Urbanization in the Developing World

Urbanization in developing countries is a necessity for economic development.  It is how countries such as the United States, England, and France got to where they are today.  An influx of workers to cities provided the necessary incentives for governments to create new laws that address a constantly increasing city population.  Without urbanization, there can be no real development.  Support for this argument can be seen in societies all over the Western world today.  Urbanization in the Western world began with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rural population increase prompted many to move into cities such as London and New York.  From 1725 to 1800, the population in England grew from 5 million to almost 9 million. (pg 3 The Industrial Revolution and Demographic Transition, by Aubhik Khan)  This surplus population moved into the cities.  The population increase led to unprecedented economic growth, which governments were not prepared for, resulting in child labor and an extremely low standard of living.  

These are the conditions we must prepare for in developing countries. In the time it takes to create laws that influence education, transportation, housing, and the job market, newcomers to the cities cannot find work or a suitable place to live and resort to living in slums.  This process is happening now in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.

Rapid urbanization in African cities today can be compared in some ways to the Industrial Revolution that the Western world experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Urbanization starts with an influx of people to cities, people who had previously lived in rural areas.  The rush of movement raises the population of cities, who need to provide for the new increase in population with housing, employment, food, clothes, transportation, etc.  This is where the cons of urbanization begin.  Without proper regulation, the new city-dwellers will not be able to find work, because the job market will not stable enough for them to join. Inability to find work then leads to a decrease of an already low income, which in turn leads to life in the slums because people can’t afford housing as they cannot find sufficient work.  Thus, half of the city’s population lives in poverty on one or two dollars a day.  In Africa, 60% to 70% of all urban dwellers live in slums. (Alioune Badiane, Increasing Rate of Urbanisation in Africa)

To see how urbanization will increase over the new few years. go to :

YouTube – Increasing Rate of Urbanisation in Africa

To see the negative effects of urbanization in Lagos, Nigeria, go to :


For a brief history of urbanization, go to :


How can we avoid the consequences of urbanization?  Government reform is one way to begin preparing for a population influx.  Urbanization is happening as we speak in Africa, South America, and parts of Southeast Asia.  By 2050, urbanization in African cities is expected to rise at least 60%.  (Increasing Rate of Urbanisation in Africa) With this knowledge we can create conditions that will welcome newcomers to cities and avoid tragedies such as slum life, drug dealing, unemployment, etc.  The government has an ability to assist in providing land, housing, jobs, and schools as well as the incentive for newcomers to invest in themselves and their opportunities.  Governments can work with the urban poor by addressing the challenges of urbanization.  Creating incentives for new residents to invest in themselves and their futures is where it starts.  However, while government involvement is crucial, if the people don’t act on their opportunities, nothing will change.  It takes effort on the part of both the government and the people to avoid poor living conditions for newcomers.

Urbanization is partially destructive, but is also necessary.  Without the migration of large populations into cities, governments wouldn’t have an incentive to increase education, create better transportation methods, etc.  The time it takes to go through this process leaves the working class in the dust.  With reforms and the right incentives, the working class can avoid poverty.

Works and organizations cited :

Urban poverty and shelter – Practical Action


The Industrial Revolution and Demographic Transition, by Aubhik Khan –http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2008/q1/khan_demographic-transition.pdf

 by Rebecca Lamm

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