This piece originally appeared on Forbes.
Between meetings with President Obama this week, China’s vice president and leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping will make time to visit Iowa farm country. Back at home, cities– not the countryside– will likely dominate Xi’s domestic agenda.
In a momentous shift, more people in China now live in cities and towns than in rural areas. Forty years ago, eight in ten people in the world’s most populous country were peasant farmers, living off the land. Today, 51 percent of its 1.35 billion people live in sprawling cities, with high-rise skylines.
China surpassed this milestone in a fraction of the time it took Western Europe to shift from rural to urban societies. Nor is it alone. A similar exodus is taking place across Africa and Asia, prompting the United Nations Population Fund to estimate that almost 5 billion people worldwide will live in cities and towns by 2030, up from around 3.5 billion in 2010. This transformative shift in human society offers both big challenges and great promise for sustainable development.