Last edited 07 Mar 2021

Urbanisation definition

Urbanimage.jpgUrbanisation can have numerous interpretations. It may describe the process by which areas are transformed from rural or semi-rural to urban. This means those areas start to display the characteristics of towns and cities, such as increased population, housing and social infrastructure, transport infrastructure (roads and railways) and leisure and other facilities.

As these towns and cities grow, they may experience increasing urban density: more people and employers move in necessitating new infrastructure to cater for them. The process may continue rapidly until it becomes ‘urban sprawl’ – which is when a town or city and its suburbs spread over previously undeveloped land. For more information see: Densification and Urban sprawl.

In another interpretation, urbanisation of a region or nation implies that the number of people living in areas classed as ‘urban’ has increased or is increasing (with a high average rate of change). This may place a heavy burden on existing infrastructure that is only relieved when more infrastructure is put into place.

A country may be said to be urbanised depending on the proportion of the population living in urban areas. For example, some may class a country as ‘urbanised’ if over 60%-70% of its population lives in urban areas. Others may have a higher or lower threshold.

Some countries such as Singapore, Kuwait and Monaco have 100% urbanisation. Other urbanisation rates include:

Country Proportion of population living in urban areas
Belgium 98%
UK 83.4%
France and Spain 80%
Ireland 63%
India 34%
Sri Lanka 18.5%

Urbanisation is both a historical and global phenomenon. Human settlements become villages, which can grow into towns and then cities. Transformed in this way, they start to offer greater employment opportunities, the benefits of proximity, social interaction and knowledge acquisition, and the prospect of a 'better' life, thereby attracting more employers and people.

The process began millennia ago and is still continuing as rural culture becomes consumed by the urban. Over time this has seen an unprecedented movement of people into cities which become overpopulated and so must expand their infrastructural and social provision. Because in many cases the land to do this is not available or is at a premium, cities such as Chicago (and more recently London and other cities) are forced to build increasingly tall and dense buildings for residences and employment.

‘Going up’ has hitherto been one way to accommodate urbanisation and urban growth. But an increasing number of commentators, also propose using underground space to relieve the congestion of modern cities. This sees placing not only roads and railways underground, but also facilities that do not need to be on the surface, such as factories, waste disposal facilities, shopping centres, cinemas and theatres, and even offices and homes.

For more information see: Megatrends - Urbanisation_report.

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