Welcome the new urban giants. According to stats released by the Urban Age organization Mumbai and Delhi will soon become two of the most populous cities in the world, by 2020. Then the duo are expected to touch head counts of nearly 24 million and Mumbai will have more people fitted in a single square kilometer than any other city.
The year 2007 marks the first time in the history of mankind when the number of people residing in cities has overtaken those staying in villages. India's 300 million city dwellers contribute a significant one-tenth of the world's urban population.
These figures are courtesy the Urban Age India conference that opens in Mumbai on Nov 1. Urban Age was initiated by the London School of Economics (LSE) and Deutsche Bank's Alfred Herrhausen Society. The organization aims to "shape the thinking and practice of city leaders" and achieve "sustainable urban development". It has studied Indian metropolitan cities as well as New York, Shanghai, London, Mexico City, Johannesburg and Berlin.
Yet, as she houses 12 million inhabitants in an area half the size of Berlin, less than half of Greater Mumbai is covered by built-up land and infrastructure. The greater half includes a national park and open areas, coastal wetlands, mangroves, agricultural land and even beaches.
Population growth in India's urban areas has been no less dramatic. Between 1950, 2007 and 2020 (projected), Mumbai has ballooned from 2.8 million to 18.9 million and will touch 23.9 million. Some believe it could cross Tokyo as the most populated city globally. Delhi has zoomed from 1.4 million to 16.6 million to reach 23.7 million and Kolkata from 4.5 million to 14.8 million and 18.7 million. Bangalore's growth moved from .7 million to 6.9 million at present and is estimated to touch 9.5 million by 2020.
Keeping these projections in mind, Mumbai and Delhi would be among the most populous in the world by 2020, followed by Mexico City (22.1 million), New York (20.3 million), Kolkata (18.7 million), and Shanghai (18.4 million).
Compounding Greater Mumbai's extremely high population is traffic congestion, loss of wetlands, flooding and critical housing issues. Delhi's problems are said to arise from a rapid population growth and large unplanned urbanization. Besides this, add stretched-out infrastructure, unaffordable housing, growing slums, traffic congestion and "significant ecological degradation".
Kolkata's bowl of woes includes the loss of city wetlands, frequent floods, traffic congestion, inadequate infrastructure and pollution. The Garden City Bangalore ails from rapid urbanization, pollution, waste disposal and sewerage and sanitation problems, loss of its tree cover, and high traffic congestion.
Coming to city commutation, around 55.5 percent Mumbaites walk, 21.9 percent go by train, 14.4 percent opt for the bus, and only 1.6 percent take their car. Rickshaw and taxi, two-wheelers and cycles are used by only a small number of people. Surprisingly, Mumbai has the lowest level of car ownership with 29 cars per 1,000 residents, a stark contrast to Mexico City's 383. Kolkata and Bangalore have the highest number of cars per kilometer among Indian cities. With 1,421 cars per kilometer, Kolkata's car density beats even than of Berlin.
Someone living in Mumbai has a life expectancy of 68.1 years as against 79.2 years in London or 75.9 years in Mexico City. Looking at the brighter side of life, Indian cities have relatively low murder rates, similar to London and Shanghai.
Yet some problems of Indian cities cannot be pushed under the skyscrapers. For example, although "precarious urbanization" affects many countries, the extent of slums in India "makes its cities unparalleled sites to reflect on strategies to better accommodate the growing number of urban residents and their multiple needs", says the report from Urban Age.
"India's status as a developing nation with a growing urban economy, coupled with the sheer magnitude of people and social potential, provide an ideal platform for the analysis and discussion of the future shape of urban society," emphasizes LSE's Urban Age director Ricky Burdett and Alfred Herrhausen Society managing director Wolfgang Nowak.