For Release Sunday, July 25, 2010
ISTANBUL — This fabled world city has a remarkable story to tell. Recently the European Union awarded it the highly competitive “European City of Culture 2010,” title, the first for a non-EU member. More important, Istanbul is becoming a viable model for the 21st century megacity — places of 10 million or more inhabitants, likely (cumulatively) by 2050 to house 20 percent of the world’s urban population.
With its 11 million people, Istanbul is the fifth most populous city in the world, following Shanghai, Mumbai, Karachi and Delhi. It’s emblematic of megacities, now largely concentrated in Asia. But it’s no newcomer: it’s been occupied for 8,000 continuous years. It sits in an earthquake zone, it has flood-prone geography and municipal boundaries that span Europe and Asia; the internationally-governed, heavily-trafficked Bosporus River divides its territory.
Huge (5,400 square kilometers) and dense (2,400 people per square kilometer) Istanbul for the last five years has absorbed about 250,000 rural migrants and new babies annually. A stream of fresh population has flowed continuously for the past 50 years at an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent. (For comparison, figures for the largest city in the continental US, Jacksonville, are 2,292 square kilometers [area] and 354 people/square kilometer [density] and 5% [annual growth rate]).