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Megacities Challenge: China’s Emerging Megaregions


There are now 7.1 billion people with us in this world, more than ever before. Hundreds of millions of people are living in what are known as ‘megacities.’ As countries are becoming more urbanised, focusing their time and money on developing cities, more and more people are moving to these cities searching for opportunity and success.

Megacities, holding a population of 10 million or more, are starting to dominate not only particular areas, but whole regions. People are making the move from their rural homes in search of simple modern luxuries such as proper plumbing or electricity. In the year 2000, there were only a few megacities such as Tokyo, New York, and Seoul but today there are more than 25 megacities. Here is a table of comparison for populations of present day megacities, with their population in the year 2000:

Data gathered from: UN World Urbanisation Prospects: 2005 and

The concentration of people in newly created megacities have sparked fears over the availability of resources as well as pressure on being able to provide basic services. The concentration of people within each city has also forced cities, instead of growing upwards, to grow sideways too.  By reclaiming more and more rural land to be urbanised, there will be environmental consequences as well.

After acknowledging growing megacities as a potential issue for governments to tackle, the United Nations has gone one step further by predicting they will be the next big step for human civilisation. The birth of megacities will eventually spawn mega areas or provinces merging together.

In China, the UN is keeping an eye on the Guangdong province. The three major cities in the area – Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – are quickly becoming more and more connected. People are making the trek to these three cities in search of economic success and so are also creating blurred boundaries between these three cities. Home to more than 100 million people, experts have pinpointed that it is regions like the Guangdong province that are driving economic growth and wealth now. Despite the booming economic opportunity, there are also a myriad of issues that the UN are concerned with in relation to the development of mega-regions. These issues include: increasing urban sprawl, slums, unbalanced development and income inequality. Struggles to provide for those living in and around all three cities of the region will also become a problem.

Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. Photo Courtesy: Yuan2003 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Growing up in Hong Kong whilst still frequenting Guangzhou and Shenzhen, local Karen Lee has seen this ambitious development up close. Karen has said that although the three cities have “definitely become more commercialized and consumer friendly rather than purely industrialized over the course of the past decade or so, there is still a huge disparity between the well off and the not so well off.” When visiting Shenzhen, although the visual differences between the well off and not so well off areas are not as striking as it would be in say, Brazil, it is still definitely there. She says that the issues the UN are concerned about for developing mega-regions are also very real. Whilst speculating she has compared the rise of mega-regions to the ancient Roman empire, “When Rome became an empire it collapsed because the government could not maintain peace, and so I think the bigger the city the more pronounced these problems [increasing urban sprawl, slums, unbalanced development and income inequality] will be.”

Many cities in China are either already facing these problems or beginning to recognise them. A success case with dealing with new megacities can be found in Chengdu. Although there is a plethora of wealth to be found in growing cities within China, they are just barely able to deal with all the issues mentioned above. Chengdu, experiencing poverty, land seizures, and voracious development has dealt with these problems by assessing the reasons for rural to urban migration. The mayor of Chengdu, Ge Honglin in an article from the Guardian has said that, “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city. Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

Further Reading:
The rise of megacities – interactive

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About The Author(s)

Anna Zhou

Anna Zhou


Still a highschool student but quite ambitious as well. Co-founder of "ndoto." a not for profit conference taking place in Hong Kong and India aimed at inspiring creativity, innovation and change within young people today for the future. She is also a pretty dedicated blogger on everything related to the environment and the human interactions that take place, positive or negative.

Comments (1)

  • Kevin Rennie

    The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) has just released State of the World’s Cities Report 2012/2013: Prosperity of Cities. Click for the PDF download.

    “In this Report, UN-Habitat advocates for a new type of city – the city of the 21st century – that is a ‘good’, peoplecentred
    city, one that is capable of integrating the tangible and more intangible aspects of prosperity, and in the process shedding off the inefficient, unsustainable forms and functionalities of the city of the previous century.”


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