The Urban Century

A couple weeks ago, The Atlantic Cities published an article by Richard Florida entitled “The Developing World’s Urban Population Could Triple by 2210.”

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A night view of Hartford, Connecticut. Photograph by David Arnold.

It talks about the world’s rapidly urbanizing population and how that growth will differ between the developed and developing worlds. As seen in the article’s title, the population numbers are staggering. To get a better visual, here are a couple more statistics cited in the article:

  • It took 10,000 years for the world’s urban population to reach 3.5 billion people. That number is projected to grow to 9.8 billion (almost three times today’s count) in just two hundred years.

  • In the world’s wealthier countries the change won’t be so drastic, moving from 0.96 billion urban residents in 2010 to 1.2 billion residents in 2210. In the developing world, however, urban residents will grow from 2.6 billion to an incredible 8.6 billion. That is, indeed, more than tripling!

Florida’s article makes a strong argument that the movement of billions of people to increasingly more concentrated spaces is going to be a major issue for the upcoming generation. Florida has termed the next hundred years “the urban century,” and this is the century when students of today will be taking a lead.

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Yangon, Myanmar. Photograph by James L. Stanfield.

Mapping Global Urbanization,” an activity developed in part by the National Geographic Bee and featured on our website, addresses the topic of changing urbanization as well. In it, students map changes in urbanization and urban centers throughout history.

The activity’s data sets end at 2025; however, the new data provided by the Atlantic Cities article, offers a fascinating next step to this activity. It may not provide data for specific cities, but it gives a good background for students to be able to visualize where and how large the urban centers of 2210 will be.

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An aerial view of Damascus, Syria. Photograph by James L. Stanfield.

Additionally, the Atlantic Cities article goes into detail about city planning and how important the layout of urban areas will become in the next 200 years. As another extra to the “Mapping Global Urbanization” activity, students can brainstorm what these futuristic cities look like. What is the best way to design these sprawling urban cities? How can you safely house so many people? How can you preserve local resources and protect the environment as well?

The Atlantic Cities’ report on rapid urbanization is staggering and a cause for concern, but used in conjunction with an academic resource, these statistics can provide students with a fantastic visual introduction to their “urban century.”

Perhaps, if they start thinking about these problems today, they will be the ones to solve them tomorrow.

By Rebecca Bice, National Geographic Education

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