Terms, Images and Realities: The Future of Urbanization

Hans van Ginkel,

We need to acknowledge: we live in an urban world. Our future, especially the future of the developing world depends on it. For the first time in human history, more than half the world's population is living, now, in cities. The United Nations estimates that by 2030 the world's population will increase by 2.3 billion in comparison to the beginning of this millennium. The urban population in developing countries is expected to rise from 2 to 4 billion over the same period. This means that virtually all the increase in the global population in the next decades, will take place in cities in the developing world.
This dash towards urbanization is inevitable! Countries with emerging economies have shown that, while successful development generally begins with agriculture, development cannot be based on agriculture alone. Industry, trade, transport as well as education and administration are essential, and all of these activities are centered in urban areas.
Thanks to the experience of developed countries, urbanization is a well-mapped terrain. Yet, we can never expect the developing countries to simply replicate what has happened in developed countries. Indeed, the growth of cities in the developing world presents two additional challenges. The first is that the pace and extent of change is unprecedented. The second is that those who live in and those who manage the cities in the developing world are largely unprepared for what is to come. Given the rate of population growth in cities, they will not have the luxury to learn by experience.
Contrary to prevailing perceptions about cities, most urban growth will not take place in megacities, e.g. in cities with 10 million people and more. Rather, the growth will primarily take place in smaller cities with populations of 500,000 to 1 million inhabitants or sometimes bigger upto 5 million. This means that at this time, still much can be done to create more sustainable urban futures, even though many areas of growth are likely to be in smaller cities at the edge of the present biggest urban fields; not far away from these.
The urban landscape of the future will look like this: People will live in a continuum of urban spaces with varying densities. Large urban regions consisting of very diverse nodes, each of these often called cities in themselves or towns or suburbs and each of these framed in endless webs of interconnected functions and activities, will dominate the patterns of population distribution in countries, continents and worldwide. Complex, 'nebulous', systems will form the major features of the urban reality of the future. Traditional concepts, prevailing images and the terms in which these are expressed will not be useful anymore to guide the core processes in a meaningful and effective way. We should, for instance, stop to think of the urban as opposed to the rural: we will have to relate the urban to the rural and the rural to the urban; we have to think continuously of the urban and the rural.
We must think again, think new, on urbanization. We do have to re-conceptualize and develop new approaches in research, planning and administration to acquire soon the capabilities to develop a variety of different sustainable urban futures, adapted to the very different realities of different 'urban places and regions' around the world.We must develop new approaches to be able to address the challenges of the complex, kaleidoscopic, multi-sectoral and multi-layered urban reality in flexible, but integrated ways. Only then, we will be able to realize healthy, productive and rewarding lives for the largest number of people in our increasingly urban world.

About the speaker
Professor Dr. Hans van Ginkel is the Ex-Rector of the United Nations University, Tokyo. He was elected President of the International Association of Universities (IAU, Paris) in August 2000 and served until July 2004. He is Vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT, Bangkok), Member of the Academia Europaea; Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC, Enschede); and the former Rector of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He serves as a member and officer in several professional associations and organizations. Holds a Ph.D. cum laude from Utrecht University (1979) and honorary doctorates from Universitatea Babes-Bolyai, Cluj, Romania (1997), State University of California (Sacramento) (2003), and University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana (2005). His fields of interest are urban and regional development, population, housing studies, science policy, internationalization and university management. He has published widely on these areas, and has contributed extensively to the work of various international educational organizations.

Venue: UNU-MERIT conference room, Keizer Karelplein 19, 6211 TC, Maastricht

Date: 14 April 2009

Time: 16:00 - 17:30  CET