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What is Urbanisation?
What causes urbanisation?
Million Cities
Urban Problems in MEDCs
Case Study - Inner City Redevelopment - London's Docklands
Urban Problems in LEDCs



What is Urbanisation?

Urbanisation is the increase in the proportion of people living in towns and cities.

What causes urbanisation?

Urbanisation occurs because people move from rural areas (countryside) to urban areas (towns and cities). This usually occurs when a country is still developing.

Levels of urbanisation in 1950 and 1990


Prior to 1950 the majority of urbanisation occurred in MEDCs (more economically developed countries). Rapid urbanisation took place during the period of industrialisation that took place in Europe and North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many people moved from rural to urban areas to get jobs in the rapidly expanding industries in many large towns and cities. Since 1950 urbanisation has slowed in most MEDCs, and now some of the biggest cities are losing population as people move away from the city to rural environments. This is known as counter-urbanisation. You can read more about this process here.

Since 1950 the most rapid growth in urbanisation has occurred in LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries) in South America, Africa and Asia. Between 1950 and 1990 the urban population living in LEDCs doubled. In developed countries the increase was less than half.

There are two main causes of urbanisation in LEDCs since 1950 are:

1. Rural to urban migration is happening on a massive scale due to population pressure and lack of resources in rural areas. This are 'push' factors.

2. People living in rural areas are 'pulled' to the city. Often they believe that the standard of living in urban areas will be much better in urban areas. They are usually wrong. People also hope for well paid jobs, the greater opportunities to find casual or 'informal' work, better health care and education.

3. Natural increase caused by a decrease in death rates while birth rates remain high.

Million Cities

A million city is, yes you guessed it, a city with one million (or more) inhabitants. According to the 1995 UN census these are the largest cities on the planet:

1. Tokyo (Japan) 27.2 million
2. Mexico City (Mexico), 16.9 million
3. Sao Paulo (Brazil) 16.8 million
4. New York (USA), 16.4 million
5. Bombay, India, 15.7 million

You can find out more about the largest cities in the world (including predictions for the future) here.


Counter-urbanisation is the movement of people out of cities, to the surrounding areas. Since 1950 this proccess has been occurring in MEDCs (More Economically Developed Countries). There are four main reasons for counter-urbanisation:

1. The increase in car ownership over the last 40 years means people are more mobile. This has led to an increase in commuting. Also, the growth in information technology (E-mail, faxes and video conferencing) means more people can work from home.

2. Urban areas are becoming increasing unpleasant place to live. This is the result of pollution, crime and traffic congestion.

3. More people tend to move when they retire.

4. New business parks on the edge of cities (on Greenfield sites) mean people no longer have to travel to the city centre. People now prefer to live on the outskirts of the city to be near where they work.

Urban Problems in MEDCs

Urban areas in MEDCs have experienced a range of problems in recent years. These include:

Traffic problems. Car ownership and commuting means an increase in congestion and pollution.

Decline in industry. As older manufacturing industries have closed they have left empty, derelict buildings towards the centre of the city. Modern industries need more space so tend to locate on the edge of the city.

High unemployment in inner city areas (where the old industries were once located) leads to social problems.

Changes in shopping have also caused problems. City centre locations are no longer favoured. There has been a recent growth in out of town shopping centres, which has led to the decline of many CBDs (central business districts).

Case Study - Inner City Redevelopment
London's Docklands

In 1981 the London's Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was set up to improve the economic, social and environmental problems that had developed in the area that was once one of the world's busiest ports. The area had been in decline since the 1950's. This is because larger ships could no longer access the port. Unemployment soared, the back to back terraced housing fell into disrepair and their was a lack of transport and leisure facilities. The area became on the first Enterprise Zones in 1981. The land was made rate free for ten years.

Between 1981-1998 many changes occurred within the Docklands. For example:


Low rents attracted a number of hi-tech and financial firms. This includes The Limehouse ITV studios and The Guardian and Daily Telegraph newspapers.


Many of the former warehouses have been transformed into luxury flats. This is an example of gentrification. Low cost housing has also been built along with the renovation of older council owned properties.


A large shopping area was constructed close to Canary Warf. A number of parks have been created where buildings once stood. More recently the Millennium Dome was built in this area.


[The Dockland Light Railway]
( Copyright 2001 Serco Docklands Limited)
London's Docklands now has its own light railway. The Dockland Light Railway (DLR) connects with Bank and Monument underground stations. This makes travel into the City of London very easy.


London's Docklands. Links
History of the London Docklands. Development Corporation
Time Line of Events

Although the redevelopment of London's Docklands brought many benefits to the area there are some groups who oppose the changes. This includes some of the original inhabitants of the area who are now unable to afford to live there. The majority of the jobs in the new hi-tech industries are unsuitable to unemployed docker workers. They do not have the skills needed for jobs in these industries. Close knit-communities have been broken up. Many believe there are insufficient services for people living in the area e.g. care for the elderly.


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[GCSE Bitesize - Urbanisation]

UN - Cities of today, Cities of tomorrow





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