(02 April 2021) - A joint initiative led by Eurostat, DG REGIO and the JRC was adopted by the United Nations last month to establish global definitions for urban and rural areas.

© Eurostat

The need for this was discovered quickly after the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, where a large number of the target indicators had to be measured for rural and urban areas individually. The big differences between national definitions meant that urban and rural comparisons in domains such as health, poverty and access to services were misleading.

A solution was found by mapping out grid cells of one square kilometre. By clustering these cells based on their population density and measuring the population size of these clusters, all areas could be assigned to three categories: cities, towns and rural areas.

One of the surprises when applying the new definitions on a global scale was the discovery that most countries in Africa and Asia are not as rural as initially thought.

Now it is clear that a large share of the populations already live in urban areas. In order to help these countries develop, efforts should be focused on improving the cities that are already there, instead of building new cities.

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