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.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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