The Dimensions of Global Urban Expansion, 2000–2050


he third attribute of urban expansion discussed in this report is the increase in urban land cover. Accra, the capital of Ghana, offers a startling example (figure 4.1). Between 1985 and 2000, the city’s population grew from 1.8 to 2.7 million, a 50 percent increase, while its urban land cover expanded from 13,000 to 33,000 hectares, a 153 percent increase. Urban land cover in Accra grew more than twice as fast as its population. We examined the growth rates of the urban population and the urban land cover in the global sample of 120 cities between 1990 and 2000. Population growth averaged 1.60 percent per annum, and land cover growth averaged 3.66 percent per annum. The difference between them was 2.06 percent. Thus, as in Accra, urban land cover in all 120 cities grew on average at more than double the growth rate of the urban population. At these rates, the world’s urban population will double in 43 years and the world’s urban land cover will double in only 19 years. The rapid growth of urban land cover is by no means a recent phenomenon, as clearly shown in the historical expansion of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, during the past 150 years (figure 4.2). Bangkok increased its urbanized area from 580 hectares in 1850 to 133,515 hectares in 2002. In 1944, for example, its urbanized area comprised 8,345 hectares, a 14-fold increase over its 1850 area. The city then doubled its area in 15 years (1944–1959), doubled it again in 9 years (1959–1968), doubled it again in 10 years (1968–1978), and doubled it yet again in 24 years (1978–2002). In other words, the urbanized area of Bangkok increased 16fold between 1944 and 2002, at an average


Expansion of the Built-up Area of Accra, Ghana, 1985–2000


2000 Urban built-up area Suburban built-up area Rural built-up area Urbanized open space Rural open space Study area Central Water business No data district

growth rate of 4.8 percent per annum. When we examined the growth rates of urban populations and their associated urban land covers in the representative global sample of 30 cities between 1800 and 2000, we found the rates in Bangkok were not atypical: 28 of the 30 cities studied increased their areas more than 16-fold during the twentieth century. The only exceptions were London and Paris, the two largest cities in the sample in 1900. These two cities had increased their areas 16-fold since 1874 and 1887 respectively. On average, the 30 cities in the representative sample doubled their urbanized area

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