The urban revolution

Urbanisation, as seen from space. Image: Getty.

As years go, 2008 was a bit of a biggie. It was the year that the United States elected its first black president. It was the year the Large Hadron Collider came online, and didn't destroy the universe. And it was the year Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers blew up, taking large chunks of the global economy with them.

But something even more momentous happened that year – something that will, in the long-term, have far greater long-term implications. In 2008, for the first time in history, a majority of humanity lived in cities.

In the west, we've grown so used to the idea that most of us live in urban areas that it's easy to forget quite how radical a change this is. But for most people, during most of history, life was tribe, village or field: the city was exotic and unfamiliar, if not altogether alien. As recently as 1800, just 3% of the world's population lived in cities.

Then the industrial revolution happened. By 1990, 40% of the world's population was urban; by 2008, it was half. Today, most authorities reckon that 53% of the world's population are crammed into roughly 3% of the world's surface. In 2012, there were 3.7 people living in cities – in 1970, there weren’t that many people in the world. All this adds up to nothing less than a revolution in human civilisation.

There are a few other facts about the urban revolution that it's worth highlighting up front.

It's big

Before the twentieth century no more than a handful of cities had ever held a population of more than 1 million. (Exactly how many is a matter of some debate: both records and historical administrative skills are a bit patchy, and one suspects propagandists to have muddied the waters further.)

Today, there are at least 466 cities with populations of over that size. At least 30 of these are ‘megacities’, with populations of 10 million or more.

466 Number of cities with populations of over 1 million

22% Proportion of world population they contain

By far the largest is Tokyo, which has a population of 38 million, more than that of over 150 countries, and which single-handedly generates around 2% of the world’s GDP. (Its unexpected disappearance could thus tip the world into recession, something that comes up in Godzilla movies less than you’d think.) In China, though, there’s talk of a turning the Beijing region into a single, giant megacity containing 130 million people.

Humanity isn't just increasingly urban, it's increasingly metropolitan.

It's everywhere

It's tempting to assume that the urban revolution is actually just a function of shifts in the global economy: a result of the rapid development of Asia, by far the world's most populated continent.

That's true, but also incomplete. In fact, urbanisation is going on in every region...

...and in every income group.

There are over 190 countries in the world. Fewer than 30 of them haven't seen an increase in urbanisation over the past generation.

And it's speeding up

By 2030, the UN predicts, 60% of the world's population will live in a city. By 2050, it'll be 70%. Demographic forecast is a difficult business, requiring a lot of different assumptions about a lot of different variables – but no serious authority expects urbanisation to slow down any time soon. We've seen the future. And the future is urban.


There are many ways in which this will make life better. Urbanisation is both the result, and a driver, of economic development: the agglomeration effect of cities means that companies can grow, and ideas can spread, faster.

More than that, though, they can make the world seem smaller. The psychological distance between New York and Mumbai, the difference in outlooks and life experiences, is far smaller than that between, say, rural Wyoming and Utter Pradesh. Urban life means more opportunities to meet different types of people, experience new cultures or cuisines, or just live however the hell you want to live. In almost any field of human endeavour you can name, the city provides a bigger canvas: there is a reason that no starry-eyed 14 year old dreams of making it big in the Cotswolds.

Set against that, though, you have stress, crime, pollution, and all the other problems that inevitably arise when you try to squeeze ever larger populations into the same basic space. There are questions, too, about whether our legal and governmental institutions will remain effective in an age in which economic power is increasingly concentrated into smaller shares of the globe, and when London competes less with Liverpool than it does with with Lahore. It’s possible that urbanisation could drive inequality, even create a new global class system.

The urban revolution is one of the biggest things ever to happen to humanity. It'll have a profound and lasting impact on almost every area of human endeavour, changing how we live, what we build, where we work, and how we get there.

CityMetric will explore all these topics and more. Working with our partners at Timetric, we'll use data to track the changes in the way humanity lives and works, and make forecasts about how the world is changing. Our writers will report on the challenges facing different cities, and the answers their populations are finding to them. We'll probably end up writing a fair bit about geeky stuff like skyscrapers and metro maps, too.

It's going to be fun. Stick around.

Data sources: World Bank; Demographia World Atlas, May 2014; CityMetric Intelligence.


To transform Australia’s cities, it should scrap its car parks

A Sydney car park from above. Image: Getty.

Parking may seem like a “pedestrian” topic (pun intended). However, parking is of increasing importance in metropolitan areas worldwide. On average, motor vehicles are parked 95 per cent of the time. Yet most transport analysis focuses on vehicles when they are moving.

Substantial amounts of land and buildings are set aside to accommodate “immobile” vehicles. In Australia, Brisbane provides 25,633 parking spaces in the CBD, Sydney 28,939 and Melbourne 41,687. In high-demand areas, car parks can cost far more than the vehicle itself.

However, parking is not just an Australian problem. By some estimates, 30,000 square kilometres of land is devoted to parking in Europe and 27,000 km² in the US. This parking takes up a large part of city space, much of it highly valued, centrally located land.

Traditionally, transport planners believed that generous parking allocations provided substantial benefits to users. In reality, excessive parking is known to adversely affect both transport and land use. These impacts, along with recent land-use, socioeconomic and technological trends, are prompting cities to start asking some important questions about parking.

Australian planners must engage with emerging trends to help cities work out the best way to reclaim and repurpose parking space in ways that enhance efficiency and liveability while minimising disruption.

Here we chart likely challenges and opportunities created by these trends over coming decades.

Key trends affecting parking space in cities. Image: author provided.

Land use

All Australian cities have policies to encourage densification, consolidation and infill development in their centres. In conjunction, some cities are setting maximum limits on parking to prevent it taking over valuable inner-city properties.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) has also become popular, at least on paper. This is another form of urban consolidation around transit nodes and corridors. It is known to benefit from high-quality urban design, “walkability”, “cyclability” and a mix of functions.

These developments mean that people who live in CBDs, inner-ring suburbs and near public transport stops will use cars less. Consequently, demand for parking will decrease.

Some non-TOD suburbs are trying to replicate inner-city features as well. For example, some suburban shopping centres have introduced paid parking. This is a significant shift from previous eras, when malls guaranteed ample free parking.

Suburbanites who lack easy public transport access will continue to rely on cars. But rather than driving all the way to a CBD, commuters will increasingly opt for park-and-ride at suburban stations, thereby increasing demand for park-and-ride lots at public transport interchanges. However, excessive capacity might hurt rather than help patronage.

Social trends

In addition to land use, several social trends will affect the need for parking.

First, young people are delaying getting drivers’ licences because driving is culturally less important to them than in previous generations.

Second, people of all ages are moving from outer suburbs to inner cities. For many, this means less driving because walking, cycling and public transport are more convenient in inner cities.


inally, the emergence of Uber, Lyft and vehicle-sharing arrangements means that people are not buying cars. Research suggests that each car-sharing vehicle removes nine to 13 individually owned vehicles from the road.

Together, these trends point to a reduced need for parking because there will be fewer cars overall.


The importance of technology in parking is rising – paving the way for “smarter” parking.

The emergence of a host of smartphone apps, such as ParkMe, Kerb, ParkHound and ParkWhiz, has begun to reshape the parking landscape. For the first time, users can identify and reserve parking according to price and location before starting their journeys.

Apps also make available a host of car parks that previously went unused – such as spaces in a residential driveway. This is because there was no mechanism for letting people know these were available.

In addition, smart pricing programs, such as SFPark in San Francisco, periodically adjust meter and garage pricing to match demand. This encourages drivers to park in underused areas and garages and reduces demand in overused areas.

The advent of autonomous vehicles promises to have dramatic impacts on transport and land use, including parking.

According to one school of thought, mobility services will own most autonomous vehicles, rather than individuals, due to insurance and liability issues. If this happens, far fewer vehicles and parking spaces will be needed as most will be “in motion” rather than parked most of the time.

More space for people and places

The Tikku (Finnish for ‘stick’), by architect Marco Casagrande, is a house with a footprint of just 2.5x5m, the size of a car parking space. Image: Casagrande Laboratory.

The next decade promises much change as emerging land-use, socioeconomic and technological trends reshape the need for, and use of, parking. Cities will devote less space to parking and more space to people and places.

Parking lanes will likely be repurposed as cycling lanes, shared streets, parklets, community gardens and even housing. Concrete parking lots, and faceless garages will likely be converted to much-needed residential, commercial and light industrial use.

The ConversationBy transforming parking, much urban land can turn from wasteland into vibrant activity space.

Dorina Pojani, Lecturer in Urban Planning, The University of Queensland; Iderlina Mateo-Babiano, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne; Jonathan Corcoran, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, and Neil Sipe, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.