There are already 12 megacities with more than 10 million citizens – Tokyo, Mumbai, Dhaka, Delhi, Kolkata, Jakarta, Shanghai, Karachi, Osaka, Beijing, Manila and Chengdu. More will spring up with their population growth outstripping infrastructure growth.
About 70% or 800 million of the world’s poor live in Asia, and a third of those live in urban areas. Many live in the growing number of informal settlements along railway tracks, steep slopes or river banks as ‘slumdog zeroaires’. In just six years, the slum population is projected to reach 692 million from today’s 500 million, as workers, both blue and white collar, who cannot meet the educational demands of the new economy, are forced to sell their homes and accept lower-paying jobs.
Meanwhile, mega-rich Asians will grow even richer. Forbes’ World’s Billionaires includes 15 Asians in the top 100, such as India’s Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal (ranked seventh and eighth). The increasingly sophisticated demands of the professional class will be met by private housing projects, with private Asian businesses leading new development.
Asian businesses in cities in India, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Singapore will lead growth in knowledge-transfer and R&D activities, spreading productivity-enhancing technology. More venture and bank-raised capital will lower finance costs.
Sustainable Asian urban development is still achievable, but it will take sound planning. If those cities have a sense of belonging, fun and heritage, then you can be sure that Asian city planners will re-sell them as a hotbed of a new, dynamic East-West culture.
Lawrence Yeo is CEO of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asia market research and investment/trade promotion services.