Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:21 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:21 | SYDNEY

Our urban future


Mark Thirlwell

1 April 2010 10:39

Sydney and Melbourne could grow to around 7 million people by 2050; Brisbane is projected to grow to around 4 million people and Perth to nearly 3.5 million by 2050.

Those were some of the statistics offered by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry in his speech at a conference on the economics of infrastructure in a globalised world (co-hosted by the Lowy Institute).

Forecasts that population growth will be concentrated in urban areas apply to the world as a whole. According to the latest UN World Urbanisation Prospects, last year marked the first time in human history that the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) exceeded those living in rural areas (3.41 billion). 

The UN reckons that, between 2009 and 2050, the world's population will grow by 2.3 billion to reach 9.1 billion. Over the same period, it judges that the urban population will rise by 2.9 billion to reach 6.3 billion people: that is, the increase in urbanisation will not only absorb the entire increase in overall population but will absorb more rural inhabitants as well. 

One side-effect of this trend will be an increase in the number of mega-cities (with a population of 10 million people or more) and meta-cities (more than 20 million). The UN identifies 21 such cities in 2010, including one city with more than 30 million people (Tokyo; pictured) and three with more than 20 million (Delhi, Sao Paulo and Mumbai). 

By 2025 the number of megacities is projected to have increased to 29, and while Tokyo remains the only city projected to have a population of more than 30 million (although Delhi is expected to get fairly close), eight cities are projected to have more than 20 million inhabitants, with the original three joined by Dhaka, Ciudad de Mexico, New York-Newark, Kolkata and Shanghai.

While mega- and meta-cities will be one striking feature of our future urban landscape, so-called mega-regions are absorbing even more people. According to a new UN report on the state of the world's cities released earlier this month, mega-regions are being created by the spread of geographically linked metropolitan areas and other urban areas. 

Examples include China's Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guangzhou mega-region, which is home to 120 million people; Japan's Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe mega-region, forecast to hold 60 million people by 2015; and Brazil's Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro mega-region, currently home to 43 million people. 

The report estimates that although the world's 40 largest mega-regions are home to less than 18% of the global population, they now account for 66% of global economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation.

Photo by Flickr user CyranoB, used under a Creative Commons license.