Watch The World’s Urban Population As It Balloons

As you can see in this animation, everyone in the world is moving into cities. See how it happened, and where we’re going.

Watch The World’s Urban Population As It Balloons
Michal Durinik/Shutterstock

The number of people on the planet is rapidly growing. At the same time, the number of people living in urban areas is also increasing. By 2050, 70% of everyone on the planet will be an urbanite.


As part of its State of the World’s Children campaign, UNICEF recently released an animated graphic showing the growth of both countries and urban areas over time.

In this first map, we can see the size of the world in 1950. The rose-colored countries have urban populations greater than 75%, the yellow have 50% to 75%, the blue have 25% to 50%, and the green have less than 25%.

In the second map, showing 2010’s numbers, things have changed more than a little bit. While the U.K., Switzerland, and Australia were the only countries in 1950 with urban populations greater than 75% of the whole, now there are a whole slew of countries with the vast majority of citizens living in cities.

This is the projected population of 2050. China and India, the two largest countries in the world, still aren’t over 75% urban, but they’re close. India is 54% urban, and China is 73%. Considering the size of the countries, that’s still a whole lot of people. Elsewhere in the world, the urban population has also skyrocketed.

In some ways–especially in more developed countries–this is a good thing. Cities reduce sprawl and often use less energy than their suburban and rural counterparts. But the growth in cities means that the world needs to do a lot of thinking about urban planning, poverty, and resilience in the face of climate change.

Today, one in three urban citizens lives in slum conditions. And according to UNICEF, differences in nutrition between rich and poor kids in cities are greater than the differences between urban and rural children. Climate change-related weather disasters will only serve to solidify slum conditions in certain areas.


There are some cities that are actively working on climate-proofing their infrastructure. São Paulo is working on a master drainage plan to prevent flooding. Jakarta is using an anticipated increase in rainfall to plan for more green spaces.

Poor countries will undoubtedly have more difficulty in adapting to a change in the population distribution. The world can’t wait until 2050, with the majority of the planet packed into cities, to start preparing. We have to start now.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.