Duncan Smith

This delightfully user-friendly data viz tracks city population trajectories.

In 1950, only 30 percent of the world’s population lived in cities, compared with 54 percent in 2015. A new map by urban geographer Duncan Smith tracks the bursts in city populations that contributed to this growth.

Here’s Smith on the implication of global urbanization patterns, in a guide to his interactive data viz:  

Our increasingly urban world now frames many of society’s greatest challenges. From global equality to health, education, prosperity and, not least, sustainability, solutions need to be interwoven with fostering livable, efficient and inclusive cities.

In its 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report, the UN tracked the populations of major cities from 1950 to 2014, then predicted how these populations would grow (or shrink) up to the year 2030. Using these data, Smith represented each city on his map with a dark blue core, the size of which is proportional to the city’s 1950 population. The concentric circles around that core, in lighter blue, vary according to the city’s population in 1990, 2015, and 2030.

The result is a delightfully user-friendly map of urban trajectories. Take the London chart below. The city housed around 8.4 million residents in 1950, but in the second half of the 20th century its population fell, in line with many other major metros of Western Europe and the Northeast U.S. It’s now creeping back up but remains far outpaced by growth in other cities. In 2030, it’s expected to be the world’s 36th biggest city, whereas in 1950 it ranked third.

Much urban growth in the 21st century has been driven by Asia, which now houses 53 percent of the world’s urban population. In China, one area of startling growth is the Pearl River Delta, which comprises several large, and rapidly expanding cities such as Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan, and Dongguan. Clumped together, these cities make Pearl River Delta the world’s largest urban area in size and population:

In the years to come, India will contribute more urban growth than any other single country, the UN predicts. For the last 65 years, its capital of New Delhi has seen massive jumps in population. In the next 15 years, it’s going to gain another 10 million residents, likely reaching a high total of around 36 million. At this rate, it’s on track to one day overtake Tokyo (which is likely shrink to 37 million by then) as the world’s largest individual city:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: Interstate 70 near Odessa, Mo.
    Transportation

    A Transportation Grant Program's Trump-Era Rebrand

    Under Trump, an Obama-era transportation grant program designed to fund innovative multi-modal projects became a rural highway-building machine.

  2. photo: A woman crosses an overpass above the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, California.
    Transportation

    Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic

    In an excerpt from the new book The Future of Transportation, CityLab’s Laura Bliss adds up the “price of anarchy” when it comes to traffic navigation apps.

  3. Equity

    Bernie Sanders and AOC Unveil a Green New Deal for Public Housing

    The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would commit up to $180 billion over a decade to upgrading 1.2 million federally owned homes.

  4. photo: Helsinki's national library
    Design

    How Helsinki Built ‘Book Heaven’

    Finland’s most ambitious library has a lofty mission, says Helsinki’s Tommi Laitio: It’s a kind of monument to the Nordic model of civic engagement.

  5. photo: A metro train at Paris' Gare Du Nord.
    Transportation

    Can the Paris Metro Make Room for More Riders?

    The good news: Transit ridership is booming in the French capital. But severe crowding now has authorities searching for short-term solutions.

×