UN Habitat has just published its State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequality and Urban Land Market. Globally, the 21st century is and will continue to be an urban century, but especially so in the periphery. As the report states:
“In 2009 Africa’s total population for the first time exceeded one billion, of which 395 million (or almost 40 per cent) lived in urban areas. Whereas it took 27 years for the continent to double from 500 million to one billion people, the next 500 million will only take 17 years. Around 2027, Africa’s demographic growth will start to slow down and it will take 24 years to add the next 500 million, reaching the two billion mark around 2050, of which about 60 per cent living in cities. Africa should prepare for a total population increase of about 60 per cent between 2010 and 2050, with the urban population tripling to 1.23 billion during this period.
Strong demographic growth in a city is neither good nor bad on its own. Experience shows that across the world, urbanisation has been associated with improved human development, rising incomes and better living standards. However, these benefits do not come automatically; they require well-devised public policies that can steer demographic growth, turn urban accumulation of activities and resources into healthy economies, and ensure equitable distribution of wealth. When public policies are of benefit only for small political or economic elites, urbanisation will almost inevitably result in instability, as cities become unliveable for rich and poor alike.