Urbanization explained

·Global Anchor

By Kaye Foley

Bright lights, big cities are getting bigger and brighter. Urbanization — the expansion of cities — is on the rise. People across the globe are heading into urban areas looking for work, education and health care. Others arrive, fleeing wars and natural disasters. They turn to the city life for better living and more opportunities.

For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population — that’s 3.7 billion people — now resides in cities. And it’s expected that number will increase to two-thirds by 2050.

Without the proper planning, the rapid increase in urban areas, especially in developing countries where most growth is happening, can lead to some big problems. The World Economic Forum has identified the biggest challenges, from health to poverty to pollution to outmoded transportation.

Nearly 1 billion people in cities live in slums, where almost 700 million lack adequate sanitation. Under these conditions, diseases like cholera, SARS and H1N1 spread easily.

The high cost of living and unemployment keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Infrastructure — telecommunications, transportation, electricity and water—keeps a city running smoothly but requires repairs and updates, which can be very expensive.

Cities also have a big impact on the environment. Emissions of CO2, from cars and trucks to coal-burning plants, leave heavy carbon footprints on the planet.

Governments are faced with the challenges of properly preparing cities for these popping populations by following health guidelines, making housing affordable, funding infrastructure projects and investing in mass transit and alternative energy sources to give Mother Nature a break.

But, still, cities are hot spots for cultural development and economic opportunity. So whether you’re a country mouse or a city slicker, when it comes to urbanization, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”

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