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.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.