This gap is gradually narrowing as the south urbanizes, but it is changing unequally. Latin America (especially South America) and the Caribbean constitute the most urbanized region of the south, while Africa and parts of Asia (particularly the south central, southeast, and eastern parts of the region) lag considerably behind. In general, the least urbanized parts of the developing world are urbanizing at the highest rate. And the countries which are urbanizing most rapidly tend to be the poorest. This applies within as well as between regions and continents. A final element to complete this (admittedly too rapidly drawn) picture has to do with the size of cities. As Mattei Dogan and John Kasarda put it over a decade ago, “The world is becoming more and more a world of giant cities, and these cities are increasingly located in less-developed countries.”Whereas in 1950 only one city—New York—had a population of 10 million or more (thus qualifying it to be called, in current jargon, a “megacity”), by 1995 there were 14 cities of 10 million or more, 10 of which were located in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
By 2015 “it is expected that 22 of the 26 mega-cities will be located in the less developed regions and the 4 other cities in the more developed regions.”5 As these cities grow in size, their economic, social and political influence also accumulates. The physical and social form that best describes these growing megacities—in both the north and the south—is the city-region. In southeast Asia, the morphology of these new regions has been likened to a meeting of town and village in an increasingly diverse functional and spatial intermingling:
A distinguishing feature of recent urbanization in the ASEAN countries is the extension of their mega-cities beyond the city and metropolitan boundaries.This process has particularly affected the largest cities but it is also now occurring in the largest secondary ones...Metropolitan regional growth tends to sprawl along major expressways and railroad lines radiating out from the urban cores, and leapfrogs in all directions, putting down new towns, industrial estates, housing projects, and even golf courses in areas hitherto agricultural and rural. In such areas, regions of dense population and mixed land uses are created, in which traditional agriculture is found side by side with modern factories, commercial activities, and suburban development. T.G. McGee has termed these desakota zones, drawing on the Bahasa Indonesia words for town and village.
Economically, these mega-urban regions are very important both for their national economies, and within a wider and more globalizing context. Their productivity and economic performance are raised by urban concentration in two ways, according to Allen Scott and his colleagues:
First, concentration secures overall efficiency of the economic system.Second, it intensifies creativity, learning, and innovation both by the increased flexibility of producers that it makes possible and by the enormous flows of ideas and knowledge that occur alongside the transactional links within localized industrial networks...The films of Hollywood, the semiconductors or Silicon Valley, the banking and financial services of new York and London, and the fashions of Paris all represent the outputs of clustered flexible production networks whose fortunes are strongly tied to world-market demand. Other examples include mechanical engineering in Baden-Wurtemburg and Bavaria, the small-firm craft-based industries of northern Italy, the jewelry industry in Bangkok, or furniture production in Guadalajara, Mexico. In this manner, global city-regions come to function increasingly as the regional motors of the global economy, that is, as dynamic local networks of economic relationships caught up in more extended worldwide webs of interregional competition and exchange.
Edited from Urban Governance Around The World by Richard E. Stren, 2005