Urbanization estimates shouldn’t be exaggerated

Urbanization figures released by the European Commission in July are wrong, according to a team of researchers at New York University. They calculate that no more than 60 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities in 2015, far less than the 84 per cent cited by the European Commission for 2018.

While migration from rural to urban areas is accelerating and cities are growing rapidly, a team of researchers at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management caution against overestimating the urbanization trend. More specifically, they argue that figures released by the European Commission in July – concluding that 84 per cent of the world’s population now resides in urban areas, rather than the 55 per cent estimated by the UN Population Division in 2018 – are outright wrong.

According to the researchers, the European Commission figures are incorrectly calculated. What’s more, the low “urban density threshold” adopted by the European Commission dilutes the meaning of “urban” by including entire cropland regions as well as more lightly populated fringe areas of cities, according to an article in TheCityFix. As a result, the European Commission overestimates the footprints of cities and exaggerates their size.

The difference between 60 per cent and 84 per cent has important policy implications. As the researchers argue, if one believes the European Commission’s estimates, then the urbanization age is basically over and the focus should be on densifying existing cities. However, if one takes the lower estimate, then “we still have a window of opportunity” to prepare cities “for their inevitable and massive expansion in the decades to come, all while making cities more productive, more inclusive, more sustainable and more climate-resilient”.

Image credit: Bernd Thaller via Flickr

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