Throughout the world, humankind is seeing a rapidly increasing shift towards urbanization. Urbanization refers to the process in which populations transition from living in rural areas to urban areas as well as the ways in which societies adapt to this change. According to the UN, more than half of the global population now live in these urban areas today (UN, 2020, Urbanization). It is projected that, by 2050, this number will grow to two-thirds of the population. Therefore, we are interested in analyzing the potential benefits and downsides to such a monumental transition. Why are humans so attracted to the idea of urban living? Should we really continue on this path towards total urbanization throughout the globe? We plan to investigate the true cost of urbanization by examining its impact on its human inhabitants as well as on the surrounding environment.
To conduct our investigation, we utilized two data sets.The first set of data is referred to as the World Development Indicators, which originates from the World Bank. The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance to the governments of developing countries. We found it particularly useful for its insight into global urban development as well as countries’ ecological footprint. The other set of data descends from Our World in Data, a publication that focuses on providing data to understand “large global problems and the powerful changes that reshape our world.” (Our World in Data, 2021). This source provided us with insight into the state of mental health within different countries. In combination with our research, the datasets allowed us to create visualizations that aid our understanding of urbanization and its impact on society.
At first glance, it seems as though the growth of urbanization is justified. There seem to be endless reasons as to why individuals would be drawn to living in cities. Figure 1 clearly establishes that countries (encoded as circles) possessing a larger urban population, are linked to communities also possessing a higher average life expectancy. With this in mind, the most probable explanation for higher life spans in these urbanized locations is likely due to how urbanized regions allow for greater public accessibility to basic necessities, such as water, food, and electricity, in comparison to rural regions (Our World in Data, 2021). In addition to this urbanized cities frequently also tend to contain a greater number of hospitals and schools in comparison to distant rural cities, allowing for improved public accessibility to valuable services such as healthcare and education.
Further exploring how transitioning communities from rural to urban would increase a cities capabilities towards offering more public services, we believe there likely exists a correlation with individuals living in urbanized cities, earning a higher income. For instance, as the capitalistic value of urban communities grows, the local government is able to utilize this as a means to further invest in urban infrastructure for the surrounding community. Unlike in distant rural regions, workers operating in urbanized cities earn a higher base salary in comparison, and as a result, further contribute towards increasing the capitalistic worth of their urbanized locations. As the economy grows, more jobs become available to citizens living in these areas, allowing for more opportunities in getting a job and working to make money.
Although urbanization may seem quite progressive, it certainly does not come without its drawbacks. Demonstrated through the Figure 3 line graph, there is substantial evidence within past data revealing mental health cases have been increasing over time as urbanization has increased, shown in Figure 2 line graph. It is evident that individuals living within urban areas are more prone to stressors as a result of traffic congestion, violence, noise or air pollution, and overcrowding in living conditions (Rosenthal, 2021). Such stressors are likely to result in the deterioration of mental health and discomfort. Additional studies also found that “citizens who grew up with the least green space nearby had as much as a 55 percent increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in later years” (Earth Observatory, 2019). These findings come to show that the rapid increase in urbanization can put more stress on individuals and the need for green space is essential for a greater life satisfaction and reduced anxiety or depression.
In conclusion, the world does not simply operate in black and white. Our data suggests that it’s rather difficult to blatantly state whether shifting to urbanization is entirely progressive. Many communities all around the world suffer from mental health disorders and depression, feeling unsatisfied with their current place in society. Although urbanized cities frequently come with nice luxuries such as increased salaries, job opportunities, and public services, certain aspects of urbanized communities remain ignorant of citizen mental care. Regardless of how economically successful families grow, the everyday exposure to the unpleasant byproducts of urbanization is a huge disservice to these communities. With this in mind, moving forward, we suggest that cities choosing to commit to an urbanized culture should stay wary of the downsides as well. Increasing public awareness of these issues would likely help to gain the necessary support towards collectively moving in the right direction, reducing pollution and violence while effectively increasing the quality of life for our citizens (economically, physically, and mentally).