For 90% of the duration of Homo sapiens' evolution, all human endeavor was related to obtaining food, reproducing and rearing young, or defense and survival. During that period, humans were part of nomadic tribal groups roving over the hunting and foraging ranges that provided their food, the pelts or fiber for their clothing, and other necessities. More recently, some 40 000 years ago, mankind witnessed the advent of the pastoralist lifstyle, with pursuit of grazing livestock across available pasture areas constituting a new form of livelihood.

Only with the domestication of plants and the emergence of the agrarian life style, some 10 000 years ago, did settling of specific terrains become a human attribute. For the first time in human history, a rural family's effort could produce enough food to feed more than just a single family. Agriculture was the precondition for human 'civilization,' as it freed some of the time, for some of the population, from an obligation to gather food as the sole human pursuit. Thus, classes of artisans, traders, clergy, politicians, and warriors could enter the society, supported and fed by the livestock, crops, and produce supplied by farmers. These classes did not live in dispersed terrains but rather created communities that were larger and more complex than a tribal village. The first towns represent either the seats of rulers or the temple complexes of religious elites. As trade expanded, towns and cities developed along the routes of commerce. These were often situated along waterways and at coastal harbors, or scattered along caravan routes. With the rise of warrior classes, protective walls and fortifications began to surround such communities. The Mediterranean and Asia Minor were the sites of the cities of antiquity such as Babylon, Athens and Sparta, Alexandria, Rome, and Carthage.

The evolution of mercantile trade in Europe became a motive for constructing even larger cities, as exemplified by the city-states of Renaissance Italy. Finally, the Industrial Age gave a whole new charge and dimension to cities. The change of production from artisan guilds to workers in factories altered the character of urban life. Crowded teeming cities with tenements, as described by Dickens, came into being in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These early modern metropolises were smoky, grimy, smelly, unsanitary places, ripe for the occurrence of occupational mishaps and the transmission of contagious diseases. Although the caloric supply might have been sufficient, only the most stably preserved of foodstuffs could be used to feed urban populations before the era of refrigeration and food technology. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available largely to those still living on countryside lands.

It is important to realize that until very recently in world history, the proportion of humanity living in cities remained very small. Most were living in tribal settings, as nomadic pastoralists, or as rural peasants. The United Nation defines an 'urban center' as a concentrated population of at least 20 000 inhabitants. By this definition, only 5% of the world's population was urbanized at the turn of the nineteenth century, 13% at the turn of the twentieth century, and 47% by the year 2000. In 1950, the urban population of developing countries was 17%; by the year 2000, it had reached 44%. The degree of urbanization varies from region to region. In the Americas, 75% of the population is now urban, whereas on the African continent, urbanization hovers around 40%.

The massive megapolises, cities of over 10 million inhabitants, are a recent phenomenon. Initially, the biggest metropolitan areas, such a New York and Tokyo-Yokohama, were in industrialized countries. In 1975, there were only five cities with more than 10 million inhabitants; this rose to 19 in 2000, and is projected to reach 23 by the year 2015. The top-ten of megapolises 10 years hence are projected to be: (1) Tokyo-Yokohama; (2) Bombay; (3) Lagos; (4) Dhaka; (5) Sao Paulo; (6) Karachi; (7) Mexico City; (8) New York; (9) Jakarta; and (10) Calcutta. Only two of these are in currently industrialized nations.

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