East Asia’s rapid urban growth

Read in East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape (2016) of the World Bank:


Should be front page news: with its 42 million inhabitants, Pearl River Delta is the largest city in the world, larger even than Tokyo. Urbanisation in East Asia in general is growing very fast. According to the World Bank the total urban population of the region increased from 579 million in 2000 to 778 million in 2010, an average annual growth rate of 3.0 percent. Much of this growth was driven by China, which has the largest urban population in the region (and the world), 477 million urban inhabitants in 2010, more than the urban population of the rest of the region combined. And more urbanisation is expected to come. The good news is: density in these Asian megacities is high, and it is increasing in general. Urban areas in East Asian cities are now 1,5 as dense as the average for the world’s urban areas, twice as dense as European cities, and even 50 times denser than (sub)urban areas in the USA. So these cities are far more sustainable than European and American cities.  “The pace, scale, and form of East Asia’s urbanization will have long-lasting effects on the region’s social, economic, and environmental future. As urbanization rapidly transforms the face of East Asia and the lives of its citizens, urban policy makers and planners have an important role to play in ensuring that urban expansion, and the economic growth it brings, is efficient, sustainable, and inclusive.” Sure.

The World Bank thinks metropolitan governance is key. Of course, the bank is right. But the chapter on governance in the report is rather one sided. The bank thinks consolidation is needed, with special bodies to provide specific services in these metropolitan areas. “Overcoming issues related to metropolitan fragmentation requires considering tradeoffs between localized and centralized administrative authority. Cities must adopt flexible approaches that adapt to urban growth and evolve to meet the changing needs of citizens.” Sounds great, but when it comes to giving examples the bank tends to prefer centralized authority, more than adaptation and flexibility. No examples of  bottom-up approaches, new forms of collaboration, open and inclusive planning, localized authority, building a civil society. Instead, annexation, and dissolving lower tiers of government is what the bank is promoting. We know these arrangements are no real help. We can do far better. This, I told my students last week. They were excited.






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