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Data on Urbanization

Updated: 17 September 2014

Below is a list of selected on-line data bases, EXCEL tables and pdf-documents for the study of global urbanization trends.

World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision (United Nations Population Division)

The Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations has been issuing, since 1988, every two years revised estimates and projections of the urban and rural populations of all countries in the world and of their major urban agglomerations. This web site presents the main findings of the 2014 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects which are consistent with the size of the total population of each country as estimated or projected in the 2012 Revision of World Population Prospects (United Nations, 2013). The World Urbanization Prospects are used widely throughout the United Nations and by many international organizations, research centers, academic researchers and the media.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Tables in EXCEL-Format: Urban and Rural Populations
Tables in EXCEL-Format: Urban Agglomerations
Urbanization: Country Profiles

City Population (Thomas Brinkhoff, Germany)

Population statistics for countries, administrative areas, cities and agglomerations. Interactive maps and charts.

Urban Development Data (The World Bank)

Cities can be highly efficient. It is easier to provide water and sanitation to people living closer together, while access to health, education, and other social and cultural services is also much more readily available. However, as cities grow, the cost of meeting basic needs increases, as does the strain on the environment and natural resources. Data on urbanization, traffic and congestion, and air pollution are from the United Nations Population Division (see links above), World Health Organization, International Road Federation, World Resources Institute, and other sources.

Urbanization and Human Settlements (NASA - SEDAC / CIESIN - Columbia University)

SEDAC, the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, is one of the Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) in the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. SEDAC focuses on human interactions in the environment. Its mission is to develop and operate applications that support the integration of socioeconomic and Earth science data and to serve as an "Information Gateway" between the Earth and social sciences.

Cities from Space (Urban Landsat)
Urban Extents Grid: Global Rural-Urban Mapping Project (GRUMP)

Historical Studies on Urbanization (United Nations Population Division)

The following statistical and analytical reports in electronic format (pdf) that have been published over the past three decades by the United Nations Population Division on urban and rural populations and the demography of selected urban agglomerations around the world. Of course, these historical reports cannot provide information on the most recent trends in urbanization; but they may be useful as background material for the estimates and projections published in the current World Urbanization Prospects (see link above).

Studies on Urbanization and the Methodology of Urban and Rural Population Projections


Growth of the World's Urban and Rural Population, 1920-2000


Manual VIII - Methods for Projections of Urban and Rural Population


Orders of Magnitude of the World's Urban Population in History


Patterns of Urban and Rural Population Growth


The Challenge of Urbanization: The World's Large Cities


The Components of Urban Growth in Developing Countries

Reports on Population Growth and Policies in Mega-Cities*






















São Paulo


Note: * Names of cities and urban agglomerations in the titles of the reports have not been updated according to current official names. They refer to the name of the city or urban agglomeration at the time when the report was published.

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. New York

Urban Sustainability Index (The Urban China Initiative, Beijing)

The Urban Sustainability Index is the first tool of its kind designed specifically for Chinese cities. The Index is meant to help urban leaders make informed policy decisions by pinpointing cities that would benefit most from sustainable development initiatives, and to highlight effective case studies by locating and examining cities that have made great strides in recent years.   More ...



Eugenie L. Birch / Susan M. Wachter (Eds.) (2011): Global Urbanization (The City in the Twenty-First Century). University of Pennsylvania Press

For the first time in history, the majority of the world's popu-lation lives in urban areas. Much of this urbanization has been fueled by the rapidly growing cities of the developing world, exemplified most dramatically by booming megacities such as Lagos, Karachi, and Mumbai. In the coming years, as both the number and scale of cities continue to increase, the most important matters of social policy and economic develop-ment will necessarily be urban issues. Urbanization, across the world but especially in Asia and Africa, is perhaps the critical issue of the twenty-first century.

Benjamin Ross (2014): Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. Oxford University Press.

More than five decades have passed since Jane Jacobs wrote her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and since a front page headline in the New York Times read, "Cars Choking Cities as 'Urban Sprawl' Takes Over." Yet sprawl persists, and not by mistake. It happens for a reason. As an activist and a scholar, Ross is uniquely placed to diagnose why this is so. Dead End traces how the ideal of a safe, green, orderly retreat where hardworking members of the middle class could raise their children away from the city mutated into the McMansion and strip mall-ridden suburbs of today.

Mike Davis (2007): Planet of Slums. Verso Reprint Edition.

More than one billion people now live in the slums of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricades of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbani-zation has been disconnected from industrialization, and even from economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy. He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly unforeseen development, and asks whether the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, are volcanoes waiting to erupt.

Katherine Boo (2014): Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Random House.

In this brilliant book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Winner of the National Book Award, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award.

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Research Reports & Papers

Urban China (The World Bank)

The joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of China’s State Council, Urban China: Toward Efficient, Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanization, includes six priority areas for a new model of urbanization: 1. Reforming land management and institutions, 2. Reforming the hukou household-registration system to provide equal access to quality services for all citizens and create a more mobile and versatile labor force, 3. Placing urban finances on a more sustainable footing, while creating financial discipline for local governments, 4. Reforming urban planning and design, 5. Managing environmental pressures, 6. Improving local governance.   Report ...

Urbanization and Growth (The World Bank, Commission on Growth and Development)

The Commission’s mandate was to “take stock of the state of theoretical and empirical knowledge on economic growth with a view to drawing implications for policy for the current and next generation of policy
makers.” To help assess the state of knowledge, the Commission invited leading academics and policy makers from around the world to a series of 12 workshops, held in 2007 and 2008 in Washington, D.C., New York, and New Haven, and commissioned a series of thematic papers. These papers reviewed areas such as monetary and fiscal policy, climate change, inequality, growth, and urbanization—the subject of this volume.  

Urbanization and Farm Size in Asia and Africa: Implications for food security an agricultural research (Masters, et al., 2013, Global Food Security)

Urbanization and economic development have made global agriculture increasingly differentiated. Many
hinterland farms remain largely self-sufficient, while farms closer to markets become increasingly
specialized and linked to agribusinesses. Both semi-subsistence and commercialized farms remain family
operations, with the few successful investor-owned farms found mainly for livestock and crops processed
on site such as sugar, tea and oil palm. Meanwhile, demographic transition drives rapid change in farm
sizes, with less land available per family until non-farm opportunities expand enough to absorb all new
workers. Asia as a whole has now passed this turning point so its average farm sizes can rise, while in
Africa average farm sizes will continue to fall for many years, posing special challenges in both hinterland
and commercialized areas.

Challenges of Urbanization and Urban Growth in Nigeria (O. I. Oyeleye, 2013, American Journal of Sustainable Cities and Society)

Urbanization in Nigeria and other developing countries has been very alarming over the past ten (10) years. This is as a result of high rate of rural-urban drift, which has resulted to various problems like, unemployment, poverty, floods, squatter settlements, pollution (land, air, noise, water and visual), slums, overpopulation, traffic congestion, crimes, and food insecurity inter alia. The attempt of this paper is to examine the existing challenges, and predict future challenges of urbanization and urban growth in Nigeria, while measures to greatly minimize the challenges are suggested in order to ensure sustainable developments in both the Nigerian urban centres and rural areas.

Survival of the Fittest in Cities: Urbanization and Inequality (K. Behrens / F. Robert-Nicoud, 2013, Universite de Geneve)

A framework that integrates natural advantage, agglomeration economies, and firm selection to explain why large cities are both more productive and more unequal than small towns. A larger city size increases productivity via a selection process, and higher urban productivity provides incentives for rural-urban migration. Tougher selection increases both the returns to skills and earnings inequality in cities. The working paper numerically illustrates a multi-city version of a model and explore the formation of new cities, the growth of existing cities, and changes in income inequality.

Urbanization and Mortality Decline (S. Bandyopadhyay / E. Green, 2013, University of London, London School of Economics)

Most of the literature in economics on urbanization has focused solely on rural-urban migration as the mechanism by which countries become proportionally more urban. Thus much of the literature has neglected the other major pathway to urbanization, namely the rede?nition of rural localities as urban areas once they cross a given population threshold. Our preliminary results suggest that mortality decline causes urbanization not through promoting greater rural-urban migration but instead by causing rural population growth and thereby spurring the creation of new cities.

Ambient (Outdoor) Air Pollution in Cities Database (World Health Organization)

The database contains results of ambient (outdoor) air pollution monitoring from almost 1600 cities in 91 countries. Air quality is represented by annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5, i.e. particles smaller than 10 or 2.5 microns). The database covers the period from 2008 to 2013, with the majority of values for the years 2011 and 2012. The database aims to be representative for human exposure, and therefore primarily captures measurements from monitoring stations located in urban background, residential, commercial and mixed areas..

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Copyright © 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 20 May 2015