IN 1950, the Nigerian capital of Lagos had a population of
290,000. It was about as big as Wichita, Kan., is today.
But by 2010, greater Lagos is projected to have a population of
21 million - or nearly 1-1/2 times more than metropolitan New York
The case of Lagos is more dramatic than most. But it typifies a
growth trend, noted in a report issued last week by the United
Nations, that has catapulted dozens of the world's small- and
medium-sized urban areas into giant megacities within a human
Such sudden growth is one reason the world is expected to cross
a significant demographic watershed within the next 10 years: For
the first time in human history there will be more people living in
urban than in rural areas. It is also the main reason for the
dramatic spread of urban poverty, which the World Bank predicts
"will become the most significant and politically explosive problem
in the next century."
The UN report, titled "The Challenge of Urbanization," profiles
100 cities, ranging from Tokyo-Yokohama - with a population of more
than 26 million, the world's largest urban agglomeration - to the
tiny Fijian capital of Suva, which has a population of 150,000.
Among other things, the report will be a reference for delegates
who will gather in June in Istanbul, Turkey, for the second UN
Conference on Human Settlements. "Habitat II," as it is known, will
address the problem of finding adequate shelter for urban dwellers
and developing sustainable living conditions in what the report
calls "an urbanizing world."
Just how quickly it is urbanizing is suggested by the fact that
by 2000, some 3 billion people may be living in urban areas,
three-quarters in developing nations. Another billion - or the
equivalent of 60 metropolitan New Yorks - could be added by 2025.
New York itself, the city that in 1950 topped the UN's list of
the 10 largest cities, may not even make the list by 2025, as it is
overtaken by swelling third-world capitals such as Jakarta and
It took London 130 years to climb from 1 million to 8 million
residents. Mexico City covered the same distance in just 30 years,
between 1940 and 1970, and then doubled again within 16 years.
If UN projections hold true, the combined population of the 10
largest cities at the end of the century - 163 million - will equal
that of the 26 smallest countries.
The good news, according to the UN report, is that the rate of
urban growth in Asia and Latin America has slowed. The bad news is
that huge increments of population are still being added each year,
and that Africa - the other main region of the developing world -
is continuing rapid urbanization. …