Introduction to urbanisation and rural-urban linkages

Understanding urbanisation and the links between rural and urban areas is fundamental to making the most of the global transformations happening around the world, and to challenging the many myths that exist.


Cecilia Tacoli, Principal researcher

Myanmar is undergoing rapid economic change and urbanisation. Many new settlements like this one in Lashio lack basic services (Photo: Alex Drainville)

A major shift in population from rural to urban areas is predicted for the coming decades, and the United Nations' projections show hundreds of millions more urban dwellers, especially in Asia and Africa.

Accommodating this many more urban dwellers efficiently and equitably will be difficult – but thinking that urban growth rates are unprecedented and rising is wildly wrong and gives the wrong policy messages.

Rather than curbing the rate of urbanisation, we need to look at the real challenges and opportunities that exist. We welcome the growing number of positive accounts of the contribution that urbanisation can make to economic productivity and environmental sustainability – although official attitudes to urbanisation in the urbanising countries remain broadly negative.

Urbanisation is not just about what happens in the cities but is part of broader transformations under way. Although people and their activities tend to be classed as either 'rural' or 'urban', in fact the links between rural and urban locations, people and activities are key.

Urbanisation needs to be seen as part of wider transformations that include the change in the global economy and that include both urban and rural areas. We need to look too at the migration of people from one area to another, and at the growth rates of urban population. Also key is that urbanisation benefits wider regions, and not just the urban settlements themselves.

Urbanisation and rural transformation are intricately linked, and this has important consequences for food systems.

Inadequate water and sanitation also have an enormous impact on the world's urban poor. Changes to these basic services can make a huge difference.

We also work with local partners to seek out alternative routes to density, that don't force people to choose between being displaced to distant peripheries or being crowded into unhealthy "slums" or apartment blocks. And with local partners in Africa and Asia we are documenting the nature of food insecurity for the urban poor.


Urbanisation, rural-urban migration and urban poverty, Cecilia Tacoli, Gordon McGranahan, David Satterthwaite (2015), 2015, IIED Human Settlements Working Paper

Reframing the debate on urbanisation, rural transformation and food security, Cecilia Tacoli and Bill Vorley (2015), IIED Briefing Paper

Urban informality and building a more inclusive, resilient and green economy, Donald Brown, Gordon McGranahan and David Dodman (2014), IIED Human Settlements Working Paper

Urbanisation concepts and trends, Gordon McGranahan and David Satterthwaite (2014), IIED Human Settlements Working Paper

Urban poverty, food security and climate change, Cecilia Tacoli, Budoor Bukhari and Susannah Fisher (2013), IIED Human Settlements Working Paper

Urbanization, gender and urban poverty: paid work and unpaid carework in the cities, Cecilia Tacoli (2012), Urbanization and Emerging Population Issues Series, 07


Cecilia Tacoli (, principal researcher, Human Settlements