Cities emerged in the hearths of civilisation around the world. Its origin can be traced to the Neolithic revolution, when humans transitioned from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary life of farming. Cities developed between the Middle East's Mediterranean coast and the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, also known as the fertile crescent. It includes present-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, etc. Cities were formed along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers in China and parts of Africa, India, and Indonesia. Since then, cities have multiplied in number and grown in sophistication through urbanisation. Urbanisation involves the movement of people from rural to urban areas to settle. As cities grow, the rural areas decline. Urbanisation also includes the natural increase of the urban population and the process of transformation from an agrarian society to a metropolitan area capable of industrialisation.

The industrial revolution from the 18th century accelerated urbanisation and, thus, the formation of cities. It exerted much pressure on the rural economy, such as the decline of cottage industries, agricultural employment, population, land, and resources. Before the industrial revolution, more than 90% of the world’s population lived in rural areas. 1960, only 34% of the world's population lived in urban areas. Currently, about 56% live in urban areas. It is expected that this trend will continue. However, rapid urbanisation can result in overcrowding, inadequate available infrastructure and job opportunities, social and economic inequalities, housing shortages, fast transmission of infectious diseases, and urban sprawl. As cities sprawl into surrounding forests, grasslands, and farmlands, it further impacts the ecosystem. Urban sprawl causes loss and fragmentation of habitat, and loss of species and reduces the carbon sequestration capacity of the ecosystem. Cities are responsible for emitting over 70% of the greenhouse gases and account for about 60% of the global energy consumption.

On the other hand, cities are the hubs for innovations, cultural diversity, commerce, and economic growth. They generate about 80% of the world's GDP and can ensure sustainability in their future development if their resources and the opportunities they present are appropriately directed. Priority should be placed on building a green economy. That is, fostering clean energy, preserving green spaces, sustainable transport options like fast public transport, walking and cycling, ensuring planned growth of cities, and increasing economic equality and social inclusion. The government must invest its resources towards these targets. This also calls for innovation and public and private partnerships to create efficient solutions and finance these targets. Governments must create an enabling environment to foster cooperation from the private sector and research institutions. Governments can promote collaboration by making concessions such as tax breaks, subsidies, and grants for projects that are for public interests and to encourage investments in specific sectors or areas. They can also streamline regulations, reduce bureaucracy where possible, and maintain the rule of law regarding impact investors whose goal is to create environmental and social benefits and economic gains. They should make a transparent framework for investment.

The sustainability of cities' current and future development is incomplete if it will ultimately lead to the decline or demise of the rural areas alongside their rich culture, history, and natural aesthetics. Thus, instead of dealing with cities and the surrounding rural areas separately, paying attention to the linkages between them is necessary, as this could bring about a holistic and lasting solution to the problem.

The industrial revolution from the 18th century accelerated urbanisation and, thus, the formation of cities. It exerted much pressure on the rural economy, such as the decline of cottage industries, agricultural employment, population and land.

A city’s sphere of influence is over other towns and surrounding hinterlands. In most cases, the rural poor becomes the urban poor. They migrate hoping for a better future, but many end up in urban slums and contribute to the decay of cities. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2020, about 1.1 billion people lived in slums or slum-like conditions in urban areas, and this number is expected to triple in 30 years.

As we celebrate World Cities Day to encourage global urbanisation and cooperation among countries in managing the problems of urbanisation and ensuring sustainability in the international urban future for all, it is essential to note that linkages exist between the cities and the surrounding rural areas or hinterlands. These linkages could be across space, such as the flow of people, information, finance, waste, goods, and services. Connections could also be across agriculture, manufacturing, and the environment. These links can cause economic, social, and environmental transformation beneficial to cities and rural areas, thus causing a synergistic relationship.

Local and national governments, relevant agencies, and stakeholders must be involved in decision-making during the development and implementation of development policies and plans. These policies and procedures must be targeted toward building a green economy to foster cooperation between cities, their hinterlands, and the global space.

Article submitted by Tonye Odubo


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.