|Cities of 100,000 and more inhabitants |
|TRIPOLI [Dual capital]||591,062||1,500,000||1,150,989|
|BENGHAZI [Dual capital]||446,250||800,000||650,629|
By 2010 urban population was 78% of total population. In the 1980s, Libya was still predominantly a rural country, even though a large percentage of its people were concentrated in the cities and nearby intensively cultivated agricultural zones of the coastal plains. Under the impact of heavy and sustained country-to-town migration, the urban sector continued to grow rapidly, averaging 8 percent annually in the early 1980s. Reliable assessments held the country to be about 40 percent urban as compared with a 1964 figure of 27 percent. Some sources, such as the World Bank, placed the rate of urbanization at more than 60 percent, but this figure was probably based on 1973 census data that reflected a radical change in the definition of urban population rather than an unprecedented surge of rural inhabitants into cities and towns.
In spite of sizable internal migration into urban centers, particularly Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya remained less urbanized than almost any other Arab country. The government was concerned about this continual drain from the countryside. Since the late 1970s, it had sponsored a number of farming schemes in the desert, designed in part to encourage rural families to remain on the land rather than to migrate to more densely populated areas.
In the early 1980s, the urban concentrations of Tripoli and Benghazi dominated the country. These two cities and the neighboring coastal regions contained more than 90 percent of Libya's population and nearly all of its urban centers, but they occupied less than 10 percent of the land area. Several factors accounted for their dominance, such as higher rates of fertility, declining death rates because of improved health and sanitation measures, and long-term internal migration.
As the capital of the country, Tripoli was the larger and more important of the two cities. Greater Tripoli was composed of six municipalities that stretched nearly 100 kilometers along the coast and about 50 inland. At the heart of this urban complex was the city of Tripoli, the 1984 population of which was 990,000 and which contained several distinct zones. The medina was the oldest quarter, many of its buildings dating to the Ottoman era. Here a traditionally structured Islamic society composed of artisans, religious scholars and leaders, shopkeepers, and merchants had survived into the mid- twentieth century. The manufacture of traditional handicrafts, such as carpets, leather goods, copper ware, and pottery, was centered in the medina.
The Italian city, constructed between 1911 and 1951 beyond the medina, was designed for commercial and administrative purposes. It featured wide avenues, piazzas, multistoried buildings, parks, and residential areas where Italian colonials once lived. The Libyan- built modern sector reflected the needs of government, the impact of large-scale internal migration, new industrialization, and oil income. Independence brought rapid rural-to-urban migration as a result of employment opportunities in construction, transportation, and municipal services, especially after the discovery of oil. This period also brought new government facilities, apartment buildings, and the first public housing projects as well as such industries as food-processing, textiles, and oil refining.
Metropolitan Tripoli sprawled in an arc around the harbor and medina. In addition to its political, commercial, and residential structures and functions, the city was a seat of learning and scholarship centered in religious seminaries, technical colleges, and a university. Planners hoped to channel future growth east and west along the coast and to promote expansion of surrounding towns in an effort to reduce urban density and to preserve contiguous agricultural zones. They also envisaged revitalization of the medina as they strove to preserve the city's architectural and cultural heritage in the midst of twentieth- century urbanization.