The Urban Future
The level of urbanization, as measured by the proportion of the population living in urban areas, has largely stabilized in the highly developed countries. This does not mean, however, that the urbanization process writ large has ceased. Almost everyone now lives in or near a metropolitan region, and thus shares many of the same values, living arrangements, and life styles. Population growth rates are also declining; in many western countries there is little or no natural growth. At the same time, within the urban size hierarchy, urban populations have continued to concentrate in the larger metropolitan areas; indeed, more than half of all Americans now live in areas with populations over one million. The concept urban now means metropolitan, and it implies a way of life, as well as a place.
Moreover, the social transformations that flow from that process are continuing. Families will likely become even smaller as fertility rates decline still further and the pressures of urban living become more intense. The proportion of smaller, nontraditional households will also grow. Cities, as a consequence, will depend for their future growth even more on attracting in-migrants.
Cities in developing countries face a far more daunting challenge a result of the continuing urbanization process in an era of rapid global economic restructuring. Although fertility rates are expected to decline, death rates are likely to decline even faster. Thus, urban populations will continue to grow rapidly. The magnitude of anticipated social changes in families, households, and living arrangements is immense. Indeed, the twenty-first century will be defined by the ability of countries to cope with massive urban growth and the parallel transformations in urban economies and social conditions. Most, but not all, countries will follow the urban path defined earlier by countries in the developed world.
Approximately 38 percent of the developing world population is currently classified as urban, at least according to their place of residence. If U.N. estimates (2000) are correct, this will rise to 60 percent within twenty years. Even with recent declines in fertility levels and thus reductions in family sizes in those countries, this projection means that a total of over two billion people will be added to the urban population of Third World countries. How well they will live, in economic terms, and in what types of social settings and family relationships, remains to be seen.
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LARRY S. BOURNE