World Urban Development


The modern world is a complex system that is characterized by several trends that affect people’s social life and the development of the societies. One of such trends is the development of urban areas, which demonstrates a fundamental change of the social system of humanity. This change is evident because in the past people depended mostly on agriculture, which was demonstrated by the development of rural aspects of life. Currently, even the societies of the developing nations support a major trend of the planet, giving preference to the development of urban areas instead of rural ones. This paper investigates urbanization trends in the world and South America, in particular, and focuses on the characteristic of Rio de Janeiro as one of the examples of modern developing cities of this continent. The investigation of this topic enhances the understanding of the role of urban life for the societies located in South America and shows the importance of the spread of urbanization over the continent.


Modern Urbanization Trends

Urbanization is one of the most evident trends of the nations of the world, which greatly transforms a social life. Scholars characterize it as a process that involves the movement of people from rural to urban places, engagement in non-rural occupations, and the change of lifestyle as a consequence of living in the cities. The emergence of this term is connected with the discovery of a new social trend in the world, which demonstrated that people of both developed and developing nations prefer living in urban areas. For instance, experts estimate that in the 1800s, approximately 3% of the world’s population was living in the cities, which increased to 10% in the 1900s and 47% in 2000. These statistics demonstrate that a social trend toward urbanization is practically booming, leading to significant changes in the fundamental principles of life.

The major propelling force of urbanization is industrial and economic growth. This cause is present in both more developed countries, such as European and North American states, and less developed countries represented by Latin American, Asian, and African nations. Although any social region of the planet is involved in this process, the rate of this shift significantly differs. For example, the UN statistics indicate that the most urbanized regions of the world are North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe with 82%, 80%, and 73% of urban areas, respectively. In contrast, Africa and Asia have 40% and 48% of the urban population, but they are urbanizing much faster than other regions, and it is projected that by 2050 they will become 56% and 64% urban, respectively. Therefore, urbanization is a dynamic process, the acceleration and speed of which are in the indirect proportion to the percentage of the urban population. On the other hand, along with the critical role of industrialization in the developed countries, such dynamics in their developing counterparts can be explained predominantly by human psychology. The reason for this is that rural people have been demonstrating rising expectations regarding better life in cities, seeking to escape from misery, which resulted in the growth of the population in urban places. As a result, urban areas in the developed and developing countries are different, reflecting the wealth and high social standards in the first and poverty and drastic social and economic problems in the second case.

Apparently, urbanization trends in South America demonstrate the spread of the urbanization of the second type with the lack of proper social standards of living and problems in various civil spheres. The spread of urbanization in this area of the planet can be characterized as rapid and chaotic, sometimes involving trauma, violence, and environmental degradation, which leads to the irreversible rural exodus. Although it is expected that by 2050 90% of the population of Latin America would live in cities, 111 million citizens live in shanty towns and 112 million live in poverty, which accompanies other social problems. Consequently, despite the fact that Latin American countries demonstrate a rapid shift to urbanization, they face numerous problems that make this process of social transition problematic. Urbanized areas of such countries as Brazil are full of controversy where highly populated cities such as Rio de Janeiro suffer from social problems, including poverty, crime, and poor sanitation, among others.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the biggest cities in the South American region that occupies a large area. Nowadays, it has a predominantly urban-type character (see figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Location of Rio de Janeiro within Brazil (“Rio de Janeiro: Location Map”).

The city occupies 1,255 square kilometers and, in 2000, it had a density of 4640.17 inhabitants per square kilometer. It had 46.30% of urbanized area in 1998, and 5,857,904 inhabitants were recorded in 2000. This number increased to 20.5 million in 2013. The city has a large coastal line and is both a harbor and a tourist attraction due to the favorable climate and geographic location. Experts claim that the increase in urbanized areas in the city was an outcome of the policy of the local authorities who were interested in making it a “tropical Paris” to compete with Buenos Aires. Rio de Janeiro is divided into four zones, which are the Downtown, the South Zone, the North, and the West Zone that are subdivided into 33 districts (“Rio De Janeiro Boroughs”) (see figure 2). Due to the fact that the urbanization tempo was drastically high, many social and ecological problems emerged and became a part of this mega-city.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Administrative division of Rio de Janeiro (“Rio De Janeiro Boroughs”).

One of the most critical problems of Rio de Janeiro is suburban areas occupied by the poor population. Most people there live in slums, having poor sanitation, unemployment, as well as ecological and health problems. The suburban areas account for 43% of the growth of the city, leading to the fact that Rio de Janeiro is more than twice as dense as the densest areas of the United States. According to Veríssimo, currently, the slum residents represent 22% of the population and live mostly in the areas between the downtown, southern and northern areas of the city (see figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Slum areas in Rio de Janeiro; highlighted in red.

In order to combat this problem, the governments of the city and the country initiate various social and economic programs aimed at assisting the disadvantaged populations. Among them is the Joint Effort Project, Slum Improvement Program, the PAC of the Slums, Rio Living Program and others that should completely urbanize slums by 2020. Such events as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics assisted in making the lives of the local urban population better by means of investments aimed at improving the infrastructure and services of the city. However, experts state that some problems such as social class barriers, racial disparities, residential segregation, drug-trafficking, and criminal activity are hard to overcome because of the recent governmental neglect toward them. Therefore, rapid urbanization tempo in Rio de Janeiro causes critical social problems that also affect the economy, safety, and ecology of the country.

Current and Future Urban Life in South America

The analysis of the urban life in Rio de Janeiro demonstrated that the entire South American region associated with urbanization is involved in deep social, economic, and ecological problems. The major cause of this is the booming factor of urbanization where the shift of population to urban areas is not supported by high standards of living. As a result, when moving to urban areas, the former rural population struggles when transiting to urban occupations and adjusting to a new way of life, which leads to the development of slums. The local authorities recognize this problem and its consequences and propose a wide range of initiatives, some of which having been successful. For instance, Rio de Janeiro hosted the two biggest sports events in the world, which was associated with financial investments and the attraction of tourists. However, the entire South American region requires undergoing significant structural changes that would lead to the creation of urban workplaces and improvement of the quality of life of the population. These changes should be based on the transition of the economies of South American countries from the status of developing to the developed ones.


Summarizing the presented information, the paper concludes that urban development is different in each region of the world and its quality depends on the state of the economy of the country involved in this process. Thus, the developed countries of North America and Europe demonstrate stable and moderate urban development associated with high standards of living and economic and industrial advantages on the world’s market. However, the example of Rio de Janeiro demonstrates that if the tempo of urbanization of the developing countries is extremely rapid, it causes social, ecological, and other issues. Among them, the most relevant problem is slums that are the result of the failure of the former rural citizens to adapt to the realities of urban life. In the majority of cases, this problem is the result of the irrelevant social policy of the state. Therefore, in such regions as Africa, Asia, and South America, the governments need to introduce advanced economic and social initiatives to improve the standards of living of the urbanized population.

Mar 31, 2020 in Research Essay Samples