The endless city

First there were metropolises. Then came mega-cities. Now a new concept has arrived for urbanists understanding humankind.

According to UN-Habitat, urbanisation is not just unstoppable but mega-cities are merging to form mega-regions.

The idea envisages blurred city boundaries, common natural resources, interlocking transport and economic links leading to urban areas stretching for hundreds of kilometres and home to more than 100 million people.

The largest mega-region identified by UN-Habitat is Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou with 120 million. Brazil, India and Japan are also showing signs of emerging mega-regions.

They drive wealth, growth, as well as technological and scientific innovation. The five largest cities in Indeed the top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth. But they also lead to urban sprawl, slums, inequality and unrest.

As its executive director Anna Tibaijuka argues, half of humanity now lives in cities and this is set to rise to 60 per cent within the next two decades. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of five million residents each month.

By 2050, the urban population of the developing world will be 5.3 billion. Asia alone will host 63 per cent o the world’s population or 3.3 billion people. Africa, with an urban population of 1.2 billion, will host nearly a quarter.

In the developed world, the situation is expected to remain largely unchanged, rising only slightly from 900 million in 2005 to 1.1 billion in 2050.

UN-Habitat wants to see urban planning going beyond a technical exercise. City regions or "city of cities" offer the best governance structure. Pro-poor social programmes, inclusive urban development and investment in public services are three major elements, it argues.

Visionary mayors and strong political leaders have transformed cities by enhancing their economic vitality and environmental sustainability while slashing poverty levels and slums. In other words the three pillars of planning.

huw.morris@haymarket.com


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