One giant city stretching thousands of kilometres down through east Asia. Urbanisation is awesome, unstoppable and an opportunity for billions of people to follow the path of prosperity brought by great cities to Europe and America. BlueNotes explores what this will mean.
By 2050, one immense megalopolis is likely to stretch almost continuously from Beijing to Jakarta, a sprawling conurbation running thousands of kilometres. The scale of this almost unimaginable city, and its origins as a string of quite distinct metropolitan zones, means it will be by no means uniform.
In some locations, where cities already exist and population densities are intense, this Asian urban hive will stretch up into the sky. In others, where now lie suburbs and rural landscapes, the city will stretch tenuously. The opportunities with urbanisation are immense too. Across history, wellbeing, innovation and prosperity have been driven by bringing people together, replacing subsistence agriculture and nomadic lifestyle with a settled existence more dependent on specialisation and services.
The great civilisations of Europe and America have relied on cities for their efflorescence. Asia, already home to some of the most sophisticated and innovative urban densities on the planet, like the Tokyo-Yokohama complex, Singapore, Hong Kong and Melbourne, will follow suit - but on an immense scale. In our region, urbanisation will be one of the key engines transforming the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) into one of the world's largest and fastest growing economic zones in the coming decades.
Urbanisation is a powerful factor in middle class formation. Governments are able to more efficiently provide public goods such as education and social services to urbanised populations compared to rural populations and urban populations have better access to job opportunities. Urbanisation obviously brings considerable challenges. Cities mean higher standards of living - overall - and more wealth - in aggregate. But that same influx of people which is fundamental to the process places enormous stress on resources both physical and environmental. The sheer mass of humanity taxes services and infrastructure. Some cities, such as Jakarta, are already choked with traffic while even a city as highly developed as Sydney will struggle to cope with a surging population in coming decades without a drastic rethink of its roads and railway lines.
Traffic congestion costs are not just direct but they contribute significantly to environmental damage. In one example studied by Deloitte 12 per cent of total congestion cost was related to pollution. To cope, cities will have to become smarter - physically and especially digitally. That means cities where tools based on computing power are built into the infrastructure and the governance supporting the city. Cities are not just concrete, steel and glass. They are now also computer networks. Where digital technologies and big data can be used to make existing physical infrastructure more efficient, significant improvement is possible with congestion, pollution and public amenity.
As the United Nations warned in its latest World Urbanisation Prospects report, "as the world continues to urbanise, sustainable development challenges will be increasingly concentrated in cities, particularly in the lower-middle-income countries where the pace of urbanisation is fastest. Integrated policies to improve the lives of both urban and rural dwellers are needed."
To cope, cities will have to become smarter – physically and especially digitally. That means cities where tools based on computing power are built into the infrastructure and the governance supporting the city. Cities are not just concrete, steel and glass. They are now also computer networks. Where digital technologies and big data can be used to make existing physical infrastructure more efficient, significant improvement is possible with congestion, pollution and public amenity.
Urbanisation is a global trend but an Asian regional priority. It's a fascinating albeit slightly ominous theme given the scale involved and today BlueNotes commences a 10-part investigation of the ramifications.
Bringing together some of Asia's most noted commentators on demographics and urban affairs, external and internal experts and the best multi-media presentations, the series "Metropolis Now" starts today and will be featured every second week over the next five months.