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New York City's Lower East Side in 1900New York City's Lower East Side in 1900Urbanization is the term given to describe the shift of population from rural to urban areas. The growth of industry from the late 18th century onwards, led to migration on a large scale and the rapid growth of cities, some of which were previously small towns or villages. This process began first in Britain, followed by the rest of Europe and North America. Cities during this period of expansion were overcrowded and unhealthy places to live in, where thousands regularly died from diseases spread by contaminated water or the appalling, cramped living conditions. Nevertheless, in countries such as the USA, over the course of the 20th century the urbanization rate increased from around to 40% to 80%.

Urbanized population around the worldUrbanized population around the world
Busy street scene in Patna, IndiaBusy street scene in Patna, India

Developing countries

By the end of the 20th century, urbanization had slowed in the developed world, but was rapidly increasing in the developing world—and continues to do so. An important milestone was passed in 2007, when, according to the United Nations, for the first time, more than half the world's total population were recorded as living in cities. 

Since 1960, city-dwellers have more than tripled, from 1 billion to more than 3.5 billion—around half the world’s population. By 2050, it is predicted that 64% of humanity will be city-dwellers.

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