Urban Growth: Urbanization Trend & Growth Driver of The Cities

by james

By  Hor Keomayourado

In recent decades, cities with better facilities have developed faster. Agglomeration of economy and human capital is also an important driving force for urban growth. There are several queries, such as, why does the population, urban area and per capita income of cities increase? Which cities are developing faster and growing bigger? To answer these questions, the urban growth literature provides various answers.

Urban growth, the growth and decline of urban areas and population is inextricably linked with the process of urbanization. Urbanization designates the process leading to the greater spatial concentration of people and punctuates economic development. The division of economic activity, which measures both population, outcome and income, is concentrated.

The patterns focus on the relationship between economic and demographic variables make up some of the most interesting phenomena in the urban economy. They have a significant impact on the economic role and size distribution of cities, energy consumption and production efficiency in the economy and overall economic growth. The population density, which has been increasingly concentrated since the “Industrial Revolution”, is closely linked to agricultural development and transportation.

The study of urban economic growth has continued along different strands. One emphasizes the historical aspect of urbanization such as large-scale displacement of people from rural to urban areas which has spurred urban growth worldwide. A related strand focuses on the physical structure of a city and how it can transform (cities growth). It also focuses on how commuting cost has been changed, as well as the industrial components and other technological changes, have affected the growth of cities. The second strand concentrates on comprehending the evolution of cities whether cities of different sizes interact, coordinate and share different functions as the economy grows, and what are the characteristics of the zoning of urban areas for economies at different stages of development.

Urbanization Trend and Prospect

Concentration of population and economic activity in urban areas may also increase due to agents migrating from rural to urban areas and as a result of economic growth in both population and outcomes, resulting in urban as well as growth.

According to the APEC Sustainable Development Report 2018, Approximately 90% of the increase is expected to occur in Asia and Africa. 35% of this growth will occur in only three economies: India, China and Nigeria. (Figure 1) The urban population is projected to increase to 404 million in India, 292 million in China and 212 million in Nigeria. In other words, the forecast for 2050 for India has been revised, while the forecast for China and Nigeria has been revised down in the 2018 edition.

Seven economies are expected to show half the urban population by 2050: India, China, Nigeria, the United States, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Figure 2)

Figure 1: Projected World Urban Population until 2050 Data
Source: World Urbanization Prospects 2014, DESA, UN

Figure 2: Contribution to urbanization by 2050,
Source: World Urbanization Prospects Highlights 2014

      Large or small cities are characterized by size, population density, and population heredity, but significant differences rely on their historical growth patterns. Some cities grow rapidly due to fortuitous (well-located) locations related to “natural resources” such as riverfront​, seaside, or related to major trade routes and transportation.

The annual growth rate, however, European and Northern American cities showed low growth rates since the 1950s, while the growth rate in Latin American cities declined smoothly over the past decades. For Asian and African cities show irregular variations of growth rates which may reflect the history of major economies of these regions. (APEC Sustainable Development Report 2018) (Figure 3)

However, records show that the rural population has not yet declined. Currently, the global rural population is still close to 3.4 billion and is expected to reach the highest rate in the next decade, but will start to fall to 3.1 billion. In 2050.

Figure 3: Annual growth rates of urban population by regions
Source: World Urbanization Prospects Highlights 2014


The Decline of Cities Population

Cities around the world which are experiencing both demographic and economic declines could face significant challenges for their urban policy planning as they need to redefine their economic strategies while developing adaptive policy tools to address the reality of shrinkage.

Today, 94 cities have declining populations, i.e. they lost population between 2015 and 2020. These cities are home to nearly 95 million people in 2018, and most of them are expected to continue shrinking in 2020-2030, so that by 2030 they would have lost 2.1 million since 2018. Globally, fewer cities (5 percent) are projected to see their populations decline from today to 2030, as compared to the last 2 decades. (WUP 2018 Revision)

Also, according to the APEC Sustainable Development Report 2018, the decline of urban population is expected to take place in Japan and Russia, even though they both has an increase in the percentage of urban population. By 2050, Japanese cities may lose 12 million urban dwellers and 7 million urban dwellers for Russia. In 2018,

Tokyo is considered as the world’s biggest city (37 million inhabitants), followed by Delhi (29 million), Shanghai (26 million), Mexico City and Sao Paulo (Around 22 million inhabitants). Cairo, Mumbai, Beijing and Dhaka all have approximately 20 million inhabitants each. The growth of the world’s biggest agglomerations shows diverse patterns. Tokyo and Osaka may soon reach the peak (point on top) and start declining, whereas Delhi is still strongly growing. Beijing and Shanghai could peak after 2030. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Growth patterns of the world’s biggest cities Data Source: World Urbanization Prospects


The Growth Driver of the cities

  • Factors Affecting Birth Rates and Death Rates:

The world’s population remained stable and low until the 1950s. That was when the​population was determined to explode. Since then, the world’s population has grown rapidly, reaching 7 billion in 2011. Much of this population growth is again in developing countries.

The reason for this rapid expansion is largely due to declining mortality rates around the world while birth rates remain high. That means more people are being born than deaths, leading to an increase in population. The difference between the birth rate and the mortality rate is called a natural increase. (BBC UK: Population, distribution, growth and change)

  • Factor Affected Net Immigration

Patterns of migration in urban areas have changed the process of urbanization and economic development​while rural-urban migration leads to “Urban Sprawl”.

Economic growth caused by congestion in the city center begins to expand globally through the division of labor. The process refers to the “Suburbanization”. Later with the transition from industrial to post-industrial economy, reducing the distance from one location to another, especially the distance from home to workplace, as a result of the development of transportation and communication technologies.

These changes led to the proliferation of cities known as “Urban integration”. People from the central region move to the rural areas, which are located farther around the city, as they seek the environment in less congested and natural areas.

Figure 6: Annual average crude rate of net international and net internal migration, city-regions across the world, 1990-2010, Source: IPUMS, UN (2017), National Statistical Offices.

*Noted: The gray-colored dots correspond to the lower and higher confidence intervals, which are connected by solid gray-colored lines. The intersection of these lines and the city-labels indicates the average point estimates (as obtained based on the aggregate and age specific method). For Zurich, we relied on direct estimation. (Figure 6)

Every year Mumbai City grows due to both factors: Natural Increase and rural area immigration. Natural growth is the population growth that occurs when there are more births than deaths. Mumbai, with a population of more than 20 million, has a fertility rate of about two children per woman. This has resulted in Mumbai’s population growing by about 5 percent year-on-year – the equivalent of 1 million people born each year.

Immigration as the second factor, thousands of people move to the city of Mumbai from rural areas every year. This occurs due to Mumbai having lots of pull factors. General people think that the city could provide a lot of opportunities such as: better housing and public services, e.g. healthcare and education, economic, e.g. more jobs and higher wages and a better living conditions with a safer environment (low natural disasters risk).

Figure 12: Population development of the Mumbai metropolitan area, source: Traffic planning strategy 2018)

      People in these cities pay higher fuel costs, inhale toxic gases, and cannot manage their time effectively. The economic consequences are also broader. A study by IDFC Institute revealed the impact of traffic congestion on Mumbai and how to solve these problems. On average, Mumbai residents waste 11 days a year due to traffic jams. In megacities that account for about 17% of Maharashtra’s gross domestic product (GDP), this is a significant loss in productivity. More than 700,000 people enter Mumbai to work every day. Traffic congestion reduces this mobility in Mumbai, leading to inefficient labor markets and severe economic and environmental consequences.

Figure 14: The congestion in Mumbai, Source: moto.rp.pl



      Research on urban economic growth continues in different directions. Some people emphasized the historical aspects of urbanization, such as the large-scale migration of population from rural areas to urban areas, which stimulated urban development worldwide.

Overall, the rapid growth of the nation’s urban population has brought many challenges, such as lack of urban infrastructure and services, traffic congestion and insufficient parking spaces, urban flooding, and reduction of public space.

Congestion is considered a major economic problem. These assessments may suggest those who deal with unresolved types of congestion. The evaluation also shows that there is a strong correlation between strong economic growth and urban transportation.

Negative environmental impact and lack of urbanization and comprehensive planning. In recent decades, every country has begun to develop their economy rapidly. However, the developing countries still lack the infrastructure needed for the energy sector to respond to the pace of development. Energy security promotes cities’ socio-economic growth and sustainability. Electricity supply and access to energy are the basis for achieving development goals.



1. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision – Key Facts


2. APEC Sustainable Urban Development Report: December 2018


3. M. Aljoufie, M. Zuidgeest, M. Brussel & M. van Maarseveen, Urban growth and transport: understanding the spatial temporal relationship, 2011


4.Eddie Morton, Urban planning needed: ADB, 03 July 2014

5. Tejvan Pettinger, Market Failure, 28 November 2019

6. WILL KENTON, Economies of Scale, 01 July 2020

7. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision – Key Facts

8. Population, distribution, growth and change



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