The evolution of urbanisation is primarily the story of the evolution of human culture, civilisation and consciousness. For the purposes of this paper we can look at two major cultural steps towards urbanisation, as we know it today. The first movement of people into semi-fixed settlements began 10,000 years ago when the warming climate that marked the end of the Ice Age created conditions favourable for agriculture. The hunter-gatherer cultures that predominated through the Ice Age were gradually superseded by large human settlements that marked the beginning of the Agrarian Era.[i] Over the next few thousand years the vast majority of people lived in the rural regions that surrounded the core settlements. Some of these settlements gradually morphed into the major cities at the heart of the City-States that became geo-political hubs. These cities were the seats of power of monarchs and emperors, and were historically walled in to protect these power elites, who in turn offered protection to the peasants who lived in the rural surrounds, supplying the elites with food and other goods.
The second major socio-cultural development that dramatically affected population growth and movements was the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in Britain in the mid-18th century it rapidly spread to Western Europe and the United States. It brought with it major changes in the pace of life, and gave a whole new impetus to urbanization. During both these major shifts, in fact right up to 1960, the human urban population remained below one billion people globally.[ii] Industrialization brought new opportunities to work in the city factories, and to provide services for the new breed of factory workers. It led to new types of paid work and new economic models. These developments increased the attractiveness of cities for rural dwellers through the prospect of work in the factories and the related promise of economic prosperity. The lure of money for peasants-turned-factory-workers seemed to outweigh the drawbacks of poor working and living conditions in the rapidly growing urban landscapes. The trend of growing urbanization had begun and continues to this day.
To demonstrate how the rate of urbanization has increased exponentially, the following table (Table 2.1) shows the declining time needed for the urban population to increase by one billion globally, beginning from 10,000 years ago. It is important to note that Satterthwaite’s research was first published in 2002 and then updated to include the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision. However, the 2014 UN projections show the global urban population reaching almost 4 billion as soon as 2015 (See Table 3.1 below).
Table 2.1: The declining time needed for one billion additional urban dwellers
|World’s total urban population||Years taken|
|0 to 1 billion urban dwellers||10,000 years? (c. 8,000BCE-1960)|
|1 to 2 billion urban dwellers||25 years (1960-1985)|
|2 to 3 billion urban dwellers||17 years (1985-2002)|
|3 to 4 billion urban dwellers||15 years (2002-2017)|
Source: Satterthwaite (2005) p. 1.[iii]
[i] Jennifer Gidley, “The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: An Integration of Integral Views,” Integral Review: A Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal for New Thought, Research and Praxis 5 (2007).
[ii] Satterthwaite, “The Scale of Urban Change Worldwide 1950-2000 and Its Underpinnings.” p. 1.