The past century has been defined by an epic migration of people from rural areas to the city. In 2008, for the first time in history, more of the Earth’s population was living in cities than in the countryside. The U.N. now predicts that nearly 70% of the global population will be city dwellers by 2050.

These time-lapse by Time magazine using Google Earth reveal the impact of a vast population shift into cities around the world, exposing how urban sprawl has transformed the landscape, affected resources, and even the climate around us. These changes are happening fast and will shape the world in the next 20 years.

I grew up in Nanjing, a city close to Shanghai, and I have experienced grand changes in front of my own eyes: more and more skyscrapers, the establishment of new city centers, the expansion of freeways and city roads taking over farmlands, villages, etc. Observing these changes using Google Earth is stunning and alarming – the speed and aggressiveness of our urban sprawl magnified – a salient reminder that human activities have both immediate and long-lasting consequences.

“These Timelapse pictures tell the pretty and not-so-pretty story of a finite planet and how its residents are treating it — razing even as we build, destroying even as we preserve. It takes a certain amount of courage to look at the videos, but once you start, it’s impossible to look away.”


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