Just How Much of the World Is Urban?

It may be the one data point most commonly cited by urbanists: We live in a world that is over 50 percent urban. We crossed the majority threshold in 2008, and have since grown to 55 percent today. The world is projected to be 70 percent by 2050, and ultimately top out at around 85 percent or so a century from now.

But a new report released by researchers at the European Commission (EC) says the current level of global urbanization is much higher: It estimates the world to be 84 percent urban already. The EC research team, led by Lewis Dijkstra, used satellite images to assess the share of the world’s population that is urban. While traditional estimates from the United Nations and elsewhere find Asia to be 50 percent urban, the EC team’s analysis of satellite images finds it to be 90 percent; while the UN estimates Africa’s urban population at 40 percent, the EC research team finds it to be 80 percent.