Dynamics of large cities

Statistics on global urbanisation patterns mask significant differences in the dynamics of cities of different sizes and in different parts of the world. Here, LSE Cities explores the demographic and economic performances of larger metropolitan regions over the next 15 years (based on UN Desa projections), focusing on 700 cities with over 500,000 people.

dynamics-of-large-cities_metro-areas-by-regionAs the charts to the side confirm, the reason for focusing on cities of this size is because they punch well above their weight in economic terms: in 2012, large cities made up 33% of the world’s global population, but they produced more than 55% of all global economic output.

dynamics-of-large-cities_metro-areas-gdp-by-regionThe world map below indicates that the population growth rate of larger cities is disproportionately distributed across the world, with faster growing areas in parts of Africa and Asia, more modest or low growth in Latin America and parts of North America, slow or zero growth in Europe, and negative growth in parts of Japan, Eastern Europe, Russia and the Caribbean.

The size of projected populations by 2030 varies widely, with China and India leading the field for the number of megacities projected to have over 10 million inhabitants by 2030. While today Tokyo is the world’s largest city, with an agglomeration of 38 million – followed by Delhi, Shanghai and Mumbai – its population is set to shrink by about 400,000 people by 2030, while all the runners-up are set to continue growing. But amongst the larger cities, it is Dhaka, Lagos, Kinshasa and Dar es Salaam that will transform most rapidly due to extreme growth rates, many with high percentages of informal development.

The map below illustrates future patterns of economic output and growth for the same 700 cities. The most striking feature is the dramatic regional differences that by 2030 will still persist in GDP/per capita between the Global North and Global South – with important exceptions in the Middle East, China and parts of Latin America and Oceania, with the most intense growth in average GDP concentrated in China and East Asia.

The chart below illustrates the global demographic and economic impact of 700 large cities, confirming the disproportionately large contribution made by a relatively few, large cities to both global population and GDP.

population vs GDP

Projected population data courtesy of UN DESA World Urbanisation Prospects, 2014 Revision