Skip to main content

Supporting policy with scientific evidence

We mobilise people and resources to create, curate, make sense of and use knowledge to inform policymaking across Europe.

Page | Last updated: 01 Dec 2023

Continuing urbanisation

People in search of better opportunities - such as jobs, services and education - have been moving from rural, to urban areas across the world, and this accelerating trend is likely to continue in the future.

timeline and images small_URB
(© Photo by Thor Alvis on Unsplash)

Megatrend Continuing Urbanisation

A Megatrend is a long-term driving force that is observable now and will continue to have a global impact in years to come

People in search of better opportunities - such as jobs, services and education, have been moving from rural to urban areas across the world, and this accelerating trend is likely to continue in the future. The number of people living in cities has more than doubled over the last 40 years and is projected to reach 5 billion by 2050. While this concentration of the population in cities has been linked to increased productivity, (and 70% GDP), it is also the cause of problems associated with environmental degradation, public health, housing, congestion and inequalities. Urbanization and development are inextricably linked, and it is necessary to find a way of ensuring the sustainability of the growth. While cities today occupy approximately only 2% of the total land, they are responsible for over 60% of energy consumption,  70% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of global waste.

New and emerging digital technologies are helping cities to address some of these challenges and to better engage with citizens. Local governments are increasingly partnering with neighbourhood communities and enabling platforms for them to gather and build local, ‘people-based’ solutions and export these within the city and across peer-networks. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an acceleration of on-going transformations in cities such as micro-mobility, online shopping and the digitalisation of health and government services, but it has also increased inequalities between citizens.

The ‘Degree of Urbanisation’ concept allows a consistent definition and comparison of urbanisation on a global scale for researchers and policy makers and “captures the continuum between cities and rural areas”. While the UN reported that 54% of the global population lived in urban areas in 2015, using this new definition, instead we reach an estimate of 76.5% for 2015 instead – i.e. already 5.6 billion people live in cities, towns & semi-dense areas.


This Megatrend is part of the Megatrends Hub



The driving forces of the Megatrend change over time. This timeline indicates more established and newer trends that are influencing the future direction of the Megatrend

Continuing Urbanisation Megatrend Timeline

They indicate a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society. 

Urban resilience as a new normal / Expect the unexpected

As they recover from the COVID-19 crisis, cities are facing new adversities emerging from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and climate change. These challenges have exposed long-standing inequalities in access to quality healthcare, transport, affordable housing, energy and adequate income.  With new crises looming due to geopolitical and climate challenges, cities need to improve long-term preparedness plans for possible emergencies and ‘black swan’ events. Crisis management and resilience of cities could also be strengthened through citizens’ training for situations of emergency.

Big City Life

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years, from 7.8 billion currently, to 9.7 billion in 2050, and could peak at nearly 11 billion in 2100 (UN). The population living in cities, (high-density places of at least 50,000 inhabitants), has more than doubled over the last 40 years, going from 1.5 billion inhabitants in 1975 to 3.5 billion in 2015. It is projected to reach 5 billion and almost 55% of the world’s population by 2050. The rate of urbanisation varies greatly by region, with 90% of the future mega-cities (> 10 million people) expected to be in the developing world, which will represent 90% - 95% of urban expansion in the coming decades. The largest part of urban population growth is expected to take place in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Tech and the city

Digitalisation could lead to important improvements in both the reactivity and efficiency of cities by impacting data-driven decision-making related to mobility, health, sustainability, citizen engagement and city management. Augmented reality also helps city planning and climate change adaptation. The drivers of digitalization in cities are shifting from top-down, technology-driven ones, to a citizen-centred, participatory approach, with a focus on the needs and empowerment of local populations. In this context, digital literacy and accessibility of digital tools and services gain importance.

Escalating green action in cities

In relation to ‘green action’, cities and citizens are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for government action. Mayors of cities are increasingly stepping up to take action and stimulate public engagement towards local solutions for climate change and carbon neutral cities. Many cities are working towards the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). The strive for carbon neutral cities carries the risk of ‘greenwashing’, with private investors focusing on richer parts of cities and their populations. At the local level, neighbourhood and communities are increasingly getting together to co-design public spaces and regenerate biodiversity and ecosystem services, while finding alternative sources of food and income.

Urban Governance through networks and groups

Local governments are increasingly partnering with peer cities and networks and using enabling platforms to gather and build local solutions, and share them. Global commitments, advocacy, as well as mobilisation and socialisation through large networks (such as the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Metro­polis, C40, and the Global Covenant of Mayors, among others), are significantly empowering cities. They are accelerating the evolution of urban governance towards more horizontal cooperation, knowledge exchange and a demand for adequate resources for more and more decentralised competences and roles.


Previously Covered Trends

These are trends that were spotted in the past, and might have grown or faded away in time.


Further Reading

Want to explore more? Some interesting readings below:

This Megatrends hub is a repository of foresight related information. It highlights long-term driving forces and its underlying shorter-term trends. This repository can help you understand changing society in a broad and more systemic way. 

Disclaimer: this repository is by no means comprehensive and alongside established scientific knowledge, it also presents issues which are new and those subject to ongoing scientific debate - where research is ongoing, or only starting - to give the reader some insights and ways to further explore topics in more depth.