Big data can help build better cities for the poor
The rate of migration to cities in East Asia is very high. People move to urban areas in search of more jobs and a better life. But urbanization comes with risks that can prolong impoverishment and lack of opportunity instead of improving prospects. Once cities are built, their urban form and land-use patterns are locked in for generations. Getting it right prevents spending decades and large sums of money trying to undo mistakes.
Therefore, it is important to understand the inter-related mega-trends that accompany urban growth. To do so requires monitoring and tracking the complex issues involved, including migration, labor, employment, income, transport, health, education and public infrastructure.
Big data can be a very useful tool in this exercise, which is the focus of our (World Bank’s) newreport, “East Asia’s ChangingUrban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth”. It uses satellite imagery and geo-spatial mapping of the region’s urbanization in the first decade of the 21st century.
Defining urban areas as those with a population of at least 100,000 people, the report uses comparable data — on an international scale — to track the expansion of 869 cities and its links with key socio-economic trends. The report’s findings give a new perspective on what is happening:
Almost 200 million people moved to urban areas in East Asia from 2000 to 2010— a population equal to that of the world’s sixthlargest country. It took more than 50 years for the same number to become urbanized in Europe.
China’s Pearl River Delta region has overtaken Tokyo to become the largest urban area in the world in terms of both land area and population. It is now more than twice as large as the Shanghai urban area, four times the size of greater Jakarta and five times the size of metropolitanManila. And the increase in per capita economic output across the region with the rise in the number of people living in urban areas shows a direct link between urbanization and income growth.
Less than 1 percent of the total territory of East Asia is urbanized (close to the size of Cambodia), and only 36 percent of the total population is urban— suggesting significant scope for urban growth in the decades to come.
The report also exposes some of the challenges posed by urbanization in East Asia. Almost 350 of the East Asian urban areas have expanded across local administrative boundaries, thereby fragmenting their management and revenue sources. In some cases, multiple cities are merging into a single entity while they continue to be administered separately.
While urbanization in the region is largely driven by market forces, policymakers at the national and municipal levels have an important role to play in ensuring that it is sustainable and inclusive.
We are releasing this comparable data so that governments, urban leaders and researchers in East Asia and elsewhere can get a better picture of recent trends and ensure that the unstoppable demographic, social and political transformation of cities, helps reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity.
The report offers newways of looking at where urbanization has gone wrong and where it is done right so that it works for the people. Some of the best policy approaches include facilitating access to land and guiding development so it can occur efficiently, ensuring high-density areas are well located and planned to produce a livable and walkable environment, addressing the entire system of cities by coordinating urban services across municipalities and governments, and making urbanization inclusive so economic opportunities are available, including to recent urban migrants.
This newurbanization data is a tool to help policymakers and planners build better cities for the millions of people who are moving into East Asia’s urban areas. It will also be a useful tool for those outside East Asia to learn from the region’s experience. The author isWorld Bank vicepresident for East Asia and Pacific.