UN-Habitat released its biannual “State of the World’s Cities” report in March, a 250+ page document that covers all manner of subjects about our increasingly urbanized world. More than half of all people now live in cities, and this figure will reach 60% in less than twenty years, and 70% by 2050.
A very interesting trend, covered in an article within the Guardian, describes the emergence of what are referred to as “mega-regions”. The author explains that these “may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people”. Examples include Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou, where approximately 120 million persons live, as well as Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe and Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo.
The interpretation of whether this trend is positive or negative varies. On one hand these zones represent tremendous economic force. The UN-Habitat report’s co-author, Eduardo Lopez-Moreno, states that “the top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world’s wealth”. In addition, cities often provide better health and education opportunities than exist poorer rural areas.
On the other hand, these regions represent sprawl on a major scale. Once highways and suburban subdivisions cover formally natural areas, is there any turning back?
What implications does this have for how we think about migrants? Much urbanization results from flows of people moving from rural areas to cities. When it comes to research on displaced persons and refugees, there is now increasing focus on those that live in urban areas. This means that the common image of refugees residing in camps in the desert might be replaced by the conception of those living in slums on the outskirts of cities.