An urbanization bomb? Population growth and social disorder in cities

Journal article

Buhaug, Halvard & Henrik Urdal (2013) An urbanization bomb? Population growth and social disorder in cities, Global Environmental Change 23 (1): 1–10.

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For the first time in history, the majority of the world population now lives in cities. Global urbanization will continue at high speed; the world's urban population is projected to increase by more than 3 billion people between 2010 and 2050. Some of this increase will be the result of high urban fertility rates and reclassification of rural land into urban areas, but a significant portion of future urbanization will be caused by rural-to-urban migration. This migration is expected to be particularly prevalent in countries and regions most affected by the changing climate. While urban populations generally enjoy a higher quality of life, many cities in the developing world have large slums with populations that are largely excluded from access to resources, jobs, and public services. In the environmental security literature, great rural resource scarcity, causing rural to urban migration, is seen as an important source of violent conflict. This study investigates how population growth affects patterns of public unrest in urban centers within the context of crucial intervening factors like democracy, poverty, economic shocks. It utilizes a newly collected event dataset of urban social disturbance covering 55 major cities in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa since 1960. The empirical analysis provides little support for the notion that high and increasing urban population pressure leads to a higher risk or frequency of social disorder. Instead, we find that urban disorder is primarily associated with a lack of consistent political institutions, economic shocks, and ongoing civil conflict.

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