Getting urbanization right: New World Bank report on East Asia points the way

Wed, 2015-02-04 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

New data released by the World Bank for the first time compares urban areas and their populations in a consistent manner across burgeoning East Asia, where almost 200 million people moved to urban areas  from 2000-2010.

The data, says the World Bank, provides governments and local leaders with a better understanding of the shape and scale of the growth so they can get urbanization right, which it defines as creating opportunities for all.

"Rapid urbanization is a significant challenge for East Asia, but we cannot manage what we cannot measure," said Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Vice President. "We’re releasing this data so urban leaders can get a better picture and take action to ensure that urban growth benefits the increasing number of people moving to cities, especially the poor."

Though intended as an eye-opener for public officials in East Asia, with rapid urbanization occurring globally, there are likely insights in the report -- East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth – of use to urban planners and city leaders everywhere.

Density increases as do challenges
Researchers found that due to the population increases, urban areas are getting denser on average. If well managed, World Bank notes, that can be good for the environment and can lead to more efficient provision of services to people.

However, such growth can pose significant challenges too. Due to metropolitan fragmentation, there are almost 350 urban areas in East Asia spilling over local administrative boundaries. In some cases, multiple cities are merging into a single entity while they continue to be administered separately.

The report also reveals a direct link between urbanization and income growth, showing how economic output per capita increased throughout the region as the percentage of people living in urban areas went up.

And it showed how – despite there being 869 urban areas with more than 100,000 people in the East Asia region including eight megacities of more than 10 million people – most of the region's population still live in non-urban areas. That suggests rapid urbanization is likely to continue for decades, requiring proactive policies to provide land, housing and services for the new urban residents.

Providing leaders with new insights
Often hampered by the lack of internationally comparable data because countries use different definitions of populations and areas, the new data sets should help. They were created using satellite imagery and techniques for modeling population distribution. The approach, the World Bank says, can systematically establish where urbanization is occurring, how fast it is happening and how population growth relates to increases in urban land area.

"Once cities are built, their urban form and land-use patterns are locked in for generations," said Marisela Montoliu Munoz, Director of the World Bank Group Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. "Improving the quality of data to understand trends in urban expansion is important, so that policy makers can make better-informed decisions to support sustainable communities in a rapidly changing environment, with access to services, jobs and housing."

The World Bank Urban Advisory Unit is a member of the Council Advisory Board.

Read key findings from the report >>
Download the report >>

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