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World Bank report highlights massive urban growth in East Asia over last 10 years; just getting started

New data and an accompanying report from the World Bank shows that almost 200 million people moved to urban areas in East Asia from 2000-2010—a figure that would be the world’s sixth-largest population for any single country. The Pearl River Delta in China—which includes the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan—has overtaken Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area in both size and population, with more inhabitants than countries such as Argentina, Australia or Canada.

At the same time, most of East Asia’s population is still non-urban, meaning the region will likely face decades of further urbanization.

Urban extent in China’s Pearl River Delta, 2010 (gray) and urban extension by 2010 (red). Source: World Bank. Click to enlarge.

Rapid urbanization is a significant challenge for East Asia, but we cannot manage what we cannot measure. 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.

—Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Vice President

For the first time, the data compares urban areas and their populations in a consistent manner across East Asia, providing governments and local leaders with a better understanding of the shape and scale of the growth so they can get urbanization right – creating opportunities for all.

Analyzed in a new report titled “East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth,” the data indicates that overall, urban areas in East Asia expanded at an average of 2.4% per year during the decade studied, with urban land reaching 134,800 square kilometers in 2010.

Urban populations grew even faster at an annual average rate of 3.0%, increasing to 778 million in 2010—the largest of any region in the world. Other sources indicate that it took more than 50 years for the same number to become urbanized in Europe.

The report finds 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.

The report says that there are 869 urban areas with more than 100,000 people in the East Asia region. They include eight megacities of more than 10 million people: the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai and Beijing in China; Tokyo and Osaka in Japan; and Jakarta, Seoul and Manila.

At the same time, there was significant growth in smaller urban areas. In fact, the 572 smallest urban areas—with populations of 100,000 to 500,000—as well as the 106 medium-sized urban areas with populations of 1 million to 5 million, have more total land area than the eight megacities.

A notable feature of this expansion is that urban areas are also getting denser on average, which if well managed, could be good for the environment and could lead to more efficient provision of services to people. However, this growth poses a significant challenge due to metropolitan fragmentation, with almost 350 urban areas spilling over local administrative boundaries. In some cases, multiple cities are merging into a single entity while they continue to be administered separately.

As urbanization transforms the face of East Asia, governments and local leaders trying to understand and respond have been hampered by a lack of internationally comparable data because countries use differing definitions of urban areas and populations.

The world Bank created the new data to address this challenge by using satellite imagery and techniques for modeling population distribution, mapping all human settlements to achieve a common understanding of urbanization trends. This approach 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. 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.

—Marisela Montoliu Munoz, Director of the World Bank Group Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice

Despite such significant and rapid growth, the data reveals that less than 1% of the total area in East Asia is urbanized, and only 36%t of the total population is urban—suggesting that the region’s urban expansion has only just begun. The report suggests that while urbanization in the region is largely driven by market forces, policy makers at the national and municipal levels have an important role to play in ensuring that it is sustainable and inclusive:

  • Prepare for future spatial expansion by facilitating access to land so expansion can occur efficiently, using mechanisms such as guided land development, land pooling and readjustment, land sharing and transfer of development rights.

  • Ensure economically efficient urbanization by addressing the entire system of cities through national urbanization strategies, supporting public investments in a range of large, small and medium-sized cities to foster diverse economic activity.

  • Make urbanization inclusive by planning spatial growth to help reduce inequality in access to economic opportunities and address the vulnerabilities of recent migrants. Foster sustainable urbanization by ensuring high-density urban areas are well located, planned and coordinated to produce a walkable, livable environment.

  • Overcome metropolitan fragmentation by coordinating urban services across municipal boundaries, using regional government authorities and other mechanisms.



All in part due to US corporations taking tax cuts from us and investing it in China.

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