"Urbanization is defined as a process of people moving into cities and surrounding areas from the more rural areas" ( dictionary.com). Cities are "large and dense settlements" (dictionary.com). Usually, in cities people live so close together that they cannot grow their own food. Due to this, people living in cities depend on food supplies being shipped in to them. Cities first began to develop in ancient times. According to UN,until about 200 years ago, only about 5% of people in the world lived in cities. This means that most of a countries population lived in rural areas where food was grown and produced .
In the 18th and 19th centuries, major changes to economy caused urbanization or movement to cities. This was the beginning of the Industrial Age.
The Industrial Age began in Europe at the same time as the population began to rise. At this time, European nations were expanding their trade worldwide and markets for goods became larger. More production was needed to satisfy this trade, therefore, manufacturing economy started. In this type of economy, goods were not just produced for families to survive; goods were produced to trade and create wealth. Also, technological advancement like cotton gin that separated cotton from the seeds and “spinning jenny”, which spun multiple threads of cotton at the same time, made work more mechanized. Mining started to develop for fuel purposes, such as coal mining. It was in this Industrial age that James Watt invented the steam engine. By the 19th century, factories opened with lots of jobs for people to take. Due to this, people began to move from rural areas to cities in search of work and this movement was quite fast. For example, according to the US Census data, in the USA in 1800, only 5% of people lived in cities. By 1920 almost 50% of Americans lived in cities!
In the less developed world, urbanization did not happen until the mid 20th century. For example, in the 1950s, 55% of the developed world population lived in cities, while only about 18% of people in the under developed world lived in cities. Then, the population in cities in under developed countries exploded. By 2000, almost 41% of people in under developed countries lived in cities. One of the greatest reasons for this urbanization is overpopulation. With too many people in rural areas, jobs are scarce, forcing people to look for opportunities in cities. Land for agricultural production is also not as available as it once was. Today, half of the people living in the world, which is almost 3 billion, live in cities. This is expected to grow, and by 2050 it is expected that 2/3 of the people will live in cities.
While urbanization helped the economic development in the Industrial Age and helped provide jobs, it also caused some serious issues. A lack of housing tops this list. Cities are densely populated and often there is no available land to build. This makes housing scarce, and causes a rise in housing prices. Many newcomers to cities cannot afford housing and move into temporary slums and substandard housing. These slums are often built in undesirable locations. For example, they may be next to landfills, industrial areas or flood prone lands. In addition, many of these houses are built from materials that really do not shelter from weather with no insulation or protection. Often these are temporary shelters that are built on public land. This means that the residents do not own the land; they just live there. The United Nations estimates that almost 900 million people live in substandard conditions. A lack of affordable and available housing has also led to the increase of homelessness around the world's cities with many families living on streets, in shelters or even in their cars.
A lack of infrastructure is another issue. An increased number of people requires updated infrastructure such as energy, roads, and water supply. Many cities around the world struggle in keeping infrastructure ready to support all the people moving in. In addition, slum and substandard housing are also not being built according to building codes. This results in inadequate sanitation that can start the spread of diseases. Many dwellings are built next to industrial areas where people can become exposed to the toxic fumes and other substances that affect health.
Urbanization is also associated with environmental problems. More people mean more cars on our roads. Traffic is becoming congested and roads built are not able to support the increasing number of cars. This increases the number of accidents, as well as pollution by car exhausts. Air and water quality are also affected by urbanization. With industries located on outskirts of cities, a larger number of cars, and many households disposing waste, our air and water are becoming polluted.
Today, people are trying to find solutions to the urbanization issue. One of the most important factors is urban planning. This is a process of carefully planning infrastructure and housing so that cities can grow healthily. International agencies such as the United Nations Human Settlement Programmes are also creating programs to help under developed countries plan urban development and deal with issues of slums and housing that exist today. This agency started in 1999 and created the Global Campaign on Urban Governance. According to the agency, the goal of this campaign is “sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world.” They are tackling the issue of urban planning that can help eradicate poverty that causes many urbanization issues. This planning would include infrastructure, affordable housing, social services like medical services, education and services for elderly.