A study recently published by Uri Dadush of the Carnegie Endowment proposed a new definition for ‘middle class’: those who own a car. Dadush contends that the number of passenger cars in circulation can be considered a direct measure of the middle class in developing countries.
An article on TreeHugger says that if this theory is correct, then there are many countries that have a long way to go in terms of economic development: in Brazil, there are fewer than 200 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people. China has a mere 34. India has 12. By comparison, the US has 900.
But the developing world is quickly catching up, with transportation investment almost entirely in favour of roads. A study for the 2012 State of the World Report found that the number of cars in the world is expected to grow by as much as 375% by 2050. And those cars will largely be added to cities already choked with traffic—Sao Paulo, Moscow, Shanghai, Mumbai. In China alone, the number of private cars has more than doubled between 2005 and 2008.
If other developing nations follow China’s lead (as it appears likely) much of the world will soon look like a giant parking lot. Hopefully urban planners and governments can see this coming and adopt plans to make these cities more liveable.