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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.