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Research Report

Outside the Large Cities: The demographic importance of small urban centres and large villages in Africa, Asia and Latin America

David Satterthwaite
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2006
Pages: 34
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    The world’s urban population today is around 3 billion people¹ ― the same size as the world’s total population in 1960. During the 20th century, the urban population increased more than ten-fold; around 50 per cent of the world’s population now lives in urban centres, compared to fewer than 15 per cent in 1900.² The urban population of Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean is now nearly three times the size of the urban population of the rest of the world.³ UN projections suggest that urban populations are growing so much faster than rural populations that 85 per...

  2. (pp. 1-3)

    If small urban centres are taken to mean all settlements defined by governments as ‘urban’ with fewer than half a million inhabitants, then by 2000 around 1.5 billion people lived in small urban centres, including more than a billion in low- and middle-income nations.⁷

    However, taking ‘small urban centres’ to be those settlements defined as urban by their government with fewer than half a million inhabitants is an inadequate definition ― for reasons discussed in more detail below. But there are statistics covering all the world’s regions and nations for this, and these will be presented and discussed, followed by...

  3. (pp. 3-5)

    The statistics in Table 1 demonstrate that a sizeable proportion of the world’s population lives in urban centres with fewer than half a million inhabitants. But this does not fully capture the proportion in ‘small urban centres.’ To ascertain how many people live in small urban centres requires a more precise definition of ‘a small urban centre’ ― in terms of both a lower threshold (when a rural settlement or village become a small urban centre) and the upper threshold (when an urban centre is too big to be called small). Neither threshold is easily defined. And to set a...

  4. (pp. 5-10)

    In most nations, many of the settlements with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants (for instance all those with more than 2,500 or more than 5,000 inhabitants) are considered urban centres; in a few, all settlements with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants are regarded as rural. For nations that have urban definitions including all settlements with more than 2,000 or 2,500 inhabitants as urban, up to a quarter of their national population can live in urban centres with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Table 2 shows the proportion of national populations living in urban centres with under 20,000 inhabitants, although this needs to be...

  5. (pp. 10-16)

    Small urban centres probably house far more people than do cities, with more than a million cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but it is difficult to get accurate measures of the proportion of people in them because many are still classified within the rural population, as described above. Census reports rarely give details of the proportion of the population living in different settlement categories according to their population size. Table 3 shows the proportion of national populations living in different size categories. This table draws only on census data ― and was constructed from data tables that included...

  6. (pp. 16-18)

    Two conclusions can be drawn from the above. First, small urban centres have a high proportion of the urban population in most nations and a high proportion of the national population in most relatively urbanized nations. Second, the pattern of small urban centres and their relation to rural settlements and other urban centres defies simple categorization or description. The spatial distribution of any nation’s urban population is best understood as the ‘geography’ of its non-agricultural economy and government system.,sup>52 Or, to put it another way, it is the map of where people whose main income source is not from agriculture...