The urban century has well and truly arrived. More than half of all humanity lives in cities compared to less than three per cent of the world’s population two centuries ago. At least two in every three people on earth will live in urban metropolitan centers by 2030. By 2050 the ratio will rise to three in four. Due to unprecedented urbanization around the world, future population growth will be overwhelmingly concentrated in lower- and middle-income settings. And this is giving rise to sprawling cities – and slums – some of whom are emerging as geopolitical actors in their own right. Transformations in urban geography are thus precipitating changes in global governance.
Megacities, dense urban clusters of ten million residents or more, are set to be among the major drivers of global change. In the 1970s, there were just three megacities. Since then, their spread and rate of expansion has been breathtaking. Today, one in five people live in 27 megacities around the world. The leaders of these and other cities recognize how power and influence is diffusing locally. More than two thirds of the global economy is today represented by some 600 cities, often referred to as the C600. Megacities, along with second-tier cities, are displaying more economic dynamism and connectivity than ever. Yet just as the rise of cities generates opportunities, they also have the potential to yield perilous instability.
There are both opportunities and dilemmas confronting megacities as they assume a more prominent place in international agenda setting. On the one hand, they promise to shift the balance of power eastward, to Asia. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s megacities are located outside the western hemisphere. Seven of the top ten are in Asia, led by Tokyo, and followed by Jakarta, Seoul, Delhi, Shanghai and Manila. And given demographic trends underway – with the Americas having already gone through its demographic transition – these trends are likely to accelerate.
Yet there is also a darker side to ‘turbo urbanization’, with some fearing the rise of urban dystopias. The breakneck pace of city growth in places like Karachi, Kinchasa, and Lagos is concentrating minds, including those of security experts. Karachi, for example, grew more than 80 per cent from 2000 to 2010 – and is now home to an astonishing 21 million people. These and other so-called fragile cities are likely to be the locus of complex forms of political, social and economic conflict. They are already proving to be the arena of new forms of stabilization, pacification and social control. Diplomatic and defense strategists predict that urban centers will soon be the principle site of warfare, and the humanitarian sector is increasingly attuned to these risks.
Capturing the city’s promise
Although the sheer dimensions of megacities are novel, it is worth recalling that cities have long played a pivotal role in shaping international affairs. Even before the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, city-states from Athens and Tenochtitlan to Venice and Chengdu were the dominant and most successful forms of political and social organization. They comparatively recently gave way to nation states and newly created foreign ministries by the early nineteenth century. And after a two century hiatus, cities are making a come-back. Not surprisingly, city diplomacy – with mayors, councilors, municipal planners, and police chiefs as the chief emissaries – is re-emerging as a force in international relations. Although some federal civil servants resent the pivot back to cities, a kind of competitive cooperation is taking hold. Cities and their leaders are demanding more devolution of power while simultaneously asserting themselves on the global stage.
There are many ways in which cities – including megacities – are promoting international security priorities independently of national institutions. Since at least the 1950s, “twinning” projects deliberately promoted solidarity and exchange between urban centers, including North American and European cities that were demolished during the Second World War. Likewise, initiatives such as Mayors for Peace and Cities for Peace in the 1980s and the Municipal Alliance for Peace in the Middle East since the early 2000s assembled hundreds if not thousands of cities to demand the prevention of nuclear and conventional war. More recently, alliances such as the Global Safer City Network and the European Forum for Urban Safety are nurturing international partnerships between dozens of cities –including megacities – and exporting new models of public security.
Cities have long played a critical role in stimulating economic progress and international development at home and abroad. In addition to twinning schemes to hasten post-conflict recovery and reconstruction in post-war cities, new forms of city-led bilateral and multilateral exchange are emerging. There are many examples of aid agreements between US cities and African counterparts, Australian cities with others in the South Pacific, and Canadian cities among partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. The modalities of inter-city assistance vary and the amounts exchanged are comparatively small. However, channels such as the Millennium Towns and Cities Campaign and the New Cities Foundation involve hundreds of cities intent on addressing challenges stemming from underdevelopment. In a bid to promote a more predictable approach to overseas assistance, the United Cities and Local Governments network launched a committee on development cooperation and city diplomacy in 2010. What is more, the issue of how cities can contribute is finding its way into discussions of the post-2015 development agenda. A High Level Panel recently noted how “cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost.”
Not surprisingly, a new vanguard of city diplomats is emerging. And while the legal implications of their efforts are being debated by national politicians and civil servants, these “glocalists” are getting involved in front-line activities – negotiating agreements, gathering information, preventing conflicts and transferring resources. Increasingly, leaders in megacities are translating and codifying global norms agreed in the United Nations or other forums into their municipal legal systems. For example, since 2005, the C40 initiative has gathered 60 cities and their mayors to promote clean-energy, waste management and sustainable transport and is currently one of the most visible (and effective) exponents of the climate change debate. Meanwhile, in 2007 the world’s largest city created the Tokyo Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which has generated real reductions in energy consumption.
Megacities are going to influence norms, processes and revolutionize governance at a scale hitherto unimagined
Megacities are going to influence norms, processes and revolutionize governance at a scale hitherto unimagined. There are several factors that explain why megacities are poised to profoundly shake-up international affairs. For one, they are better resourced than ever before. Megacities like Bangkok, New York, Shanghai, and Tokyo have larger GDPs and public budgets than most countries. And due to the ways in which globalization has reconfigured networks of production and hastened decentralization cities are also exerting growing autonomy from states. As a result, many megacities are more able to exert control over taxation and revenue collection streams. Likewise, the geography of megacities, their emigrant populations and the structure of their economies all shape the extent to which they are outward looking or not. As Edward Glaeser notes, successful cities are marked by “small firms, smart people, and connections to the outside world”.
While the 600 largest cities stand-out for their contribution to global growth, some will be more effective than others. These include what some commentators describe as “global hubs”, “megacities” and “gateway cities”. As Parag Khanna explains, global hubs are the primary nodes of the global economy – places like Hong Kong, London, New York and Tokyo – and centers of finance and commerce. Megacities are comprised mostly of lower- and middle-income centers, with cities like Cairo, Istanbul, Mumbai and Sao Paulo most prominent among them. Meanwhile, gateway cities are the new frontier markets and include Cape Town, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Almaty among their ranks. A challenge will be finding ways to bring cities together and consolidate transnational networks. But not all cities command the same level of resources or capabilities. Indeed, there are risks that some cities are falling rapidly behind.
Avoiding the city’s peril
In spite of the many virtues afforded by cities, there are also looming challenges confronting the world’s fastest growing urban centers. And it is these cities – struggling as they are to manage their domestic affairs or productively integrate into global systems – that will be the focus of major engagement in the years to come. These fragile cities echo many of the same anxieties associated with fragile and failed states. They exhibit fissures in the social contract linking urban elites and city residents. They are often unable to secure a monopoly over legitimate violence or deliver basic services. These cities are frequently confronted with new forms of instability and alternate governance structures. As a result, they are raising alarm bells in security and development circles owing to fears of the contagion that might arise from their collapse. Some military analysts fear that mega-slums are the future sites of (national) insecurity and future conflict while others contend that so-called feral cities are already “natural havens for a variety of hostile non-state actors” and may pose “security threats on a scale hitherto not encountered.”
City fragility is both a catalyst and a consequence of transformations in broader national and municipal governance and spatial organization. In many of the world’s fastest-growing cities in Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, favelas, slums and shantytowns have assumed the character of forbidden no-go zones – or zones of exception – well beyond the control of public security forces. Within them are a cocktail of factors that exacerbate urban violence and contribute to vicious cycles that disrupt upward and outward mobility of their most vulnerable residents. Of course, in many cities, slums are often less dangerous than often assumed. But even when evidence to the contrary is mobilized, many upper- and middle-class residents may still build (higher) walls and elaborate (and more sophisticated) security systems to shield themselves, giving rise to a Manichean landscape of “safe” gated communities and “violent” peripheries.
In some megacities the explosion of violence and fear is literally reshaping the built environment. It is giving rise to what Tunde Agbola calls the “architecture of fear” and Dennis Rodgers and Bruce O’Neill describe as “infrastructural violence”. The consequence is a progressive fragmentation of public space, a breakdown of social cohesion through the generation of new forms of spatial segregation and social discrimination, and potentially more violence and insecurity. It is worth stressing how fragile cities can be understood as intimately connected to the structural dynamics of urban agglomeration, as well as to the competing interests of — and power relations between — social groups. Yet, city disorder need not imply that urban spaces are unable to cope with such challenges and ultimately transform for the better. To the contrary, it is the very resilience of cities that is too often overlooked, and a source of resistance and agency from which important and positive lessons can be drawn.
A path to the future
The promise and peril facing megacities is increasingly recognized. Yet it remains to be seen how they will reconcile these dilemmas in the twenty-first century. There is no doubt that some megacities will prosper, shaping and making international norms in innovative new ways. Others will struggle, and become the focus of diplomatic envoys, military establishments and aid agencies. Megacities are already exerting their potential to shape the direction of the global agenda. As Benjamin Barber observes, cities not only have the potential to govern globally – in terms of “soft governance” – in some cases they already are. And given the genuinely transnational nature of twenty first century threats – from climate change, economic volatility, health pandemics and terrorism – their leadership will be more necessary than ever.
Although embedded in a state-centric multilateral system, cities are demonstrating a surprising capacity to influence the direction of security and development policy and action. The proliferation of myriad city networks and forums suggests that they too recognize strength in numbers. Yet they still lack a genuine voice in the United Nations, a lacuna that groups like the UCLG and other agencies are attempting to address. Some experts are proposing that a parliament of mayors could generate more effective collective action from the bottom-up. And while aspiring for global voice, the real strength of cities – including the largest ones – is that they simultaneously operate at the local level. It is in their vast neighborhoods and grassroots movements, and not necessarily the halls of the international assemblies, that the metropolitan revolution has already begun.
This essay first appeared on the International Relations and Security Network.
What led to the rise of megacities? ›
A combination of factors has led to this growth including migration from rural areas, high fertility rates, and widening of the city's boundaries.What is an example of megacity AP Human Geography? ›
Tokyo, Japan is a Megacity and is the most populated city in the world, boasting a population of 38 million. New York, USA is a Megacity and was one of the first two Megacities in the world. The current population of New York is 23 million.What was the first megacity? ›
The metropolitan areas of New York City and Tokyo, Japan, became the world's first megacities in the 1950s; by 2018, there were 37 megacities across the globe.Why have we seen the emergence of the megacity? ›
This is due to its interconnectivity with many political, economic and social changes: the growth of China and India, increasing wealth inequality, demographic change and the centrality of digital technology. There are currently 33 megacities in the world – conurbations with more than 10 million inhabitants.What are megacities known for? ›
Megacities. They are the largest cities in the world, have several million people and an amazing cultural mixture within their broad levels of population. Governments and politics aren't comparable with those of a small town somewhere in the meadowy countryside.Why are megacities important? ›
Thus, anticipating such cities holds the opportunity for numerous businesses to expand. Gaining insight into these vast and diverse urban landscapes also allows governments and policy makers to tackle prevailing social and economic issues, such as inequality. That being said, no two megacities are the same.What are 3 megacities in the world? ›
High population densities often result in higher crime rates, as visibly seen in growing megacities such as Karachi, Delhi, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, and Lagos.Which city is mega city? ›
Bengaluru. Bengaluru is the capital of the south Indian state of Karnataka.What is the fastest growing megacity? ›
What is the fastest-growing megacity?
|GHSL population as of 2014||46,038,400|
|Population density (per sq. km/0.4 sq. m.)||5,620|
- Tokyo, Japan - A beautiful melange of old and new. ...
- Shanghai, China - The towering Chinese metropolis. ...
- Jakarta, Indonesia - A melting pot of differences. ...
- New Delhi, NCR - The city of cities. ...
- New York City, Usa - The City that Never Sleeps. ...
- London, England - London: The heritage of England.
How many megacities are in the world? ›
Today the world has 28 megacities, according to the United Nations, and that figure is projected to increase. Explore 10 of today's largest cities with this ESRI story map.What are the effects of the growth of megacities? ›
The rapid growth of megacity populations result in significant challenges in accomodating people. homelessles, squatting and slum areas are all common place. Slums often form in the least desirable places. Megacities are well know for containing slums, areas of makeshift or substandard housing.How do megacities impact the world? ›
Megacities do have a huge impact upon the environment in many ways. They have a huge ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT (the size of area that is required to sustain the megacity population) – drawing in resources and distributing waste well beyond their boundaries.What are the positive impacts of megacity growth? ›
Megacities have the potential to reduce poverty and improve living conditions for a large proportion of the population – if they are managed properly and make the most of their advantages.What are the pros and cons of megacities? ›
- Pro: You may not need a car. Owning a vehicle is expensive – averaging $9,282 annually – according to AAA. ...
- Con: Higher auto insurance premiums. ...
- Pro: More job opportunities. ...
- Con: Higher cost of living. ...
- Pro: Bountiful dining options. ...
- Con: Higher crime rates. ...
- Pro: Better airports.
In essence, while megacities generate mega economy, they hurtle down the hill on almost all benchmarks of livability. Evidently, such cities, which are inequitable, unaffordable, un-environmental and unhealthy, cannot be sustainable.Are megacities good for the environment? ›
Transportation, industrial activities, and energy demand have increased in megacities due to population growth and unsustainable urban development, leading to increasing levels of air pollution that subject the residents to the health risks associated with harmful pollutants, and impose heavy economic and social costs.What are megacities explained? ›
Megacities are cities with a population of over 10 million. Characteristics of megacities include population, large surface areas, and extensive transport systems. A good example of a megacity is Tokyo in Japan, which has a metropolis population of around 32 million.What is a major problem in megacities? ›
The high population levels in megacities and mega-urban spaces are leading to a host of problems, such as guaranteeing all residents a supply of essential foods, drinking water, and electricity. Related to this are concerns about sanitation and disposal of sewage and waste.What is the future growth of megacities? ›
By 2025- 2030, it is estimated that around 630 million people will live in close to 40 megacities around the world. Megacities are an invention of the West and have become a reality in the East. Japan's capital Tokyo will still be the largest of them all, followed by Delhi and Shanghai.
What is the fastest growing city in USA? ›
If we counted population growth alone, New Braunfels easily wins with an explosive 8.3% increase between 2020 and 2021. However, the city's metropolitan GDP growth was the lowest of our top 10 cities, with a 10% decrease in 2020. New Braunfels experienced the largest population growth in our study at 8.3%.What is the newest megacity? ›
The World's Next Megacities.
|Country||GDP per capita (2020, current US$)|
By 2050, 14 more cities are set to join their ranks, with a total increased population of some 213 million people. The new order will then become Delhi (49.6 million), Dhaka (34.6 million), Tokyo (32.6 million), Cairo (32.6 million) and Mumbai (32.4 million).What is the largest mega city? ›
Tokyo (Japan) is currently the largest 'megacity' in the world with 37.4 million inhabitants. In 2100 it will be Lagos (Nigeria) with 88 million.What challenges do megacities face? ›
Four challenges to developing countries' megacities are addressed: labor markets, housing, water and sanitation, and transportation, along with a synthesis of general thinking on how to meet megacity challenges and be competitive in the twenty-first century.What are two megacities? ›
The megacities. True giants with populations of over 10 million people. Tokyo will, of course, be on your list. So too Delhi, Shanghai, Mexico City, New York, Cairo.What is the mega-city of USA? ›
New York is the most populated city in the United States. Three cities in California made the top 10 populated cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. Texas made the list with three cities: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Chicago, Phoenix, and Philadelphia also ranked among the 10 most populated U.S. cities.Is NYC a megacity? ›
With over 20.1 million people in its metropolitan statistical area and 23.5 million in its combined statistical area as of 2020, New York is one of the world's most populous megacities, and over 58 million people live within 250 mi (400 km) of the city.What is the smallest mega-city? ›
Paris, in France, is one of the smallest megacities in the world, but remains a megalopolis. Paris has 12 million inhabitants. Tokyo, Japan is a megacity and, with 38 million inhabitants, the most populous city in the world.What are the five largest megacities in the world? ›
- 1- Tokyo, Japan.
- 2- Delhi, India.
- 3- Shanghai, China.
- 4- Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- 5- Sao Paulo, Brazil.
- 6- Mexico City, Mexico.
- 8- Beijing, China.
- 9- Mumbai, India.
Do most people live in megacities? ›
Correct answer. Less than 8% of the world's population live in megacities.Which country has the fastest growing megacities? ›
Full Speed Ahead.
|Annual Growth (2020-2025p)||6.36%|
Six new megacities – Luanda, Dar es Salaam, Baghdad, Chennai, Bogota and Chicago – are expected to emerge by 2030, bringing the global total to 39.What attracts people to cities? ›
For a city or town to be attractive to people it needs the basics – safe neighborhoods, good roads bridges, access to major highways and public transportation. But people are also looking for “quality of life” factors such as public open space, good restaurants, culture and libraries.What is the difference between city and megacity? ›
In India, the Census Commission defines the qualification for metropolitan city as, the cities having a population of more than 10 lakhs or one million and above and a Megacity as the cities having a population of more than 10 million and above.What do you think are the main advantages of living in a big city? ›
- Meeting New People. ...
- Activities. ...
- Public Transportation. ...
- Big Events. ...
- Shared Experience. ...
- Free Activities. ...
- Higher Salaries. ...
- More Job Opportunities.
Some essential characteristics of a megacity include a dense population center, a large surface footprint, and an extensive transportation system.What are 3 characteristics of these megacities? ›
Some essential characteristics of a megacity include a dense population center, a large surface footprint, and an extensive transportation system.What are two positive side effects of urban growth? ›
- Creation of employment opportunities.
- Technological and infrastructural advancements.
- Improved transportation and communication.
- Quality educational and medical facilities.
- Improved standards of living.
- More people leads to greater human capital. ...
- Higher economic growth. ...
- Economies of scale. ...
- The efficiency of higher population density. ...
- The improved demographic structure of society. ...
- Critical mass.
What factors cause some cities to grow into megacities? ›
- more jobs.
- higher wages.
- better living conditions.
- better education and health services.
- better facilities.
- less chance of natural disasters.
Urbanization Begins in the United States
“Cities grew because industrial factories required large workforces and workers and their families needed places to live near their jobs. Factories and cities attracted millions of immigrants looking for work and a better life in the United States.”
Industrialization ushered in a shift from farming to agribusiness. People began moving into urban centers as mechanization and production increased. Urbanization continues as areas go through cycles of economic and social reform.Is main cause for rapid growth of mega cities? ›
The main causes of rapid growth of population in big cities is due to the inflow of employment.What are the 4 main challenges of megacities? ›
Four challenges to developing countries' megacities are addressed: labor markets, housing, water and sanitation, and transportation, along with a synthesis of general thinking on how to meet megacity challenges and be competitive in the twenty-first century.What are some challenges facing megacities? ›
However, it is important to be aware of other challenges facing megacities today, including water supply and sanitation, housing and shelter, traffic infrastructure, atmospheric pollution and environmental degradation.
The positive effects of urbanization are the higher standards of living associated with better food, education, housing, and health care. In contrast, Negative effects of urbanization include poor nutrition, pollution-related health conditions, communicable diseases, poor sanitation, etc.How did the first cities rise? ›
The first cities appeared during the Neolithic Period when the development of agricultural techniques assured surplus crop yields large enough to sustain a permanent population. These cities emerged in sites of early civilization, such as the Nile valley, the Indus valley, and the Wei River valley.What are three reasons for the increase in urbanization? ›
Causes of Urbanization
Economic, political, and social issues merge with circumstances of modernization to make people want to migrate from rural to urban areas.
Positive Effects of Urbanization:
Creation of employment opportunities. Technological and infrastructural advancements. Improved transportation and communication. Quality educational and medical facilities.
What are the benefits of urbanization? ›
When properly planned and managed, urbanization can reduce poverty and inequality by improving employment opportunities and quality of life, including through better education and health.What are megacities summary? ›
Megacities have been defined by the United Nations as cities with more than ten million inhabitants. The broader definition of a city is more difficult to establish as such an area is sometimes referred to as “city proper", "urban agglomeration", or "metropolitan area".