption that it is urbanization or the
speed of urban growth that is the problem.
There is an economic logic to the locations
where rapid urbanization is taking place since it is mostly in nations
or regions that are developing stronger, more robust economies.
Cities have great economic importance in most nations, as the locations
where much of the national economy is located, most tax revenues
are generated and most economic growth has taken place in the last
30 years. Well-governed cities and urban systems are an essential
part of economic and social development. Well-governed cities are
also setting new standards within nations for more democratic, accountable,
transparent political systems. Well-governed cities are critical
for nations that wish to meet their local and global environmental
responsibilities. They are also critical for reducing poverty. This
contradicts commonly held views that cities are parasitic and the
main contributors to local and global environmental degradation.
This paper identifies twelve myths about urban
areas - or to be more precise, ten and a half myths, since three
of them are partially true statements in need of qualification to
make them useful. These myths underpin and perpetuate ineffective
and often inappropriate policies by governments and international
agencies. These myths will be presented under five headings:
- the links between economic change and
urban change, especially the contribution of urban areas to
national economies and the relationship between rural and urban
areas (are cities 'parasitic'?)
- the scale of urban change (including
the role of mega-cities), the speed of change (are city populations
'exploding' and cities 'mushrooming'?) and the extent to which
the world is or will be predominantly urban ("will all regions
of the world will be predominantly urban by 2025"?)
- rural versus urban areas (is most
poverty in rural areas? is urban development opposed to rural
- the links between poverty and environmental
degradation (is poverty a major cause of environmental degradation
and do large and rapidly growing cities have the worst environmental
- what should be done (do we need "national
strategies" and "best-practices" from which to
1: "Cities are parasitic, growing everywhere without
the economy to support them"
myth): "Africa's urban population growing out of control
without economic development."
3: The future is predominantly urban
"Mega-cities are growing rapidly and will dominate the
MYTH 5: "More
than half the world's population live in cities"
MYTH 6: "The
speed of urban change in poorer nations is unprecedented with
new cities mushrooming everywhere and with Africa, Asia and
Latin America having most of the largest and fastest growing
MYTH 7 (semi-myth):"Most
poverty is in rural areas"
MYTH 8: "Urban
development is opposed to rural development"
ROLE OF LOCALLY DETERMINED SOLUTIONS
MYTH 11: "New national and global
policies and institutions are needed to address urban problems"
MYTH 12: "National governments and
international agencies must target their policies so as to
reach those most in need in urban areas"
document (including all the myths) can be viewed through
the following link:
10 and 1/2 Myths