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History of Urbanisation

Urban history, to a large degree, is the history of civilisation. For the move from small rural communities to towns and cities to occur, a whole series of problems had to be solved. To feed a large community it was necessary to develop a method of preserving large amounts of food and storing seeds. The higher concentration of people exacerbated disease and better systems of public works and sanitation had to be devised. Cities became the repositories of humanity’s collective intelligence, libraries were created to store this record of knowledge. Banks were built to store the accumulated wealth, while armories and stronger fortification were constructed to defend the cities against pirates and looters.

History has produced many cities that have risen and then collapsed as a result of changes in the environment or in trade routes or because of epidemics, war or other issues. Machu Picchu, Tikal, Petra and Angkor rose to greatness and then disappeared into the jungle or into the sand. Plagues such as the Black Death in the Middle Ages mostly killed the urban population. Rural people were relatively unaffected. But if a plague was to attack today it would find a different demographic distribution of people: huge numbers of people concentrated in mega-cities sharing the same air-conditioned air may be wiped out easily.

In 1950, 83% of the population of developing countries were rural inhabitants. By 1973 this had declined to 75% and by 1993 to only 60%. The number of African cities grew from 2 to 37 between 1950 and 1993. In Cairo the population was 5.4 million in 1970. By 1993 it had increased to 15 million, creating a massive increase in slums. African cities double in size every 12 years. Some of Africa's cities are growing by 10% a year, the fastest rate of urbanisation ever recorded. For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the rural areas.

Explosive population growth, coupled with migration from the countryside, has created 25 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more. Of these, 18 are in developing countries, including some of the poorest in the world. Mexico City has over 20 million people and Calcutta (Howrah) has 12 million.

Cities with a population greater than 3 million

Dozens of Third World countries are industrialising. Due to corruption, poor legislation and lax policing of the legislation in these countries, pollution is many times higher than is considered safe for human health.

In the United States, Britain and many other Western countries between 1985 and 1990 there was massive growth in out-of-town shopping centres. Until 1985 most people did their shopping close to their place of residence at small grocery stores. With the growth of large out-of-town shopping centres, towns-based commerce was decimated and car travel increased.

Until the mid-1990s Britain's wildlife habitats were being destroyed for housing and more roads at a rate of 200 to 300 sites a year.

Over the past 40,000 years Australia has been home to about 1200 generations. The past five generations however, have changed the face of Australia more dramatically than all preceding generations combined. Although Australia is a vast continent, approximately 70% of Australians live in cities.

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