In the last 20 years, there has been a considerable growth of urban cities around the world. This has been occasioned by the fast population growth and transformation of the world’s economy that has been brought about by a blend of technical and political changes happening around the world. Today, over 3 billion people which is almost half of the world’s populace live in urban areas. Although cities command a leading role in the international economy as centers of manufacture and consumption, the fast metropolitan growth all over the developing world is dangerously surpassing the ability of these cities to provide meaningful services for their occupants. In the next 30 years or so, all of the global population in the developing world is predicted to be based in urban areas. This situation is not much different in the developed world. Statistics show that the current population in urban areas has been on an upward trend as compared to the past. Although the general trend shows that most people in both the developed and developing world favor urban places over the rural places, research shows that the urbanization process in the United States is more mature compared to that in developing countries. In a bid to build cities for their urban population, developing countries have made many mistakes, which have brought about environmental problems for future generations (Carter).
Development of Urbanization
The development of urbanization in the United States and other developed countries has been meteoric. In the 19th century, only 5% of the American population lived in urban areas. This signified a small percentage of the whole population. Throughout the 19th century, America was slowly moving towards urbanization. By the beginning of the 20th century, the settlement trend had completely changed in the United States. While the population in cities in the 19th century was only a mere 5%, this had increased to about 50% at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, almost 80% of the American population lives in urban areas. This increase signifies that Americans are favoring the urban areas over the rural places. (UN-HABITAT 22)This is due to the perception that there are more economic opportunities in cities than in rural places. A good example of a city that has grown fast in the U.S is Chicago. In 1820, the city had a population of only 15 people. By 1854, this population had increased to 55,000. This signified a dynamic growth for a period of fewer than 40 years. By the turn of the 19th century, Chicago contained a population of more than 1,698,500 people. This shows that urbanization began emerging in the United States in the second half of the 19th century. In the 20th century, this growth accelerated to its current state today. The current trends show that urbanization in the United States has reached its peak (Fairfield).
Although urbanization in the developing world has been on the increase, it has not been meteoric as that in the developed countries. Urbanization began developing in the less developed regions in the mid 20th century. At this time, the urban population in the less developed regions stood at 17.8% while that in the developed region was at 54.9%. By the turn of the 20th century, this percentage stood at 40.5% against that of developed nations of 76.1%. By 2030, it is estimated that about 57.3% of the total population in the developing nations will be living in cities against 83.7% in the developed nations. This growth signifies that while the growth of cities in urban places is on the rise, the one in developed nations has reached its peak. While it will take several years for the developing world to become predominantly urban, the developed world achieved this more than 80 years ago. However, the most important thing to note is that despite the disparity in the number of years it has taken for urbanization to take full effect, both the developed and developing countries are bound to become predominantly urban in the long run. This shows that urbanization is a subject that we cannot afford to ignore now or in the future (Fairfield).
Although trends show that both the developed and developing world moving toward urbanization, there is a big difference between the two. In most cases, the urbanization in the third world is caused by overpopulation in the rural areas. This has been brought about by the low mortality rate in the rural areas. In a bid to look for more land to accommodate the growing population, most of those in the countryside are moving into cities. Most of these end up living in slums due to the low quality of life that is almost similar to the one in the rural areas. In most cases, most of these poor people do not find meaningful employment hence end up being poorer. This situation can only be matched with the one in the developed world if enough jobs are availed for the third world urbanization that is growing at a very fast rate (Fairfield).
Environmental experts predict that averages of 1 billion people are subjected to outside air pollution every year. Today, air pollution occurring in cities has been linked to the deaths of more than 1 million early deaths occurring every year. This pollution has also been associated with more than 1 million pre-native deaths happening in the world. The environmentalists predict that urban air pollution is bound to cost the developed nations 2% of their GDP in the coming years. Over the same period, the developing nations’ GDP will suffer 5% because of urban air pollution. Spontaneous urbanization is linked to the rise of urban air pollution especially in less developed countries. More than 90% of the air pollution happening in the less developed countries is associated with emissions from older vehicles that are most prevalent in these countries. This has also been worsened by the poor repairs of vehicles, lack of road and rail network and the poor quality of fuel used in these countries (UNEP).
In developed countries, there are measures put in place to ensure that emissions from vehicles are reduced. This is accomplished by availing quality fuel and ensuring that all cars are fitted with emission reduction gadgets. These measures are yet to find their way in the developing nations (UNEP). The problem has been heightened by the fact that most of the poor people in the cities today were yesterday bucolic needy. When these people leave for the cities, they take with them their needs for fuelwood and cheap construction materials among other needs for wood products. In a bid to meet these needs and that of the other city dwellers, the urban environment ends up suffering. Developing urban forestry ensures that the urban poor get a source of fuelwood and their other timber products. Given the high rate that urbanization in the developing world is growing at, there has been a rise in the environmental problems in these countries. This has given rise to wanton destruction of forestry cover in almost all the major cities of the developing world. The situation has however been different in the developed nation where majority of urban dwellers are rich and have alternate sources of wood needs. This has created a big difference in the condition of urban environment in the developing and that of the developed world (Carter).
Another aspect that is worrying about the urban environment is the number of settlements coming up. There has been data showing that the number of households has been growing at a fast rate than the people. Research carried out in many countries shows that the number of households has been growing at a rate of 3.1% compared to the cities population growth of 1.8%. The construction of more houses has increased the need for land and raw materials used for construction. This has had negative effects on the environment (Cohen, p. 31). Due to increased economic growth in urban areas, there have also been numerous environmental problems brought as a direct result of economic growth. These are issues like the quantity of waste generated per individual person. In the developed nations, this waste is dumped in wetlands and open pits. This increases the risk of the waste seeping into the neighboring waters. Even in an event where this waste is burned, there is no proper mechanism put in place to ensure that there is no air pollution (Population Information Program).
Quality of Life
Urbanization has greatly changed people’s way of living. It has transformed the societal organization as we know it. The domestic responsibilities and associations within a family have also been modified because of urbanization. There has also been a transformation and the redefinition of individual and social responsibility owing to urbanization. One societal shift that has come because of urbanization is the fertility rate. Today, there exists a notable reduction in the number of children among city inhabitants compared to that of their counterparts in the rural areas. Trends also show that the rate of mortality rate in cities is lower than that of people in the rural areas. This has helped in slowing the fast growth of the world’s population hence a country can provide for its population in a better way. This is especially true in the developed nations (Net Industries and its Licensors).
On top of getting fewer children, the sizes of families are further reduced because of the city dwellers’ preference for nuclear families as compared to the extended families that are favored in the countryside. Unlike the rural setting where it is easier to feed and shelter children, the same becomes more expensive in the urban setting. In the developed countries, the fertility rates have grown so low to a point where the cities have to rely on immigrants from the less developed countries to boost their population. This is different in the developing world since people are still giving birth to a few children. This has produced a balance since people from overpopulated less developed countries are migrating into the developed countries (Net Industries and its Licensors).
In both the developed and less developed countries, there has been a decline in the status of the family as defined in the traditional setting. Today, either most families in the urban areas are contained of single parents or have decided to live without children. This is a big break from the past where both parents were present and where the sole purpose of getting married was to give birth to children. Because of the reduced families, people are now able to provide better living conditions for themselves and those around them. The change in the living arrangement has brought about a complete shift in the mode of work in the urban areas. Urbanization involves numerous changes in the way people work and in employment. Although it takes an individual to work, the whole family participates in spending the earnings. In this regard, the composition of families determines the comfort of the individuals in those families. This is evident in both the developed and developing nations (Net Industries and its Licensors).
Problems of Urbanization
There are many problems brought about by urbanization especially in the developing countries. One of these is the issue of by-products produced by the urban population. Although cities provide a chance for accessing better amenities for the general population, the large number of its inhabitants places much stress on the natural resources. This comes because of converting agricultural land and water lands to pave way for the construction of residential houses. This adversely affects food production and water supply for both those people in the city and those in the borderlines of the city. This might also bring a host of health-related problems. Due to increased emissions, the environment becomes polluted something that might bring about pollution-related complications. Due to the reduction of clean drinking water and the increase of rubbish and sewage disposal, the people become more prone to health complications. Urbanization also increases promiscuity, which might bring about promiscuous related diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In the developing countries, there have been problems of river pollution especially in areas where those rivers pass through cities. This might bring about waterborne diseases for those who use the water. Estimates show that more than 400 million people in the developing countries lack safe drinking water. In the slums where low-income earners live, there is an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis and pneumonia (Nsiah-Gyabaah, p. 2).
According to the World Health Organization, urbanization is to be blamed for the rising number of overweight people in the developed countries (WHO). This is due to the urban dwellers’ habit of taking low-nutrient foods that contain high levels of sugar. There is also reduced physical activity among people living in cities. This increases the risk of contracting chronic and other lifestyle diseases. Some of these diseases include type II diabetes, hypertension and stroke. These diseases increase the risk of premature death among people with these diseases. Urbanization has led to a threefold increase of obese people in the developed countries. According to experts, the intake of carbohydrates increases as the peoples earning power goes up. This also happens as people become urbanized. In the developed world, people are doing less strenuous jobs due to an increase in automation both in the home and in the workplace. This has reduced people’s physical exercise hence increasing the risk of becoming obese and contracting diseases that come with the condition. All these problems can be linked to globalization (WHO).
By looking at the current trends, it is clear that urbanization is becoming everyone’s obsession. As more people move into urban areas, the ecosystem is going to be affected in a big way. As more cities come up, rivers and deltas will continue disappearing and being polluted in a great way. This is due to the tendency of building cities along rivers and deltas due to the easy availability of water that is needed in building these cities. This alters the river courses and sometimes makes them disappear altogether. All over the world, most cities are built in a way that channels the waste products from them into the rivers. This pollutes the rivers something that puts the users of the water at a great health risk. As more cities come up to accommodate the rising number of urban dwellers, we are going to experience a shortage of clean usage water especially in the developing world. Most informal settlements and slums in urban areas lack essential sanitation. In some cities especially in the developing nations, majority of the people live in these informal settlements and slums. This places them at a greater risk of contracting infectious diseases brought about by poor sanitation and overcrowding. This will increase in the future given the high rate of people who are moving into cities to look for a better life (Center for Security Studies).
Due to the high rate of women moving into the city, we are going to experience a reduction in the population growth. This is due to the tendency of urban residents especially in the developed countries of choosing not to have children or reduce the number of children as compared to their rural folk. In global terms, urbanization will greatly slow population growth in the future. This will in effect help to lessen the pressure impacted on the natural resources by the increased population growth. This will however bring about negative environmental costs due to the increased consumption that comes with the rising income brought about by urbanization. This will cancel the advantages brought about by a reduction in population growth. The UN has identified cities to be among the highest contributors to greenhouse effect that brings about global warming. Due to the increased growth of urban cities around the world, this greenhouse effect will increase hence bringing a further degradation on the economy. This effect will take place both in the developed and the developing worlds (Center for Security Studies).
Urbanization is fast gaining acceptance among many people in both the developed and in the developing world. Today, many people are moving from the countryside in search of a better life in cities. In America and the rest of the developed world, this trend began in the mid 19th century. In the developing world, this trend began shaping up in the mid 20th century. In a bid to accommodate the high population growth in urban areas, most developing nations are making mistakes that are bound to leave lasting effects both on the environment and in individual’s life. This is unlike the urban growth in America and other developed nations that matured a long time ago with no negative impacts on the individuals. Looking at the facts, we learn that urbanization has both its advantages and disadvantages. By looking at the whole situation, one is bound to conclude that the advantages of living in urban places are more than the disadvantages. Even for the poor individuals living in urban slums, their life can be said to be better than those living in the countryside.
- Carter, Jane. The Potential of Urban Forestry in Developing Countries: A Concept Paper. N.d. Web. 2010
- Center for Security Studies. “The Future is Urban” Urbanization: Environmental Problem or Solution. 2010.
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- Nsiah-Gyabaah, Kwasi. “Urbanization Process” Environmental and Health Effects in Africa. N.d. 1-4. Print.
- Population Information Program. Impact on the Environment. 2009.
- UN-HABITAT. “Population, Urbanization, and Quality of Life” UNCHS (HABITAT) Contribution to the International Conference on Population and Development. UN-HABITAT.1994. 1-22. Print.
- United Nations Environmental Program. Urban Air Pollution. N.d. Web. 2010.
- World Health Organization. “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” Obesity and Overweight. 2010.