The year was 1400 BC, and the city of Thebes was the capital and crown jewel of the New Kingdom of the Egyptian empire.
Located on the banks of the Nile river, 800km south of the Nile Delta, it was a sprawling metropolis, and the largest city in the world, with a population of 80000.
Of course, as has been the pattern throughout human history, civilisations rise and fall; and 1000 years later, the Egyptian Empire had relinquished power to the new superpower of the world, the Roman Empire.
The capital of the Roman Empire was the city of Rome which, with its population of 1 million inhabitants, made Thebes look like a little village.
Fast-forward to the turn of the 20th century and the accolade of biggest city in the world rested firmly with London, the capital of the British Empire and the world’s economic and military centre. The population of the city at the time stood at nearly 6 million inhabitants, nearly six times the size of Ancient Rome.
London was a city almost bursting at its seams: the population was getting too big for the city’s centuries-old infrastructure to maintain.
Roads, food and water supply, solid waste disposal, sewers and other basic amenities were simply not coping.
But cities got even bigger; much, much bigger. Today, 120 years later, the largest city in the world is Tokyo, with a population that is over six times that of turn-of-the-century London, with a whopping 36 million residents.
Tokyo is one of a number of “megacities” that have sprung up all over the world. Other megacities are Delhi (26 million), Shanghai (24 million), Sao Paulo (21 million) and Mumbai (20 million), among others. London does not even appear on the list of top10 largest cities in the world.
According to a study by the Global Cities Institute based in Canada, nearly 800 million people live in the world’s largest 101 cities – 11% of the world’s population. But this pales in comparison to what is coming in the rest of this century. According to the study, by the end of this century 25% of the earth’s population, which will hit the 13 billion mark, will reside in urban areas. This will give rise to cities that will be much bigger than anything we’ve seen in human history: cities I like to call mega-megacities.
The current urbanisation trend that is sweeping across Africa will continue unabated until, by 2100, the three biggest cities in the world will be in Africa: Lagos, Kinshasa and Dar es Salaam.
It is estimated that the population of Lagos will stand at 88.3 million, Kinshasa at 83.5 million, and Dar-es-Salaam will be home to 73.7 million.
We are living in a time when the world’s population is experiencing accelerated growth, and the time is now to start planning for the future.
We simply cannot afford a “wait-and-see” attitude.