This amazing map shows how urbanisation has accelerated since 1950

A screenshot of the World City Populations map. Image: Duncan Smith/UCL/CASA.

Times change. A hundred years ago London, New York and Paris were the biggest cities in the world. Today, all three retain cultural and economic might – but when it comes to their population, they’re tumbled way down the league tables.

Tokyo was the first emergent megacity, outgrowing its western peers in the middle of the 20th century. Today, New York barely scrapes in to a global top ten; London and Paris fall well outside. That trend looks set to continue for the next few decades.


Duncan Smith, at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, has come up with a clever map to help us visualise all this. Drawing on UN data from 1950, 1990 and 2015, and projections for 2030, his map uses circles of different colours to represent the population of hundreds of cities at different points in time. The darker the circle, the earlier the growth happened. 

The result is a map that’s both beautiful and rich in data, which allows you to see eighty years of urbanisation at a glance. In the developed world, where the circles are mostly dark, urbanisation was largely complete by 1950; but in Asia, Africa and Latin America, lighter circles show that it's still underway.

Here are some of the headlines:

Europe is pretty stable

Despite all our talk of urbanisation, the populations of Western European cities have actually remained fairly static – especially when compared to how fast cities further afield have been growing.

Click to expand.

Few have boomed to the extent of Istanbul, which during the last 50 years has swollen from 1m to 15m, in the process overtaking London, Paris and Moscow to become Europe’s biggest city. Turkey’s population explosion has mirrored states across the Middle East, where urban populations are all on a substantial upward trajectory.

North America’s geography is shifting

Much like Europe, the populations of Canada and the northern parts of the USA have stayed pretty solid. But the growth further south has been much more significant.

Click to expand.

Mexico City and Guadalajara both boomed in the last 60 years and are still on the rise; so, too, have the populations of cities in California, Texas and Florida.

East Asia has seen three different phases of growth

The circles representing the major Japanese cities generally have large dark centres – equating to sizable populations prior to 1950. Already in the midst of a population boom which been going for 50 years, the likes of Tokyo and Osaka would get even bigger by 1990. Starting from a lower base, Korean cities also grew substantially in the latter half of the 20th Century.

 

Click to expand.

More recently, though, East Asian growth has been all about China. Shanghai, Beijing, Chonqing, Guangzhou – all megacities which, by 2030, will have grown either trebled or quadrupled their 1990 populations.

The boom to come

Cities in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have seen a pretty steady population boom in the latter half of the last century. Whilst Chinese cities have recently grown faster, their growth rate is set to fade – while that of their South Asian counterparts will continue unabashed. By 2030, Mumbai, Dhaka and Karachi will all have populations of over 25m. Delhi will have closer to 40m.

Click to expand.

You can see that parts of west and central Africa are hurtling towards megacity status, too. For a long time Africa’s urban growth has been concentrated in the Mediterranean north and in South Africa. Cairo will continue its steady growth to remain the continent’s largest city. But, to its south, the faster growth of Kinshasa, Lagos and Dar es Salaam epitomizes a gradual shift in the continent’s perceived centre of gravity towards, well, the centre.

The interactive map contains loads of other information, too. You can hover over an individual city to find out more about its population change. And in the "analysis" tab, you can check out the rankings of the biggest 10 cities from different time periods. The scale of urban growth is staggering: 65 years ago a city with a population of 20m would have been by far the largest in the world; by 2030 it wouldn’t even make it into the top ten.

Why not play around with the map – you can check it out here.

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All images courtesy of Duncan Smith, CASA UCL.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.