Urban Transformation

Here's what you need to know about the megacities of the future

People look at the Tribute in Light installation as it illuminates lower Manhattan as seen from the borough of Brooklyn, marking the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Iconic megacity buildings have transformed skylines in cities such as New York and Tokyo. Image: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Cities and Urbanization

The prospect of employment and a brighter future proved a powerful lure in industrializing societies, drawing people en masse from rural areas to emerging urban centres.

In the mid-20th century, as the first megacities sprang up and iconic buildings transformed skylines, cities such as New York and Tokyo became hubs of people, business and opportunity.

Today, the bright lights are continuing to draw people at a faster pace than ever. In 1900, just 15% of the world’s population were city dwellers. Today, more than half of humanity lives in urban areas, and by 2030 this figure is expected reach 60%.

A new white paper from Euromonitor, Megacities: Developing Country Domination, says there are now 33 megacities, each with populations of 10 million or more. They harbour a wealth of investment, education and employment opportunities, but also have to contend with issues such as overcrowding, traffic congestion, air pollution and income inequality.

 The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Image: Euromonitor

As the map above shows, there has been a shift in the growth of megacities to Asia, Latin America and Africa.

In 2017, developing nations boasted 26 megacities compared to seven in developed countries. The Asia-Pacific region contains the highest concentration with 19, including six in China and four in India, although the impact of aging populations is likely to slow future expansion of key east Asian powerhouses such as Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul.

Developed cities lag in population growth

 The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Image: Megacities

Currently, Tokyo is the world’s most populous city, but Jakarta is predicted to reach 35.6 million people by 2030 to become the biggest megacity of all.

African cities will experience the fastest population growth, with Dar es Salaam and Luanda set to be among the six new megacities predicted to emerge by 2030.

But while the populations of newer megacities are growing faster, the biggest cities in the developed world remain far more affluent, a trend that looks set to continue.

Financial capitals

According to Euromonitor, finance centers such as London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul continue to maintain an economic advantage over their developing world counterparts.

By 2030, disposable income per household in megacities in developed nations is forecast to remain five times higher, on average, than in emerging urban centres.

Average GDP per person will be four times greater in developed nation megacities, with 33% of households earning a disposable income exceeding $100,000, compared to just 3.3% in emerging megacities.

Developing cities playing catch up

Analysts expect larger populations and investment growth in megacities
Image: Euromonitor

However, as the chart shows, analysts expect larger populations and investment growth in megacities in the developing world to bring economic expansion and rising incomes. Dhaka, Manila and Bangalore are forecast to achieve dramatic growth in real output between 2017 and 2030, surpassing 150% in the case of Dhaka.

Megacities of the future

Six new megacities – Luanda, Dar es Salaam, Baghdad, Chennai, Bogota and Chicago – are expected to emerge by 2030, bringing the global total to 39.

Of the newcomers, Dar es Salaam and Chennai show by far the largest projected percentage growth in GDP.

But Chicago, the only emerging megacity in the developed world, will have the greatest economic influence. Its total GDP is set to be double that of the other five megacities combined.

Snapshot of six new megacities (2017-2030)

By 2030 Chicago will reach double the total GDP of the five other new megacities combined
Image: Euromonitor

Alongside the new opportunities megacities bring, there are also major challenges. Luanda is expected to undergo a 60% increase in its population between 2017 and 2030, placing further strain on housing, transport, public utilities and sanitation. The Lagos neighbourhood of Makoko, the world’s largest floating slum, has seen a huge influx of migrant workers who are living in squalid conditions.

As more cities turn into megacities and existing megacities continue to grow, some with the potential to become home to 50 million people, urban planners and policymakers are grappling with the questions of how to make growth at this scale sustainable, and how to tackle the escalating social, economic and environmental problems evident in many of the world’s megacities.

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