Big data can help build bet­ter cities for the poor

China Daily (Canada) - - ONE WEEK FREE SMART EDITION -

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.

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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