The Urban Context of Mexico City, London and Global Megacities

In 1950, only 30% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. In 2007, for the first time in the history of humanity, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities, and in 2014 that percentage reached 54%. At 82%, North America is the most urbanized region on the planet, followed by Latin America, where 80% of the population lives in cities. In 1950 there were only two cities with more than 10 million inhabitants: New York and Tokyo. By 1975 there were three, with the addition of Mexico City. By 1990, the number grew to 10, and today that number stands at 28, among which we find London. These megacities have a combined population of 453 million inhabitants and constitute 12% of the total urban population on Earth—their combined populations are similar in size to that of the European Union—estimated at 500 million—or to the combined population of Brazil, Russia and Japan—an estimated 472 million.1


Greater Mexico City, with its 20.1 million inhabitants since the latest census, is the fourth largest urban area in the world, and the largest on the western hemisphere.It is also one of the 28 megacities (above 10 million inhabitants) of the planet, one of the three megacities in Latin America and was the third city to cross this threshold after Tokyo and New York.

During the 1980s, Mexico City was well known for its urban sprawl. The city had around three million inhabitants in 1950, but by 1980 it had surpassed 13 million. Some predictions estimated that the city would reach 30 million inhabitants or more by 2000. Even when this did not happen, the city now has more that 20 million people living within the same urban space.


London, with its 8.7 million inhabitants, is the largest city in the European Union, and was the largest city in the world for much of the 19th century. It experienced a decline in growth in the period from the late 1930s to the 1990s, when its growth accelerated. After reaching a population of 8.5 million inhabitants in the 30s, it had only 6.5 million in the 90s, but today London’s population has returned its historical high point.

The area of the city of London has expanded considerably since the 1940s, and with the creation of the green belt around the city favored growth of the city beyond Greater London. The paradigm shifted again in the 90s with a voluntary densification of the city.3


1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division (2014). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights. Retrieved from: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/highlights/wup2014-highlights.pdf

2 Consejo Nacional de Población (2010). Delimitación de las Zonas Metropolitanas de México. Retrieved from: http://www.conapo.gob.mx/es/CONAPO/Delimitacion_de_las_zonas_metropolitanas_de_Mexico_2010_-_Analisis_de_resultados

3 Appert, M. (2009). Les mobilités quotidiennes à Londres : aspects, impacts et régulations. Lyon University. Retrieved from: http://geoconfluences.ens-lyon.fr/doc/transv/Mobil/MobilScient6.htm