‘East Asia urbanisation an economic game-changer’
February 01 2015 08:33 PM

By Arno Maierbrugger/Gulf Times Correpondent/Bangkok

Rapid urbanisation in East Asia is transforming the region and will lead to drastic socio-economic changes in the near future, the World Bank said in a new report entitled “East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape” issued on January 26. The study found that the population in urban conglomerates grew an annual average of three% in the period between 2000 and 2010, which accounts for around 200mn people who settled down in cities in this period. Of the world’s top-15 megacities – defined as metropolitan areas exceeding tenmn people –, seven are now in East Asia, namely Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Osaka and Manila. This is the highest number of megacities on one continent.
Furthermore, with China experiencing an urbanisation growth rate of 3.1% and about 80% of the entire regional growth, the Pearl River Delta in southern China, encompassing cities such as Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Dongguan, Foshan and others grew to an urban agglomeration of around 42mn people – more than the population of Australia, Canada, Malaysia or Saudi Arabia. The Pearl River Delta also overtook Greater Tokyo as the largest urban area in the world in terms of size and population.
In the same period, urban land expansion in East Asia was only 2.4%, which led to an increasing population density in urban areas, the report found, combining country statistics, satellite imagery and geospatial mapping to visualise this transformation. Urban population density rose from 5,400 to 5,800 people per square kilometre as of 2010, led by Hong Kong’s 32,000 people per square kilometre and followed by Seoul, Manila and Jakarta. Overall, East Asia’s population density grew to more than 1.5 times the average of the world’s urban areas and more than 50 times the average density in the US.
And the movement of people into cities will continue, the World Bank said. Despite strong migration in the past, only 36% of people in East Asia are urbanites yet, and just one% of the total area is urbanised, indicating the entire process is just at its beginning. In comparison, the level of urbanisation in North America currently stands at 81%, in Europa at 72% and worldwide at 53%.“Urbanisation is a key process in ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. In the coming decades, urban areas will be where millions of East Asians will have the chance to leave extreme poverty behind and to prosper,” the study said.
Consequently, transformation in the region is fastest in the poorest countries. The urban population in Laos and Cambodia grew 7.3% and 4.3%, respectively, and in Vietnam 2.8% in the period. It was slowest in wealthier countries such as Japan and South Korea where urbanisation is already well advanced.
The study also noted that urban population growth will become a huge challenge for city planners and municipalities in providing adequate public services, infrastructure, employment and housing.
“It took Europe more than 50 years to urbanise the equivalent number of people that have moved to urban areas in East Asia in just the past 10 years,” the study mentions, hinting at huge investment necessities by noting that “much of the urban infrastructure needed in East Asian cities is being built today, or will be built in the next 20 to 30 years.”

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