Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The 50 Percent Myth

Illustration by Sara Annapollen.

When startup accelerator Y Combinator announced its New Cities project in June, it came with a couple of footnotes. Number one was, “Two out of three people will live in cities by 2050.”

In the center of the cover of the 2006 book The Endless City, published by the Urban Age Project at the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank, is the statistic, “10% lived in cities in 1900, 50% is living in cities in 2007, 75% will be living in cities in 2050.”

On the header of the TED Cities page, “More than half the world’s population lives in cities.”

Problem is, these numbers aren’t real. Or rather, without a radical disruption of United Nations data collection methods—the 50 percent number comes from a 2007 UN agency report—we will never know whether half the population, or two-thirds, lives in a city. Not now, and not in 2050.