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The number of people living in cities continues to grow. The latest UN projections suggest that the world’s population could increase to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and to 9.7 billion in 2050, before reaching a peak at around 10.4 billion people during the 2080s and remaining at that level until 2100. The population living in cities, (high-density places of at least 50,000 inhabitants), has more than doubled over the last 40 years, going from 1.5 billion inhabitants in 1975 to 3.5 billion in 2015. It is projected to reach 5 billion and almost 55% of the world’s population by 2050. The rate of urbanisation varies greatly by region, with 90% of the future mega-cities (> 10 million people) expected to be in the developing world, with most of urban population growth expected to take place in Asia and Africa. Europe will, on the one hand, experience increasing diversity in its metropolitan areas under continuous international migration, and on the other hand, face an opposite trend of ‘shrinking cities’ due to demographic changes. Pressure on large metropolitan areas is driving housing prices up through gentrification and financing of housing. It also creates difficulties in the access and quality of public services (healthcare, education, transport, waste management, air quality, public space etc.). Billions of additional people will be flooding into cities, creating a need for responsible policy-making. In 2018, the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs reported that 55% of the world’s population was living in urban areas, and estimated that the figure will reach 68% by 2050. This relentless rural-to-urban shift will add 2.5 billion people to cities, coming in search of a better life, new opportunities, and excitement. As a result, cities will face massive challenges: insufficient decent and cheap housing, expanding waste management needs, growing demand for access to clean water and employment, and worsening traffic congestion. Technology can help, as policy-makers seek to meet the needs of diverse populations representing different ethnicities, cultures, religions and ages, while at the same time they attempt to address inequality. Singapore, for example, is a mosaic of multi-racial and multi-religious communities, carefully managed through the city state’s policies designed to encourage inclusivity - such as the allocation of public housing done in a way that avoids ghettoization, and education and public service programs that foster integration. While the population diversity that must be addressed in developed countries like Singapore is largely attributable to international migration, in developing nations it is mostly a result of internal migration. Internal migration remains a significant feature of East Asian countries in particular, according to the International Organization for Migration. Indonesia alone has an estimated 9.8 million temporary internal migrants, according to a UN report, and about 40% of Beijing’s population are migrants. Addressing diversity also means not leaving people aged 60 and over behind, as this demographic is expected to double in size by 2050 globally. In Japan, where 28% of the population is over 65 (according to the World Bank), the government has made radical changes to healthcare delivery; long-term health care insurance was introduced there in 2000 to supplement the national pension plan (Japan is also a leader in using robotics to assist the elderly). Another challenge: cities must deal with the inequality between those plugged into globalization and those left behind, particularly in high-tech hubs where growing wealth has left the middle class unable to buy homes, as is the case in San Francisco. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that cities with a relatively healthy sense of social solidarity have been more successful in following important directives like social distancing and self-quarantining, which are necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

Big city life

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Big city life