Monthly Archives: July 2019


31 July 2019

Europe, North America and South America are the most urbanised continents on the globe, with 74 per cent, 82 per cent and 84 per cent of people respectively living in cities, towns and other urban settlements; while Africa is around 42 per cent and Asia 49 percent urbanised. Each continent displays very different patterns of urbanisation, reflecting diverse histories, cultures and geographic constraints. However, these figures reflect differences in what types of settlements and density levels are considered urban by the public authorities in the different nations and regions of the world. For example,while the density threshold for urban areas in Europe is relatively low at 314 people per square kilometre (pp/km2), in Africa the threshold is much higher at 1,019 pp/km2. In rapidly urbanising countries in Asia, density thresholds are even higher: 1,433 pp/km2 in China and 4,128 pp/km2 in India.

To more accurately compare settlement structures globally, the following maps compare density levels between four regions – Africa, South and East Asia, Europe and South America – highlighting in red areas with densities over 1,000 pp/km2, rather than applying regional thresholds. In these maps, land is coloured on a spectrum based on population density, where light grey represents areas of the lowest densities and red the highest, up to 170,000 pp/km2. In addition to the maps, bar charts illustrate the density range inhabited by proportions of the population in each of the global regions.


Africa, the largest of the four regions, is experiencing a period of intense growth. While the urbanisation level is the lowest of the four at 42 per cent, this is set to rise dramatically. Despite low urbanisation levels, the percentage of the population living at the highest densities (over 10,000pp/km2) is 16 per cent – not far behind South and East Asia (18.3 per cent) and over three times that of Europe (4.9 per cent).Though the largest share of the population in Africa lives at high density (35.1 percent at 1,000–10,000 pp/km2), this is low in comparison to the other world regions, where nearly half of the population lives at an equivalent density (with South and East Asia at 45.2 per cent; Europe at 46.2 per cent; South America at 49.4 per cent). In Africa, there are fewer higher-density areas, with concentrations around major cities such as Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. The percentage of the population living at low densities is the highest in Africa, with 18.6 per cent living at levels under 100 pp/km2, compared to 6.9 percent in South and East Asia, 14.2 per cent in Europe and 13.8 per cent in South America.


South and East Asia feature far higher population densities across vast territories, as well as the emerging presence of large urban agglomerations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kolkata in addition to the established mega-cities of Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Delhi and Seoul. There are extensive concentrations of higher-density areas that are transforming from agricultural to urban economies in the regions stretching from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta and along the River Ganges from Lahore in Pakistan to Dhaka in Bangladesh. Over 90 per cent of the population live above 100 pp/km2, as indicated by dark grey areas. Rapid demographic and economic growth account for South and East Asia’s high density levels, with the smallest proportion of the population living at the lowest densities and less than half the share of the population than in Europe living at densities under 10 pp/km2 (6.9 per cent vs 14.2 percent). South and East Asia’s urbanisation level of 44 per cent does not reflect the reality of high-density living in the region, as much of South and East Asia is considered rural where equivalent densities would be considered urban in Europe (314 pp/km2).


In Europe, there is a more decentralised form of urbanisation, with over half (51.1 per cent) of Europe’s residents occupying densities over 1,000 pp/km2, but only 4.9 percent of the population living at the highest levels of density (over 10,000 pp/km2) – a third of that in Africa. Europe also contains a greater concentration of cities with over 500,000 people and a large number of highly connected smaller cities and towns across parts of western Europe, reflecting its unique history founded on the power and autonomy of relatively small city-states,regions and nations.


South America features the largest proportion of the population at the highest density levels, with 74.4 per cent of the population living at densities over 1,000 pp/km2, including the largest global share of densities over 10,000 pp/km2 (25.0per cent). High-density areas are clustered around large cities such as São Paulo, Lima, Buenos Aires and Bogotá, located along continental edges known as the ‘populated rim’. Though the Andes mountains and the Amazon in central parts of South America limit urbanisation, the expansion of slums into valleys and along steep slopes, followed by waves of incremental upgrading and formal service provision, has seen cities overcome topographic constraints. South America features significantly fewer people living at the mid-range density of 100–1,000pp/km2 (11.89 per cent), nearly a third of the proportion seen in the other world regions.

Africa’s Core Challenges

24 July 2019

Since the 17th Urban Age conference was hosted in Addis Ababa, the Urban Age focused on urban transformation in Africa. 2.5 billion more people will be living in cities by 2050, the vast majority in Africa and Asia. Yet, much of the infrastructure to support this urban expansion is yet to be built. To contribute to the exploration, the Urban Age has carried out new research on African cities. The dynamics of growth and change of sub-Saharan African cities – their size, population, density and social and economic profiles – are presented alongside those of emerging cities in Asia and more mature urban centres of developed nations. The aim is not to create a ranking of urban performance or ‘success’ but to better inform the decisions that are taken today that will shape urban lives for generations to come.


The essays in this publication provide context and perspective on the challenges faced by developing cities: from fragmented urbanisation and economic inefficiency, to environmental damage and limited democratic accountability.


Africa, along with Asia, is the epicentre of global urbanisation. This transition will undoubtedly result in considerable challenges including demand for employment, services and infrastructure. At the same time, it presents significant opportunities to enable structural transformation, if well planned and managed. READ ON


Africa’s past is rural. Africa’s future is urban. The growth of Africa’s cities offers tremendous economic, social and political upsides. Urban agglomerations have generated industrialisation, cultural breakthroughs and democratisation, but there are also downsides of urbanisation. READ ON


Hear from the

Challenges for young Africa: Alcinda Honwana

Africa’s economic potential: Abebaw Alemayehu

Defining African urbanism: Edgar Pieterse

Core Challenges for African cities: Panel discussion


Africa’s exports are dominated by fuels and primary commodities (71%). Manufactured goods account for a much smaller share of exports (18%) and are the largest share of Africa’s imports (63%). However, growth in manufactured goods for export suggests urbanisation is weaning Africa off extraction-based wealth, through industry only employs about 9 per cent of the female and 16 per cent of the male workforce, with approximately half of Africa’s workforce employed in agriculture. African countries have experienced significant poverty reduction, with the fastest reductions in urban areas. Through recent growth in African cities has led to increases in per capita incomes, reduced poverty and improved living standards, many African countries experience high levels of income inequality.





(GINI coefficient)


(per cent of urban population living in informal settlements, 2010)



Short film: High density living in London

8 July 2019

Living in High Density in London Film. LSE Film and Audio

Residents of several high density housing developments in London talk about their homes in a new film highlighting research by LSE Cities and LSE London.

Historically, London has been a low-rise city of Victorian terrace houses. But most of the city’s new homes are flats in blocks and towers, often built at very high densities – which means at least 100 dwellings per hectare.

However, if the city is to accommodate a rapidly growing population without – as Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised – impinging on the Green Belt, new developments will have to incorporate more housing units per plot of land.

Despite dense new towers, courtyard blocks and riverside homes popping up across London, there has been little research asking residents themselves what works and what doesn’t.  

Since 2016 a team of LSE researchers has been investigating how residents experience living in high density housing in 14 developments in London.

Using online surveys, interviews and focus groups, the researchers asked residents what it is like to live in these developments physically, practically and socially. They also looked at who lives in these developments, why they are living there, residents’ day-to-day lives and how they feel about their communities and wider neighbourhoods.

The researchers are working with the GLA, residents, and built environment professionals to think about how their findings can be translated into specific recommendations for policy and practice.

Read more at the LSE London Density Project

The research was supported by the Greater London Authority.

Launch of Metropolitan indicator Database

Metropolis has launched a new online database of 58 metropolitan territories around the globe based on LSE Cities research. This research was presented by Nuno F. da Cruz, the LSE Cities’ lead of the Metropolitan Indicators project, at an international seminar entitled ‘Metropolitan Policies and Indicators of Social Cohesion’ in Barcelona, on 27 June 2019.

Developed in partnership with Metropolis and the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), the project established a set of 38 metropolitan indicators – including new and existing metrics – and a methodology to collect the corresponding data for members of the Metropolis network. LSE Cities will soon publish a working paper that summarises the research and discusses the ‘metropolitan scale’.

Following the event, LSE Cities will publish a working paper that summarises the research and discusses the ‘metropolitan scale’ and Metropolis will launch an online open database featuring all data collected for the Metropolitan Indicators project.