The story of the past century has been one of dramatic population shifts that coincide with relentless industrialization in many parts of the world.
Similar to the rest of the world, the urbanization of the United States and of Kansas has progressed throughout its entire history, driven largely due to the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Over the last two centuries, the United States of America has been transformed from a predominantly rural, agricultural nation into an urbanized, industrial one.
In 1790, only about one out of every 20 Americans lived in urban areas, but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920 (50/50), two out of three in the 1960s, and four out of five in the 2000s.
The map here, reflects a similar change in Kansas. More than half (68) of Kansas’ 106 counties peaked in population before the Dust Bowl, and in 2010, only 18 of the state’s counties are still showing positive growth.
Impact of Urbanization
There are a number of serious issues to consider with such urbanization.
Agriculture: How will our agricultural sector keep pace with the needs of a rising global middle class in urban areas? Future demand for food, especially protein, would appear to make agriculture a solid investment. Yet, this global drive to feed city dwellers can also add complexity to food production while straining natural resource systems.
Strain on Urban Infrastructure
Urbanization means that formerly productive agricultural land must be converted to commercial and residential areas, putting more pressure on remaining arable land. In some regions, this results in water scarcity, erosion and other problems. Notably, in Brazil, the demand for arable land comes with the threat of deforestation
Infrastructure: infrastructure is integral to a city’s growth and productivity, yet it is often taken for granted as it vies with other budget priorities for funding. In old cities, infrastructure is aging, while in new cities the demand for new construction is rising.
What must be fixed? What must be built? How will the public and private sectors collaborate to fund the work that needs to be done?
Gentrification: Cities with burgeoning populations often experience gradual gentrification of neighborhoods to appeal to middle-class buyers. This process often is supported by investment capital that seeks lower-risk returns. This trend, however, has a consequence: substandard housing choices often are all that remain for lower-income and elderly citizens.