Guess where the future's most crowded cities will be

Hong Kong in 2025, artist’s impression. Image: Guzmán Lozano via Flickr.

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past five years, you’ll probably know that the world’s cities are getting bigger. Half the world’s population currently lives in them; by 2050, demographers predict it’ll be 70 per cent.

Some of those additional 20 per cent will live in new cities, created to meet the insatiable demand for an urban lifestyle. Sometimes, that’ll mean cities expanding; but sometimes, it’ll just mean cramming more people into existing ones.

To find out which cities will grow not just bigger, but more crowded, Bloomberg has put together a list predicting which will have the highest population density by 2025. Perhaps unsurprisingly, seven of the top 10 are in Latin America, a region whose cities are already teeming with informal slum settlements.

Here's the top ten:

(You can view the full list here.)

Hong Kong doesn’t just take the top spot: it’s predicted to be nearly twice as crowded as second ranked Salvadar’s. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why: the city-state is an island, and an rich one at that, so there are many incentives to move there, but, short of expanding onto the water (something the city is actually considering) there’s no way for the city to expand outwards. It’s a similar situation in Singapore (also an island), and in Salvador (surrounded by water on three sides).

One thing that isn’t clear is the city definition used by Bloomberg to create the predictions. It’s possible they’ve used the same urban boundaries for the 1995 figure and the 2025 figure, despite the fact these boundaries will likely change. However, examining the same urban area’s population growth over 30 years is still useful – in cities with expanding suburbs, fewer people will need to live in the packed centre. In cities with nowhere to expand, like Hong Kong, the population of that urban centre will necessasrily just keep getting higher.

Another interesting metric the list explores is the cities' percentage growth between 1995 and 2025, a period Bloomberg defines by that hazy metric, a "generation". In Hong Kong, for example, its growth over that period is predicted to be 36 per cent. This may sound like a lot, but Brasilia, which is seventh on the list, is expected to grow by a whopping 119 per cent. Two cities in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh and Jiddah, are forecasted to grow by 167 per cent and 137 per cent apiece.

Another surprise is Atlanta, Georgia. In terms of density, it takes 40th place on the list, but its population is predicted to grow by 115 per cent. Here’s the top ten cities by growth:

A report in Arab News last year claimed that Saudi Arabia’s urban populations are increasing so rapidly largely because the central government is investing in urban areas far more than smaller settlements. These cities are also relatively new, with swathes still under construction: Jeddah is currently building an entirely new transport network to deal with its terrible traffic and swelling population.

The four US cities predicted to double or nearly double by 2025 have post-recession rebounding economies to thank. Houston’s oil industry is booming, while Phoenix is becoming a slightly improbably tourist destination (we hear the golf’s lovely).

The names on this list suggest that, as rising prices make bigger global cities more inaccessible, it might be less famous cities that’ll  take the brunt of the next wave of urban migration.

 
 
 
 

It’s not all cool bridges and very real concerns: In defence of Teesside

Just one of the many interesting bridges you’ll find in Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

The latest entry in our ‘In Defence Of’ series...

I have to start this with a disclaimer: I’m not writing this from anywhere in Teesside. I’m writing this from Germany, where I live and work. Some of you may remember being told by Norman Tebbit, that instead of complaining that we can’t find jobs, we should get on our bikes (or, more recently, by IDS to get on a bus), and I did. I’m paid well here, to do a job that doesn’t really exist in Teesside. And yet, every time I go home to visit my family, I almost wish I’d stayed.

This isn’t going to be a very straightforward take – I’m hoping to pay my respects to Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as well as my native Billingham – but Teesside isn’t a very straightforward place. What county is it in? Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham or North Yorkshire depending on how old you are and where you’re standing. I always had great fun ordering online and trying to guess which of the unfamiliar options on the dropdown menu would get my parcel to me.

But regardless of where you draw the lines, Teesside is still there.

Our accent is similarly hard to pin down: Geordie, Mackem, Yorkshire, even Scouse, depending on who’s imitating us. I’ve been pegged as Irish, American and South African by determined people in the past. Our slang is stolen from Scotland, Northumberland, Newcastle and Yorkshire, and, not satisfied, some words are purely our own. Hoy, shan, howay, dinner nanny. We have as many words for classless people as the Romans did for murder.

But regardless of how it sounds to you, Teesside still talks.


On a map of the UK, Teesside sits as an isolated blob of civilisation between the Dales and the sea. Half-urban, half-rural, half-seaside, half-inland, half industrial estate and half nature reserve. A Labour heartland with a Tory mayor. Places that sprang up fully formed in the ICI rush of the 1950s, but that still have Viking place names.

We’ve been portrayed in fiction by Richard Milward, in song by Maximo Park, in statistics by Lady Florence Bell and in cinema by Sir Ridley Scott (our chemical works and power plants inspired the look of Blade Runner). More recently, we’re being portrayed in documentary in The Mighty Redcar, and in the media as an area of left-behind, white working class racists who all voted Leave. But while most of the area is whiter than the average, Middlesbrough mirrors the UK average for racial diversity and has been assigned to resettle more refugees than any other town in the UK – and more than its cut-back council can look after.

And when you look at the numbers, the proportion of the population of Teesside who voted to leave the EU is much less than many other areas. (And yes, of course I voted Remain from my now slightly more precarious home in Frankfurt, joining 100,000 other Teesside Remainers.)

We’re pitied for the loss of the Teesside steelworks and derided for blaming the EU for it (when of course it was our own government’s sabotaging of EU attempts to block Chinese steel dumping that drove that knife in). Even the people who profess to be on our side take our angry, uneducated racism as fact, baking it into the premises of their arguments, which consist of addressing our “racist but real concerns”, and how to reach us.

But whether you understand us or not, whether you miss the point or not, we’ll continue to exist, long after we’ve been forgotten again.

Billingham town centre. One of the first pedestrianised town centres in the UK. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Still, while we’re in the spotlight, why not see what we have to offer? Come to see our rather wonderful collection of interesting bridges. See where the first public steam train ran, from Stockton to Darlington. Visit Mima, the modern art gallery in Middlesbrough and the 1960s utopia of Billingham’s pedestrianised town centre. Feel slightly uncomfortable around all the things that are named for Captain Cook (though the replica of the Endeavour at Stockton riverside is impressive regardless on your thoughts on its captain – and it’s the best you’ll see until they work out whether they’ve found the real one yet). Wander Middlesbrough’s thriving student/hipster district on Linthorpe RoadD – despite being a punchline during my youth, Teesside University has become a respected institution. Visit Billingham’s Folklore Festival in August, where as schoolchildren we’d watch troupes of folk dancers from across the world open-mouthed, and get their autographs afterwards as though they were celebrities.

Fried chicken, white sauce and cheese make the Teesside parmo. Perfect. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Try a parmo. Try the Billingham Catholic Club’s real ale, and stay for the bingo, which is called by a man with the most acrobatic mental arithmetic skills I’ve ever seen. Try a lemon top ice cream from Pacitto’s in Redcar and wonder why no one else has ever done this before. Lemon sorbet and vanilla ice cream! Together at last!

While you’re at the beach, take a ride on the Saltburn Cliff Lift, the oldest operating water-balance cliff lift in the UK. Pretend Saltburn is sort of in Teesside while you’re enjoying the view. Look out on beaches black with sea coal, washed up from undersea seams and nearby coal mines. Visit the golf course by Seaton Carew to catch a glimpse of a curlew or two, and watch the young seagulls pick up golf balls to crack them open by dropping them from a great height. Visit Seal Sands, whose owners can be observed lazing on the estuary banks whenever the tide is out. Or visit Saltholme, the RSPB nature reserve, where you can see avocets, Britain’s weirdest-looking and most beloved seabird.

Nature coexists with industry on Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Go white water rafting, bell boating or paddleboarding at the Tees Barrage, where there are so many seals that they’ve had to put up guards to keep them out of the way. The Tees used to be too polluted even to support salmon and trout, and now we have too many of one of Britain’s largest native mammals. The return of the seals to the Tees was the first documented case of seals returning to an industrial area. You’d be surprised at how well nature can thrive in the shadow of industry, colonising the quiet fields and marshy ponds on private land that are never disturbed, haunted by sika deer and shelducks, redshanks, knots, stonechats.

Teesside has plenty to offer. What it doesn’t have is the jobs to keep its younger generations from having to get on their bikes and leave. We aren’t aliens, or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s army of goblin henchbrexiteers. We’re just like you, but with more seals and fewer employment opportunities.