More than half the world population will live in cities by 2008, according to a UN report out today.
By 2030, six out of ten people will be city-dwellers.
Nearly all of this growth is taking place in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In Asia and Africa, the trend marks a decisive shift from rural to urban growth.
It is one which cannot be stopped but needs to be anticipated, according to Thoroya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund:
“Policy makers have to accept that it is the right of the poor to move into cities and to find better opportunities.”
Cities are growing everywhere. But nowhere faster than in China. The population of Shunde in the southern province of Guangdong has doubled in just four years.
Guangdong is now one of China’s richest provinces. Its rapid economic growth is partly due to its close trading links with neighbour Hong Kong.
People are moving to the city from the countryside in the hope of getting their share of the economic boom.
Luo Chyangkun and her husband came from the neighbouring Jiangxi province. They worked hard and managed to save enough money to set up their own business.
“We used to have a farm over there. Now we own a four-storey house,” she said.
This migration is not without its problems. The response of local governments has often been to try to discourage or even reverse the trend. This has resulted in less housing and more slums.
The State of the World Population report says that although most city-dwellers are poor, they can be part of the solution. Authorities need to provide housing, jobs, healthcare, education – allowing them to improve their own lives and contribute to their communities.
A fertile ground for poverty, or an opportunity for millions to improve their quality of life? Depending on how governments decide to act, both could be likely scenarios for city life in the future.