Jennifer M. Gidley

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The Evolution of Culture, Consciousness & Growing Urbanisation


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 The hunter-gatherer cultures that predominated through the Ice Age were gradually superseded by large human settlements that marked the beginning of the Agrarian Era.[i] Over the next few thousand years the vast majority of people lived in the rural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.

[iii] Ibid..


Drivers of “New Urbanisation”: Sustainability and Creativity


Paris quai-branley-garden

While the dominant drivers of the old urbanization (industrialization and globalization) were inextricably linked to the economic paradigm, the new urbanization is underpinned by different motives. The drivers of the new urbanization (or “new urbanism”[i]) include sustainability and the creativity required to build a sustainable post-industrial urban imaginary that values “people and planet over profit.” It is clear that in the coming decades nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America will continue to play “catch-up” with the global north. What is very important is that they are not merely copying what the old urban zones were doing 50 to 100 years ago, but are keeping abreast of the emerging drivers of the new urbanization. Some Latin American nations are already providing excellent examples of wise urbanization using sustainable and creative approaches to transportation (e.g. Curitiba, Brazil), and integrated social practices introduced in Bogotá by Mayor Enrique Peñalosa (1998-2001).[ii]

  • Sustainability: While urbanization has historically been associated with improved living conditions (such as greater access to health services and education, better economic and social conditions, and richness of cultural life), this has not necessarily followed in the recent rush to modernity. Sustainability is threatened by growth in urbanization that is too rapid, and not sufficiently well planned to allow time for basic infrastructures to be developed (such as power and water supplies, sanitation, health services, education and transportation). When this occurs, as it has in China, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, instead of improved living conditions what we find is that “hundreds of millions of the world’s urban poor live in sub-standard conditions… [including] rapid sprawl, pollution, and environmental degradation, together with unsustainable production and consumption patterns.”[iii] Unplanned rapid development runs counter to the recommendations for sustainable urban development put forward by the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. An outcome of this conference was the creation of three pillars of sustainable development: “economic development, social development and environmental protection.”[iv] There are several examples of attempts to bring sustainability principles into urban development in the global south, with mixed success. Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, UAE, planned for completion in 2025 is aiming to be one of the world’s most sustainable cities with its low-carbon low-waste urban development. China and Singapore are collaborating on a major eco-city project, Tianjin City, designed to be a model of futures sustainable urban development throughout Asia and the world as a whole, planned for completion in 2020. Abuja city, capital of Nigeria, was also planned to be “an epitome of beauty and enlightened vision of city development”[v] though the reality is falling short of the ideal. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see that these principles are being taken into consideration, globally.
  • Creativity & The Post-Industrial Imaginary: The Creative City movement is a new trend that will shape the way cities urbanize over the next few decades.[vi] The Creative Cities Network, in partnership with UNESCO, reflects an emerging movement that validates Richard Florida’s “creative class”[vii] and Paul Ray’s “cultural creatives.”[viii] Creative cities researcher, Maurizio Carta, refers to “the creative city [as] one of the new identities of the 21st century cities.”[ix] He points to three design dimensions of the creative city: culture, communication and cooperation, which support the development of a creative class, and contribute to urban regeneration and sustainability.[x] In Australia the dream of owning your own large suburban house and land is wilting before the powerful cultural attraction of post-industrial inner-urban regeneration of factories and warehouses. Creativity cannot be overlooked as a key driver of urban transformation in the 21st[xi] It is central to transforming cities from black and dirty industrial sweathouses to green and sustainable creative hubs such as Berlin and Manchester, or pioneers of alternative transportation such as Curitiba in Brazil. The post-industrial counter-trend includes urban food-production (Havana), vertical gardens (Paris) and eco-villages.[xii] This trend is welcomed by the millennial generation with their creative, green, and collaborative post-industrial values.[xiii] In this way “post-industrial” refers to value clusters connected with creative, sustainable urbanization rather than a rejection of industrialization per se.


[i] Tigran Haas, ed. New Urbanism and Beyond: Designing Cities for the Future (New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2008)..

[ii] Jennifer M Gidley, “Shifting Metaphors for Re-Imagining Post-Industrial City Futures,” in Reimagining City Futures Workshop (Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai, China2010).

[iii] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision”. p. 3.

[iv] Ibid. p. 3.

[v] B.J. Adeponle, “The Integrated City as a Tool for Sustainable Development: Abuja Master Plan,” Journal of Educational and Social Research 3, no. 5 (2013). P. 145.

[vi] Arie Romein and Jan Jacob Trip, “Key Elements of Creative City Development: An Assessment of Local Policies in Amsterdam and Rotterdam,” (Delft, the Netherlands: Delft University of Technology, 2009)..

[vii] Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class; and How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

[viii] Paul Ray, “The Rise of Integral Culture,” Noetic Sciences Review 37, no. Spring (1996).

[ix] Maurizio Carta, Creative City: Dynamics, Innovations, Actions (Barcelona, Spain: LISt Laboratorio, 2007). p. 5.

[x] Ibid. p. 12-13.

[xi] Ray, “The Rise of Integral Culture.”

[xii] Dushko Bogunovich, “Eco-Tech Urbanism: Towards the Green and Smart City,” in New Urbanism and Beyond: Designing Cities for the Future, ed. Tigran Haas (New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2008)..

[xiii] Sasha Kagan, “Workshop 3: Sustainable Creative Cities: The Role of the Arts in Globalised Urban Contexts,” in 4th Connecting Civil Societies in Asia and Europe (CCS4) Conference (Brussels, Belgium: Leuphana, Institut fur Kulturetheorie, 2010).

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