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C h a p t e r 6 The Urban Transition in Developing Countries: Demography Meets Geography Mark R. Montgomery and Deborah Balk As urban populations continue to grow, poor countries and international aid agencies are likely to face mounting pressure to rethink their development strategies and set priorities with both rural and urban interests in mind. To engage effectively with the emerging trends, countries and agencies will need to base their decisions on demographic estimates that are scientifically sound. To plan for future growth, they will require informative forecasts of city size that are free from systematic bias. Unfortunately, demographic researchers are not yet in a position to deliver these scientific inputs. In this chapter, we consider the current state of urban demographic research and argue that as the developing world continues to urbanize, and both local and national planners struggle to anticipate and adapt to city growth, they will increasingly need to draw upon spatially disaggregated demographic data. Although the urban transition has been in the making for decades, demographers are only belatedly coming to understand how much remains to be done to construct the kind of research infrastructure that will provide policymakers with scientific guidance (Panel on Urban Population Dynamics 2003; Bocquier 2005). As explained in the chapter’s second and third sections, with the increasing availability of urban demographic and boundary data for small geographic units—including districts within cities—there are now good prospects for bringing spatial content to demographic research. The combination of spatial and population data will help to resolve some of the measurement issues that have long bedeviled demographers and will likely inject new energy into the field of city population estimation and forecasting. 90 Urban Spatial Growth and Development Data Needs for the Urban Century Ahead Needs for better urban data are especially pressing in Asia, which now contains the largest total number of urban dwellers among the major regions of developing countries, and will continue to do so. By 2025, Africa will likely have overtaken Latin America in terms of urban totals. Urban growth rates in developing countries in force before 2000 are substantially higher than the rates that were seen during comparable historical periods in the West, with the difference being due to lower urban mortality in present-day populations and stubbornly high urban fertility in some cases (Panel on Urban Population Dynamics 2003). Nevertheless, decade-to-decade changes in urban percentages—sometimes termed the pace of urbanization—in the developing world are not especially great by historical standards (Panel on Urban Population Dynamics 2003, table 35 ). The most prominent, indeed, unparalleled feature of today’s urban transition is the emergence of hundreds of large cities. Yet this development is often misunderstood. Of all developing-country city dwellers in places of 100,000 population and above, only 12 percent live in megacities (those exceeding 10 million in size). More than half reside in cities smaller than 500,000 persons. In addition to their demographic importance , these smaller cities are relatively disadvantaged in terms of access to information and both technical and managerial expertise. Much of what is known about urban populations of poor countries stems from the work of the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), which has been the sole source of internationally comparable city and urban estimates and projections. Much of its work has been carried out in-house, and the challenges that the UNPD faces are not well understood by the larger research and policy communities. In preparing its urban materials, the UN has had little alternative but to rely on data supplied by the national statistical offices of its member countries . The basic data are thus bound to the definitions of urban areas adopted by national authorities, which vary a great deal from one country to the next. Working with these disparate raw materials and refining them where possible to improve comparability, the UNPD develops estimates of both total urban and city-specific population sizes, compiling records from the 1950s to the present. For the city-specific population counts, the UN gives special attention to national capitals and to larger cities—those with 750,000 or more residents. Although entries for smaller cities are registered in the UN’s city database, they have not generally been given the rigorous review that is routinely applied to larger cities. To accurately estimate city and urban populations is an enormous undertaking in itself, but the UN is also obliged to develop...


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