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Megatrends and how to survive them – Migration and Urbanisation

October 17, 2018

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book that is due to be published on November 1st, by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book. In it, the third Megatrend we explore is Migration and Urbanisation.  We chose this because we now have more people living in urban areas than live in rural areas for the first time in history.

People migrate either because they are fleeing bad situations (the minority of migrants) or because they are aware there is a better life somewhere else and they choose to move to find it.  About one percent of the world’s population is “an asylum seeker, internally displaced or a refugee”. However, as more people become middle class (see our blog on the first Megatrend, Population), they have the ability to make a choice about where they live.  Most of you reading this are probably migrants: if you no longer live near where you were born, you, too, are a migrant.  More than one in ten of us is a migrant, many from rural to urban areas within a country, or to another country.

In the 1950s the world population was around 2 billion and more than two thirds of people lived in rural areas.  Today it is more than three times that and more people (roughly 4 billion of 7.6 billion) live in urban areas than rural.

Migration for blog

As the figure shows, the trends are for Asia and Africa to become as urbanised as Europe and North America.  Urbanisation is expected to continue while rural populations shrink. Many of the fastest growing urban areas are relatively small cities in Africa and Asia.

As jobs migrate to cities, their economies are also moving from being mainly manufacturing based to delivering services.  Migration to cities leads to opportunity: the growing diversity can feed creativity and innovation; it can also help countries with falling population levels care for the young, the ill and the elderly.

Today’s growing cities face many challenges.  Not just the obvious ones such as developing infrastructure to support the growth, but considering health, education, waste management, logistics of food supply and environmental change.  Often little or no long-term planning is done: what planning is done is frequently for today and not considering what will be needed in the future.  Many cities were designed for the times of our grandparents, not for today.  To meet the future, cities will need to become Smart Cities: urban areas that use electronic data collection sensors to supply information to help them manage their resources and infrastructure more effectively and efficiently.  This could improve the quality of life for their residents across buildings, mobility, infrastructure, public space, social and community programmes and civic governance.

Living in urban areas can have problems.  With high accommodation costs, migrants and those with no employment or low wages congregate in poorer areas – which, in many cities means informal settlements, slums, shanty towns and run-down areas.  These areas are usually not part of the urban planning if it exists, so they grow in a haphazard way lacking infrastructure, transport, safety, water and public services.  High youth unemployment (where young males outnumber young females in informal settlements) is correlated to rising levels of crime and violence.  When many people live together in small spaces, mental and physical health can be affected.

And of course, two-thirds of the cities in the world today are on coasts, vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise.

Some relevant articles: with some views of how a smart city will look. which these are likely to be.

And for handling risks that can arise:

Some questions you might consider:

  • How does urbanisation affect your market, products and services? How might you need to adapt them?
  • How could urbanisation affect the people you work with? Will it make the skills you need easier to find?
  • Where will you locate your business and where will the people you work with live and work?
  • What opportunities might there be for developing new forms of social frameworks and support in both urban and rural areas?

We live in interesting times!

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Associate and MD, LASA Insight, and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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