By: Our Correspondent


By 2030, New Delhi will be challenging Tokyo at 37 million residents to be the largest urban agglomeration in Asia and the world.  Shanghai won’t be far behind and Mumbai and Dhaka will be on a par with Beijing at 27 million.

The only cities on other continents to come anywhere near are Mexico City and Sao Paulo, both at 20 million while New York-Newark is only 16 million. Those are some of the conclusions of a just published report by two UN agencies, the Bangkok-based Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Habitat, the Nairobi-based outfit that studies Human Settlements.

The prospect of urbanization on such an enormous scale raises big questions over how to cope with it. Governments from Delhi to Jakarta to Manila – especially in the poorer agglomerations – are going to be faced with providing adequate infrastructure, liveable environments, slum clearance as the rural population flocks to the cities and provision of liveable housing. The outskirts of some of these cities now are a sea of slum dwellings for miles.

At the same time, there are reasons for optimism – a big one being the effect on population growth.  As countries urbanize, their total fertility rate, for a variety of reasons, starts to drop. In many of these highly urbanized countries including South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore, for instance, total fertility rates have fallen below replacement levels. Average household incomes are higher along with education levels and creation of economic opportunity, which is why the rural dwellers move to the cities in the first place.

In a sense there is nothing surprising at Asia’s continued rapid urbanization, given that even in countries such as China and Thailand, about half – 45 percent and 51 percent respectively — are still classified as non-urban. Yet the data make clear that even within one country different cities expand at greatly varying rates.

This is obvious in the case of very new cities such as Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s new capital, and relatively new Shenzhen and Dongguan in China across the border from Hong Kong. Shenzhen is now larger than London and Paris.

But it also applies to already very large cities, thus over the past 15 and 25 years Delhi has grown far faster than Mumbai and Kolkata rather slowly while in China since 2000, Beijing’s growth has outstripped Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangzhou. Many second-tier cities have grown fastest of all with Suzhou, Hangzhou and Xiamen in China and Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad in India also excelling.