TOKYO, JAPAN (25 September 2019) — To remain engines of economic growth and jobs, developing Asia’s burgeoning cities need efficient transport networks and affordable housing backed by effective and coordinated land and economic planning, according to the theme chapter of the Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2019 Update released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) today.

“Asia’s cities have been important contributors to economic growth, job creation, and innovation, but this isn’t a foregone conclusion for future decades,” said ADB Chief Economist Mr. Yasuyuki Sawada. “Addressing weak infrastructure, congestion, housing, and education and health care services is critical if cities—and their host countries—are to remain dynamic.”

The number of urban inhabitants in developing Asia increased by five times from 375 million in 1970 to 1.84 billion in 2017. By 2050, it is expected to reach about 3 billion people, or around 64% of the region’s population. Cities are also growing geographically, often beyond pre-defined administrative boundaries, and connecting with surrounding areas to form city clusters.

Cities are defined differently in different countries. Using nighttime satellite imagery and grid population data that can assess where people actually live and work, ADB estimates that developing Asia in 2016 had 1,459 so-called “natural cities”. These natural cities are estimated to house 34.7% of developing Asia’s population on 2.3% of its land area. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) had the most with 680, followed by India with 320, Indonesia with 93, and Pakistan with 63. Together, these four countries accounted for about 80% of the natural cities in developing Asia.

Over time, many of these natural cities have grown interconnected so that by 2016, there were 124 city clusters, 28 of which are home to more than 10 million people. Of those, 8 were in the PRC, 7 in India, 3 in Indonesia, 2 each in the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam, and 1 each in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taipei,China, and Thailand. The largest city cluster surrounds Shanghai in the PRC, connecting 53 natural cities that belong to 4 province-level administrative regions.

To function as a vibrant jobs market, cities need affordable and efficient public transport that combines trains, buses, ride sharing, and more informal services—like jeepneys and auto rickshaws—that are well regulated. This would cut the congestion already prevalent in cities such as Manila, Philippines; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Yangon, Myanmar. Governments should ensure ample land is available to build reasonably priced homes, public amenities, and public transport networks. The report studied 211 cities in 27 countries and found 90% of them suffered from home prices that were severely unaffordable for average-income households.

Longer-term spatial and economic planning needs to be in place and to be coordinated across metropolitan areas and local government units given the speed of urbanization and the tendency of cities to cluster.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. In 2018, it made commitments of new loans and grants amounting to $21.6 billion. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

Media Contact