A comparison of urbanisation trends between the East Asian 6+1 countries and the European Union Member States

The 21st century is the century of cities, which is pointed out in most academic papers dealing with urbanisation. Since 2007-2008 over half of the population has been living in towns and cities, i.e. urban areas, and according to the forecasts, some 2/3 of the population will be urban dwellers by 2050. This picture is considerably nuanced by the regional differences; European cities are developing in a completely different way than the cities of the 6+1 countries in East Asia under study (China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong), and this paper aims to offer an insight into these trends.

As the study World Urbanisation Prospects[i] published by UN has also reported, more people have been living in urban areas than in rural regions around the world since 2007-2008. In 2014 (when the latest version of the report was published) the proportion of urban dwellers rated 54%, while the forecasts suggest a proportion of 66% by 2050.

Traditionally, Europe is one of the highly urbanised areas; the proportion of urban dwellers rates 73% at present. At global level, the least urbanised continents include Africa[ii]  (40%) and Asia[iii] (48%), and in the future these two regions are expected to have the most significant increase (as the most considerable agglomerating process has taken place in these regions over the past decades). These regions develop traditionally. Therefore, the urbanisation is primarily based on economic factors; masses living in rural areas try to find a job in towns and cities in the hope of a better life. Having started in the second half of the 20th century, this agglomerating process sets each country considerable challenges.[iv]

According to the UN report, the number of urban population will have increased by 2.5 billion by 2050, and nearly 90% of the increment will have realised in Asia and Africa. The triad of India, China and Nigeria together will comprise more than 1/3 (37%) of the increment to be expected between 2014 and 2050. The number of urban dwellers is expected to rise by 404 million people in India, 292 million in China, and 212 million in Nigeria according to the forecasts.[v]

It is worth comparing the situation of the European and East Asian megacities (cities having more than 10 million inhabitants). In 2014, some 1/8 of city dwellers lived in 28 metropolises. Most of them can already be found on the so-called Global South today, contrary to the status experienced some decades ago[vi]. China alone has 6 metropolises (Shenzen, Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing) and 10 cities (cities having 5-10 million inhabitants) – some calculations suggest that the city cluster of the Pearl River Delta, having 42 million inhabitants, has already taken the first place from Tokyo among the largest metropolis regions of the world[vii] –, and by 2030 the country will have been expanded with another metropolis (Chengdu) and six cities. As for the five cities of India, four will become metropolises in the following years (Chennai, Bengaluru, Hydarabad, Amadabad). Thus, seven metropolises will be expected in the country by 2030 (the three present metropolises are Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta). Besides these two countries, Asia had 7 metropolises and 11 cities in 2014. On the contrary, the majority of the urban population lives in medium-sized and small towns in Europe, and in many cases these towns have to face even further population decline.[viii]

Henceforth, the analysis is confined to analysing the available data but does not deal with the relevant consequences, challenges and opportunities.

TRENDS IN THE TWO REGIONS
1. THE PROPORTION OF URBAN POPULATION

To study the trends, first let us have a look at a comprehensive picture on the current status based on the latest available data (demonstrating the statuses in 2015):

Figure 1. The proportion of urban population (%) in 2015. Data source: CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

Neither Europe nor the six Asian countries can be handled as one single unit based on the present level of urbanisation. (What is more, the picture would be nuanced even more if we studied the subnational level such as the provincial, county and regional levels; however, the (non-)availability of the data keeps our level of examination at the level of each country.)

In Europe some East and West duality can still be observed: the most urbanised region is the Benelux states, with an urbanisation state of more than 90% in each country. Besides, Malta also has a high proportion of urban dwellers totalling about 95%. They are followed by the Scandinavian countries (Finland, Sweden and Denmark), United Kingdom, Spain and France with proportions over or about 80%. The least urbanised European Union countries include Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Croatia with an urbanisation state below 60%. Our country holds the middle-rank in this respect: 71% of our population are urban dwellers.

Concerning the East Asian states under study – apart from the city-states – Japan and South Korea are the most urbanised, with urbanisation rates over 90% and 80%, respectively. In China the rate of urban dwellers has already exceeded 50%; however, it is still only 55% of the population who live in cities. Indonesia also has an urbanisation rate of about 50%, while India is still considerably lagging behind even within the region, with only one-third, 32.7% of its population living in cities.

2. population and urbanisation dynamics

Based on the changes in the proportion of urban dwellers and the processes of the past 25 years, the picture we can outline is entirely different from the previous one:

Figure 2: Changes in the urbanisation rate between 1990 and 2015 (percentage point). Data sources: CIA World Factbook, World Bank. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/, http://databank.worldbank.org/data/home.aspx

In East Asia China ranks first with respect to urbanisation; the proportion of urban dwellers had increased from 26% in 1990 to over 55% by 2015, which implies an increase of nearly 30 percentage points and practically forms an individual category. Thanks to the continuous and large-scale migration from the rural to the urban areas, the Chinese urbanisation will continue in the future, too; according to some estimations, China will have had some 1 billion urban dwellers by as early as 2030[ix]. Between 2000 and 2010 China was the place for 80% of the urban population growth in the entire East Asian region (excluding India).[x] In Indonesia and Japan the number of urban dwellers increased to a significant extent, too, which in Indonesia can be explained with a relatively low starting value (31%), but in Japan there is a rather urbane population (77%) that has become even more urbanised (93.5%). In India the increase of the urbanisation state has still remained relatively low over the past 25 years. This is somehow explained by the relatively high population growth (which is probably more considerable in the rural areas), and the increase of the city dwellers’ proportion still has not been able to cope with this. In India even data collection is rather difficult; in many cases the latest official publications still include the data of the census carried out in 2011; for instance, there are no more recent statements available at provincial level.

Apart from the Netherlands and Portugal, the increase figures of the urbanisation rate are one-digit in Europe, which is not surprising with full knowledge of the rather high starting figures (and because in this period the cities of numerous countries have undergone opposite-direction, reurbanisation processes). In plenty of countries, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states the trends have turned into negative, mainly due to the population decrease.

In the following diagrams we can compare the data series indicating the increase of the population and urban dwellers’ number.

Table 1: Changes in the number of population and urban dwellers between 1990 and 2015 in the EU 28 states. Data source: CIA World Factbook, World Bank. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/, http://databank.worldbank.org/data/home.aspx

Table 2: Changes in the number of population and urban dwellers between 1990 and 2015 in the 6+1 Asian countries. Data source: CIA World Factbook, World Bank. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/, http://databank.worldbank.org/data/home.aspx

The two large regions cannot be illustrated in one single graph because there is a difference between their orders of magnitude. In total, in the EU countries the number of urban dwellers is increasing more quickly than the number of population or any potential population decrease that can be observed in a country is of a larger volumes than the decline of the number of city dwellers (Hungary is a special case because although the number of population has fallen, the number of urban dwellers still has increased). In East Asia entirely different processes can be observed between China and India. Similarly to the European trend, in China the number of urban dwellers increases more quickly (though more extremely in terms of volume) than the population, nearly twofold. In India, on the contrary, the growth of the population number is more than twofold of the growth of the number of urban dwellers. As a result of the Chinese birth control, there is no baby boom in the country; therefore, the growth of the number of urban dwellers is primarily due to the migration from rural to urban areas, while in India the population is still growing dynamically, primarily in rural areas, and this tendency has not been exceeded by the migration from rural to urban areas up to present. For this analysis, we also have to consider the infrastructure differences between the cities of the two countries; in this respect, India lags behind to a considerable extent, with its cities being unable to absorb such a large population yet. In many cases immigrants get stuck in the slums on the outskirts of the cities.

Remarkably, the number of Chinese urban dwellers increased by nearly as many persons as the entire population of Europe between 1990 and 2015. This increment is more than tenfold as much as the increase of the number of European urban dwellers (this latter totals nearly 45 million, while the Chinese growth is nearly 470 million). The total population increase of China and India has far exceeded the total population number of Europe over the past 25 years, while the population increase of India itself corresponds to 85% of the total population number of the EU countries.

The change in the number of urban dwellers (the data series analysed above) can be illustrated on a map as follows:

Figure 3: Changes in the number of urban dwellers between 1990 and 2015 (persons). Data source: CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

The following diagram divides the trends and urbanisation rate of the past ten years (2005-2015) broken into two periods.

Table 3: Urbanisation rate between 2005-2010 and 2010-2015 in the EU28, and in the East Asian 6+1 countries. Data sources: CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

Considering the Asian countries, especially China, Indonesia and India, a pace and volume of urbanisation differing from the European one can be observed here, too. In each of the three countries the proportion of urban dwellers increased by over 2% during the period under study, while the average of the rates of the EU 28 states varies only about 0.4 in both five-year periods.

CHALLENGES AND RISKS

Considering the urbanisation of Asian countries, particularly China and India, plenty of studies highlight what challenges, risks and threats the inappropriately co-ordinated urban growth implies:

  • In many cases, urban environmental pollution (air pollution, water pollution, inappropriate public utility system, etc.) implies severe health risks[xi],[xii]
  • the sudden, uncoordinated growth can also result in a significant growth of area use and a disproportionate spread of urban areas, which should be avoided by all means[xiii]
  • the considerable urban growth accompanies the increase of the urban poverty and the proportion of people living in slums[xiv]
  • as cities have a significant economic potential and the majority of GDP is generated in cities, it is important that concentrated urban growth can take place in lieu of fractionated and divergent urbanisation, and thus the resource application of cities remains relatively lower[xv]
  • however, besides concentration, the special challenges of megacities should also be handled; in these cities the above listed issues are concentrated owing to the high density (e.g. air pollution, inadequate or ill-suited infrastructure, transport, housing, etc.).[xvi]
Bibliography
  • AfDB/OECD/UNDP: African Economic Outlook 2016: Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2016.
  • K. Dutt et al. (eds.): Challenges to Asian Urbanization in the 21st Century. 2004.
  • Czirják, Ráhel: Urbanizációs válság a fejlődő világban? In: PAGEO Geopolitical Research Institute, http://www.geopolitika.hu/hu/2016/04/27/urbanizacios-valsag-a-fejlodo-vilagban/
  • Jonathan Woetzel, Lenny Mendonca, Janamitra Devan, Stefano Negri, Yangmel Hu, Luke Jordan, Xiujun Li, Alexander Maasry, Geoff Tsen, Flora Yu, et al.: Preparing for China’s Urban Billion. McKinsey Global Institute Report, 2009.
  • Peng, Gong et al.: Urbanisation and health in China. In: The Lancet, Volume 379, No. 9818, pp. 843-852, 2012.
  • Singh, R. B. (ed.): Urban Development Challenges, Risks and Resilience in Asian Mega Cities. Springer Japan, 2015.
  • UN-ESCAP: Urbanization trends in Asia and the Pacific, November 2013.
  • World Banks Group, Australian Aid: East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape – Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth, 2015.
  • World Urbanisation Prospects: The 2014 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015.

[i] World Urbanisation Prospects: The 2014 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015.http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/FinalReport/WUP2014-Report.pdf

[ii] AfDB/OECD/UNDP: African Economic Outlook 2016: Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2016. pp. 146-147. www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/sites/default/files/2016-05/eBook_AEO2016.pdf  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/aeo-2016-en

[iii] Ashok. K. Dutt et al. (eds.): Challenges to Asian Urbanization in the 21st Century. 2004. pp. 1-4.

[iv] For more details see: Czirják, Ráhel: Urbanizációs válság a fejlődő világban? In: PAGEO Geopolitical Research Institute, http://www.geopolitika.hu/hu/2016/04/27/urbanizacios-valsag-a-fejlodo-vilagban/

[v] World Urbanisation Prospects: The 2014 Revision, United Nations, New York, 2015.http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/FinalReport/WUP2014-Report.pdf p. 14

[vi] Swerts, Elfie and Denis, Eric: Megacities: The Asian Era, pp. 1-28. In: Singh, R. B. (ed.): Urban Development Challenges, Risks and Resilience in Asian Mega Cities. Springer Japan, 2015.

[vii] World Banks Group, Australian Aid: East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape – Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth, 2015. p.13. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/21159/EAST%20ASIA%20URBAN%20OVERVIEW.pdf

[viii] World Urbanization Prospects. The 2014 Revision – Final Report: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2014-Report.pdf pp. 85-94.

[ix] Jonathan Woetzel, Lenny Mendonca, Janamitra Devan, Stefano Negri, Yangmel Hu, Luke Jordan, Xiujun Li, Alexander Maasry, Geoff Tsen, Flora Yu, et al.: Preparing for China’s Urban Billion. McKinsey Global Institute Report, 2009. http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/urbanization/preparing-for-chinas-urban-billion

[x] World Banks Group, Australian Aid: East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape – Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth, 2015. p.7. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/21159/EAST%20ASIA%20URBAN%20OVERVIEW.pdf

[xi] Ashok. K. Dutt et al. (eds.): Challenges to Asian Urbanization in the 21st Century. 2004.

[xii] Peng Gong et al.: Urbanisation and health in China. In: The Lancet, Volume 379, No. 9818, pp. 843-852, 2012. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61878-3

[xiii] World Banks Group, Australian Aid: East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape – Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth, 2015. p.6-12. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/21159/EAST%20ASIA%20URBAN%20OVERVIEW.pdf

[xiv] UN-ESCAP: Urbanization trends in Asia and the Pacific, November 2013, pp. 2-3. http://www.unescapsdd.org/files/documents/SPPS-Factsheet-urbanization-v5.pdf

[xv] Jonathan Woetzel, Lenny Mendonca, Janamitra Devan, Stefano Negri, Yangmel Hu, Luke Jordan, Xiujun Li, Alexander Maasry, Geoff Tsen, Flora Yu, et al.: Preparing for China’s Urban Billion. McKinsey Global Institute Report, 2009. http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/urbanization/preparing-for-chinas-urban-billion

[xvi] UN-ESCAP: Urbanization trends in Asia and the Pacific, November 2013, p. 1. http://www.unescapsdd.org/files/documents/SPPS-Factsheet-urbanization-v5.pdf

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