Urban Growth

Dernière mise à jour le 6 septembre 2019

In 2008, a new global milestone was reached: the world’s urban population exceeded that of rural areas. In other words, since 2008, one human being out of two lives in a city.

At the global level, there have been two successive waves of urbanization.
(Source: Julien Damon, “Urbanisation planétaire, villes et modes de vie urbain,” Vivre en Ville, Observatoire mondial des modes de vie urbains, Presses Universitaires de France (2008).

  • The first wave occurred between 1750 and 1950 primarily in so-called developed countries, namely Europe and North America. The percentage of urban inhabitants grew from 10% to 52% of the total population in these regions. Urbanization was tied to industrialization and the first wave of the globalization of goods and capital flows. This wave was characterized by increased urban dynamism, including new and typically urban challenges (or scourges), as well as social and sanitary progress.
  • The second wave is now underway in what are commonly known as developing countries, primarily Africa and Asia. Between 1950 and 2030, the urban population in these territories will grow from 18% to 56%. This second wave is much larger than the first and is part of the “second” stage of globalization. Nation-states now face competition from recently-emerged megacities, which operate through networks. In these megacities, power and resources are detached from territory. Current and emergent megacities are for the most part located in developing countries.

Further reading: The Observatory of Modes of Urban Life,

Stages of Urban Growth

This theoretical discussion is drawn from the book, L’école de Chicago, naissance de l’écologie urbaine (The Chicago School: The Birth of Urban Ecology and is based on the work of the American sociologist Ernest W. Burgess.


Cities tend to fuse together, forming one large city. Within this large city, each of the older cities preserves its high-density core. These are then connected to one another by former suburbs, which are gradually supplemented with office buildings. There are around thirty or forty of these large cities or “vast urban aggregates,” each with more than a million inhabitants (while a century ago, there were only two).

Such aggregations create new social and geographic problems. In Europe and the United States, this trend towards expansion has been referred to as a city’s “metropolitan area,” which extends beyond its political boundaries.


Burgess presents an idea type of the trend whereby cities expand by branching out from their business centers.

  • The loop: City centerand business center.
  • The transition zone: the area surrounding the [[definitions:c:city_center|city center]], where one usually finds a transition area, which gradually becomes the home to business and light industry.
  • Working-class housing zones: zones inhabited by workers who fled deteriorating areas (zone 2) but who do not want to live too far from work.
  • Residential zones: luxury buildings and closed, well-regulated neighborhoods.
  • Suburban zones: suburban areas or satellite cities located between 30 and 60 minutes from the loop.

File translated by Michael C. Behrent – Assistant Professor – Department of History – Appalachian State University – Boone, NC  28608