Patterns and Trends of Urbanization and Urban Growth in Asia
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One of the most significant causes and consequences of the rapid social and economic transformation that has swept Asia in recent decades is the transition from predominantly rural to urban societies. In 1970, 519 million or 24.1% of Asians were living in urban areas, but the estimates (United Nations 2014a) indicate that more than two billion Asians (46.3%) live in urban areas in 2014. This represents not only a profound change in the population distribution but also in terms of the way Asians live their lives, work and interact. Since Asia is such a diverse and vast region, the extent and rate of urbanization has varied between countries and regions, but urbanization has been inextricably linked with those areas with the most rapidly growing economies. This chapter seeks to examine recent patterns of urbanization in Asia. In doing this, it relies upon demographic data from national censuses and data compiled by the United Nations (2014a). Accordingly, at the outset, we sound some important warnings about differentiating between urban and rural areas since the criteria vary widely between countries. An analysis is then made of changing levels of urbanization across the region, and a simple attempt is made to relate it to the level of development. A common misconception regarding urbanization in Asia is that it involves a simple redistribution of people from living in rural areas to urban areas. It is demonstrated here that the process is a much more complex one involving a mix of migration and mobility strategies. A closer examination is made then of the dynamics of population growth in urban Asia. Finally, some comments are made regarding future patterns of urbanization in the region.
One of the most significant causes and consequences of the rapid social and economic transformation that has swept Asia1 in recent decades is the transition from predominantly rural to urban societies. In 1970, 519 million or 24.1% of Asians were living in urban areas, but the estimates (United Nations 2014a) indicate that more than two billion Asians (46.3%) live in urban areas in 2014. This represents not only a profound change in the population distribution but also in terms of the way Asians live their lives, work and interact. Since Asia is such a diverse and vast region, the extent and rate of urbanization has varied between countries and regions, but urbanization has been inextricably linked with those areas with the most rapidly growing economies. This chapter seeks to examine recent patterns of urbanization in Asia. In doing this, it relies upon demographic data from national censuses and data compiled by the United Nations (2014a). Accordingly, at the outset, we sound some important warnings about differentiating between urban and rural areas since the criteria vary widely between countries. An analysis is then made of changing levels of urbanization across the region, and a simple attempt is made to relate it to the level of development. A common misconception regarding urbanization in Asia is that it involves a simple redistribution of people from living in rural areas to urban areas. It is demonstrated here that the process is a much more complex one involving a mix of migration and mobility strategies. A closer examination is made then of the dynamics of population growth in urban Asia. Finally, some comments are made regarding future patterns of urbanization in the region.
2 Defining Urban Areas in Asia and the Pacific
There is little argument that the rural–urban divide is the most significant economic and social distinction. However, the reality is that over recent decades, there has been a blurring of the distinction between the rural and the urban and nowhere has this been more marked than in the Asian region. A number of processes have contributed to the difficulty in distinguishing between:
Rural and urban areas
Rural and urban populations
This is related to two major considerations that have led to considerable debate as to the extent to which official urban population figures accurately depict the actual urban populations (Jones and Douglass 2008; Zhu 1999):
The failure of boundaries of urban areas (especially the megacities) to reflect accurately either the extent of built-up areas or the functional urban or metropolitan areas that constitute their effective labour market (Champion and Hugo 2004). These boundaries tend to lower urban centres and lead to significant underestimates of urban, especially metropolitan, populations, which rapidly expand laterally and swallow up adjacent urban areas.
The fact that there are millions of residents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries whose official residence is in rural areas or small towns and their families reside full-time there but who earn much of their living and spend much of their lives in large cities through circular migration or commuting strategies, this means that official figures on urban populations understate the functional urban populations (Hugo 1978, 1982; Jun 2010; Tie 2010).
First, the massive size of the circular migrant worker population. In 2008, such migrants in the PRC numbered 225 million, of whom 140 million worked in urban areas outside of their home communities (Jun 2010). This means that migrant workers make for around one in four urban residents, although the proportion is higher in some large cities. Moreover, these migrants contribute to a large part of the rapid population increase in the PRC’s cities. Tie (2010) has indicated that 38.1% of the 420 million population increase in the PRC’s urban population between 1978 and 2007 was accounted for by the influx of rural migrant workers. In 2006, a survey of 2799 villagers by the Development Research Centre of the State Council found that 18.1% of all rural workers had migrated to do long-term off-farm jobs.
Second, the differentiation between the resident population and migrant workers is institutionalized through the hukou system. People are registered in their home area, and it is difficult to transfer hukou, especially from rural to large urban areas. Accordingly, there are important differences in access to services in cities between residents with home hukou and migrant workers who still have a rural farmer hukou.
Comparison of the Philippines and Thailand: development indicators and level of urbanization
Per capita income
% male employment in agriculture
Difference in % urban
Table 2.1 shows that urban percentage between the Philippines and Thailand has been widening prior to 2000. Thailand’s urban percentage was much lower than the Philippines. Even though Thailand’s economic development was faster than that of the Philippines, this does not reflect in the urbanization statistics. Therefore, some care needs to be exercised in interpreting the trends in urban growth and urbanization in Asia, which are described subsequently.
3 The Pace of Urbanization
In examining the rural to urban transition in Asia, there are two key dimensions that need to be considered. Urbanization is defined as the percentage of the national population living in urban areas. In the Asian context, however, it is also important to examine the second dimension—urban growth. This refers to the numbers of national citizens living in urban areas, and in Asia, there has been a massive growth in the numbers living in urban areas, while in several countries rural populations have begun to decline.
Figure 2.4 shows the massive urban growth that occurred in the Asian urban sector between 1950 and 2010 (from 252 million to almost 1.9 billion people), while the rural population increased from 1.2 to 2.3 billion. On the other hand, the Asian rural population is expected to decline over the next two decades, while the urban population will increase. While reclassification of areas from rural to urban status has been of major significance, the main reason for faster population growth in urban areas has been rural–urban migration.
Urban population in Asia, number and percentage estimates, 1950 to 2010, and 2030*
Asia’s largest countries: urban population, number and percentage estimates, 1950 and 2000 and 2030*
% Growth 1950–2000
% Growth 1950–2030
Clearly, there has been massive urban growth over the 1950–2000 period, and this will at least double again except in Japan and the PRC. Only Japan had more than half of its population in urban areas in 2000, but by 2030 this will also be the case in the PRC and Indonesia. It is also important to consider the tempo of change in urbanization and urban growth.
4 Patterns of Urbanization
Percentage urban by economy, 2014
China, People’s Republic of
Hong Kong, China
Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of
Korea, Republic of
Other non-specified areas
State of Palestine
Syrian Arab Republic
United Arab Emirates
Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Papua New Guinea
Micronesia, Fed. States of
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Northern Mariana Islands
Wallis and Futuna Islands
Poverty rates are falling in both rural and urban areas.
Poverty rates are significantly lower in urban than rural areas.
With the growth in urban and decline in rural populations, poverty is becoming an increasingly urban issue in Asia.
Share of the population below $1.25 a day
East Asia and Pacific
Europe and Central Asia
Latin America and the Caribbean
Middle East and North Africa
They present two examples to demonstrate this relationship. Figure 2.7 shows patterns for India and Viet Nam, which show that poverty is greater in smaller towns than cities. In India, for example, research in 2004–2005 found that the poverty rate was 28% in rural areas and 26% in urban areas. However, in Indian urban areas, poverty rates in towns (population less than 50,000) double those in cities with one million or more residents (Lanjouw and Marra 2012; World Bank 2011). In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the incidence of poverty is highest in rural areas (43%), followed by smaller towns and cities (38%) and then metropolitan areas (26%) (Deichmann et al. 2009).
Despite their megacities and sprawling slums, urban poverty in South and East Asia is firmly located in smaller towns, not in big cities.
The Viet Nam example in Fig. 2.7 shows an interesting U-shaped pattern. The two largest cities in the country (Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City) have nearly a third of Viet Nam’s urban population but only a tenth of the national population in poverty. However, 55% of the urban poor live in the 634 smallest towns (World Bank and IMF 2013, 90).
Population and growth rate of urban agglomerations with more than ten million inhabitants in 2014, 1975 to 2030
Growth rate (%)
Ciudad de México (Mexico City)
Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka)
Rio de Janeiro
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
Population of cities with ten million inhabitants or more, 1950, 2001, 2014 and 2030
Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka)
Ciudad de México (Mexico City)
Ciudad de México (Mexico City)
Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka)
Ciudad de México (Mexico City)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
Rio de Janeiro
Kinki M.M.A. (Osaka)
Rio de Janeiro
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
Rio de Janeiro
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
Krung Thep (Bangkok)
Dar es Salaam
Thành Pho Ho Chí Minh (Ho Chi Minh City)
Projections of world megacities in 2030 predict that the seven largest megacities will be in Asia, from Tokyo (37.2 million) to Karachi (24.8 million). Of the 42 countries with more than 10 million inhabitants, 23 will be Asian.
However, the poor measurement of Asian city size means that these figures substantially underestimate both the total number of Asian megacities and their size. Jones and Douglass (2008) have demonstrated this by considering the several ASEAN coastal capitals that have indeed passed the ten-million resident threshold (Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City). This undoubtedly is the case also for Chinese cities like Shenzhen, Chongqing and Guangzhou. These megacities are playing a major role in the development of the PRC and ASEAN countries, and it is crucial that we develop better ways of delineating their boundaries so they represent the functional mega-urban areas. The remarkable growth of Chinese cities especially has not been well captured in these data. One striking example is the city of Shenzhen, one of the first special economic zones in the PRC. From a population of 20,000 in 1980, Shenzhen had reached 12 million and megacity status within just 40 years (Shen 2008).
The spatial distribution of cities with more than two million inhabitants in Asia indicates the strong coastal orientation in the location of large cities, especially megacities. This is partly a function of the strong colonial heritage of these large coastal port cities (McGee 1967). The lack of large cities in the inland is strongly in evidence. The East–West divide in the PRC also strikingly reflects the strong spatial divide in development between the two parts of the nation. It contrasts with India where the distribution of large cities is more evenly spread geographically. The lack of urban development in the poorest and least developed parts of the region such as Eastern Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Cambodia is clear.
The strong coastal orientation of Asia’s megacities and indeed of the total urban population has some implications from the perspective of climate and environmental change, particularly in terms of a substantial exposure to the risk of impact from sea level rise. Accordingly, in a global assessment (Wheeler 2011) of the projected population at risk from sea level rise in 2050, the 20 countries with the largest numbers included 11 Asian countries of which 6 were Southeast Asian—Indonesia (20.9 million people), the Philippines (13.6 million), Viet Nam (9.5 million), Myanmar (4.6 million), Malaysia (3.5 million) and Thailand (2.6 million). McGranahan et al. (2007) identified the global population living in urban areas in the low elevation coastal zone (LECZ, coastal areas 10 m or less below sea level). Of the ten nations with the largest numbers of people living in the LECZ, eight are Asian and four are in Southeast Asia—Viet Nam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Increasing settlement in coastal areas.
Southeast Asia: megacities’ projected population 2005–2025
Average height above sea level
Ho Chi Minh City
In recent discussions of urbanization, there has been a focus on megacities, yet it is apparent that small- and medium-sized cities are also making a major contribution to urban growth, especially in large nations like the PRC, India and Indonesia. Smaller- and medium-sized cities also are experiencing ‘extended urbanization’ in that they are expanding beyond their boundaries and creating what Zhu (2004) describes in the PRC as ‘in situ urbanization’, whereby hitherto rural populations are ‘swallowed up’ by expanding urban areas. A study by Fahmi et al. (2014) examines Cirebon in Indonesia where the city has 300,000 inhabitants and an additional 400,000 live in the outer areas surrounding the city proper. There are real problems in providing services and infrastructure to such areas.
5 Drivers of Urbanization and Urban Growth
Natural increase (i.e. excess of births over deaths)
Net internal migration (i.e. excess of immigrants from elsewhere in the country compared with out-migrants moving to such areas)
Net international migration (an excess of immigrants from other countries over emigrants moving to such countries)
Reclassification of areas from being classified as rural to urban, often by the lateral extension of large urban areas to swallow up surrounding rural areas and smaller cities and towns
Unfortunately, the relative contribution of these four factors of urban growth in Asia over the last 15 years has not been calculated. In fact, this estimation has only been made for the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (United Nations 2001). One more recent estimate suggests that 40% of the increase in the urban population in developing countries comes from migration or reclassification of the rural to the urban. In the large countries of the PRC and Indonesia, however, these two factors accounted for more than 70% of urban growth (World Bank and IMF 2013, 85).
While the emphasis is on internal rural–urban migration as the major driver of rapid growth in urban areas, in most countries, it accounts for less than half of net urban growth. Nevertheless, rural to urban migration is not only important in influencing a nation’s demography but also often associated with substantial social and economic transformations.
Selected Asian countries: differences in total fertility rate between urban and rural areas
Urban fertility rate
Rural fertility rate
Percent lower in urban areas
The lower fertility in urban than rural areas means that despite most urban areas having lower mortality than rural areas, natural increase rates are lower in urban than rural areas. However, the build-up of massive urban populations means that in many countries the numerical size of the natural increase is very large.
Change of age structure in Shanghai (percent)
A rapid decline in fertility such as China has experienced can create a ‘youth bulge’ of large numbers of young people born in the final years of high fertility. As they move through the age pyramid they can deliver a demographic dividend of economic growth when the bulge passes through the working age groups so that the workforce grows faster than the total population. If countries take advantage there is a virtuous cycle of wealth creation. (Bloom et al. 2003, 39).
Increased labour supply, with women more ready to enter the workforce.
Increased human capital investments.
Although Asia’s cities will continue to grow, the effects of continued low fertility will be very much felt in the cities. It already has been shown that these nations will record significant ageing of their populations and resultant imbalances between working age and aged dependent populations. These effects will be greater in cities than elsewhere in these nations since, in many cases, the percentage of the aged population living in urban areas will be greater than the percentage of the total population living in cities. This is due to the fact that there tends to be net migration gains of the ‘old–old’ population due to the greater availability of high-order health facilities and specialized housing and other care services for the aged in larger cities. In addition, aged people often migrate to join their children who have moved to cities. Hence an important point here is that while overall urban populations in Asia will continue to increase, the balance between their working age and older populations will deteriorate, and the workforce itself will age as the effects of fertility decline exacerbate.
The low-fertility and ageing populations of urban areas of Asia would indicate that other things being equal, they will grow more slowly than national populations. Net migration gain is essential to the demographic, economic and social sustainability of Asian cities. There will be a need for ‘replacement migration’ to occur. This concept was developed in relation to the needs of low-fertility European countries that currently or in the near future will experience population declines due to continued low fertility and the potential of countries of the south to make up the shortfalls through international migration. It came to particular prominence in early 2000 when the United Nations Population Division (2000: 01) published a report entitled ‘Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining Aging Populations? The report defined ‘replacement migration’ as ‘the international migration that would be needed to offset declines in the size of population, the declines in the population of working age, as well as to offset the overall ageing of the population’. While the report attracted a great deal of comment and criticism when it was published, the ‘replacement migration’ concept was a useful one because it pointed to the fact that migration was going to play a more significant role in the European countries than it had in the past.
In the current context of cities in Asia, it needs to be stressed that internal migration of young people to the cities is replacing the local young workers that would have been moving into the workforce age had it not been for the extremely low fertility.
5.1 Internal Migration and Urban Development in Asia
Contribution of net migration to population change in Asian megacities, 1990–2000 (percent)
Subregion of megacity
Ho Chi Minh City
Mega urban region
Table 2.11 shows that the contribution of net migration to the growth of four ASEAN megacities varied between 16.2% in Jakarta and 52% in Bangkok.
One of the distinguishing features of the PRC’s urban population is the duality between the resident population and the migrant worker population that largely comprises circular migrants. Such a distinction applies in all other Asian urban areas between a permanently settled resident population and a temporarily present group of ‘circular migrants’ from the outside.
Many commentators in the PRC have emphasized the need for the migrant worker population to become permanent urban residents and for this duality in Chinese cities to be ended, with migrant workers becoming integrated as settled city residents. While these recommendations have considerable merit, research findings on circular migration not only in the PRC (Zhu 1999; Hugo et al. 2009) but also elsewhere (Hugo 1982, 2009) have indicated that a more nuanced policy towards circular migration would have greater dividends for economic development and poverty reduction in Asian urban areas.
One of the ‘truisms’ of migration research is that ‘there is nothing so permanent as a temporary migrant’ (Martin 2001: 01). This is based on the belief that all temporary migrants see their current non-permanent status as a preliminary stage before they are able to settle permanently at the destination. If given the opportunity, they will make the transition from temporary to permanent residence. However, research in both internal (Hugo 1978, 1982) and international migration (Hugo 2009) has shown that while some temporary migrants certainly fit this description, for others, circular, temporary migration is seen as a persistent, continuing and preferred mobility strategy. For some temporary migrant workers in Chinese cities, there are significant advantages to circular migration between rural and urban areas over permanently settling in the city. Box 2.1 summarizes some of the main advantages that accrue from circular migration as a rural–urban mobility strategy. These advantages apply at individual, family, community and sectoral levels. Of course, there are disadvantages that are associated with circular migration as well, which are summarized in Box 2.2.
Box 2.1 Advantages of Circular Migration to Asian Cities
Circular migration allows poorer families to maximize income and spread risk of income failure by facilitating working in both rural and urban areas and in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.
It maximizes the benefit of this income by earning in the city, where both wages and costs are higher, and spending in the village, where both are lower.
It facilitates the redistribution of wealth from the fast-developing urban areas, which are the centre of investment and economic growth, to peripheral and poorer rural areas, which lack such investment.
It provides a scarce source of funds in rural areas to facilitate job creation and development in those areas.
It reduces the pressure on urban areas to provide housing, schooling, infrastructure, health facilities, etc., for their inhabitants.
In the PRC, if a circular migrant keeps his rural hukou, he can have two or three children rather than one, which is enforced in the city.
In the PRC, if a migrant surrenders his rural hukou, he will have to give up his land. Land is an important consideration for support in old age.
In the PRC, some migrant workers are also reluctant to pay the high costs of being an urban resident through taxes, contributions to health and pension schemes, etc.
Box 2.2 Disadvantages of Circular Migration
The social costs of separation from family can be substantial and very painful to the people involved, especially where there is a great distance separating the origin and the destination. In the PRC, only 20% of migrant workers bring their families with them (Jun 2010, 4).
It is difficult to adjust to the time demands of modern-sector jobs, which require 5–6 day weeks and 8 h days of their workers.
The origin community can lose substantial numbers of its youngest, entrepreneurial and most economically and socially active members for long periods as a result of which economic and social capital is diminished in those areas.
Migrant workers in the destination can experience considerable hardship because of their marginal position and their lack of access to urban services.
For those who permanently relocate, their personal situation improves because they gain access to all the services available in the city; they get the chance to increase their incomes and gain access to education, health and other services for their families.
However, circular migration has also been shown to have the potential to deliver development dividends (Hugo 2009) and reduce poverty in rural communities. Migrant workers remit much of their earnings back to rural communities, which can be used not only to improve the situation of their village-based families but also the local community through their investment in it. Moreover, returning workers bring back new ideas and ways of doing things and can potentially invest in productive activity in their home communities. Circular migration provides the potential for the benefits of rapid economic growth in cities to be spread to the countryside.
Hence, there is great complexity in the substantial contribution that internal migration is making to the growth of urban areas in Asia. Yet there is another type of migration which is also increasingly shaping the size, composition and function of urban population in Asia—international migration.
6 International Migration and Urban Development in Asia
A final dimension of population mobility that needs to be mentioned when considering urbanization in Asia is international migration. Of course, international migration has not been as substantial an element in Asian urbanization as it has in contemporary population growth in the major cities of Euro-American societies. Nevertheless, international migration is assuming greater significance, especially in cities in the most developed economies in the region. In Singapore, for example, it is now estimated that 36% of the population comprises foreign citizens and 27.7% of the workforce comprises foreigners (Hugo 2004). In Hong Kong, China, 6.7% of the population are citizens of other economies (Chiu 2003). The number of foreign nationals in 2010 in Japan was over 2.2 million, and there were some 224,067 overstaying illegal migrants, most of them in the nation’s urban areas (Hayashi 2013). In Seoul, the number of foreign residents increased from 114,685 in 2004 to 129,660 in 2005 (Asian Migration News, 15–31 June 2006). In cities like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, there are also significant numbers of foreigners, although in the PRC and India’s cities, the number of foreigners in cities is still quite small, but it is certainly growing as these cities are becoming more globally linked. As the megacities of the Asian region become ‘world cities’, their economic and social linkages to other countries grow (Sassen 1991; Friedmann 1986). Along with this, multinational corporations are increasingly locating activities in these cities and transferring their multinational workers in and out. Moreover, with increasing economic and political cooperation between nations in the region such as ASEAN and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the barriers to some movements have been reduced a little. This is especially true of student and skilled migrations. Moreover, there are forces in the cities of the better-off nations of the region that are creating a demand for unskilled workers, especially in niches that have low status, insecurity and low wages. Accordingly, unskilled immigrants are becoming increasingly evident in many Asian cities. It is important to stress that most of the increasing international migration to Asian countries is destined for urban locations so its impact is highly concentrated in cities, especially the largest cities.
There are a number of elements in the increasing international migration being directed into Asia’s largest cities. Most of the migrants are from other, usually nearby, Asian countries, and much of the movement is from less developed, labour surplus continents to more developed, better-off labour deficit economies. However, there is also a movement of more skilled persons (Hugo 2014), often employed by multinational companies, from OECD and more developed Asian countries to less developed nations. This is partly a function of the human resource policies of multinational companies but also reflects the fact that the education/training systems in some economies are a mismatch with the skills needed in rapidly developing economies, which is why they need to bring in management, engineering and other skills.
There is an inflow of a professional and managerial group of expatriates. This group is increasing in size throughout the region, and while it involves some foreigners of Asian origin, especially from India and the Philippines, skilled people from Europe, North America, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia–New Zealand predominate. It is partly associated with increased foreign direct investment in these cities and the associated transfer of staff from parent companies located in MDCs. It also includes other skilled people who are in demand because local mismatches between rapidly growing and restructuring economies demand jobs which cannot be met by the local training/education system.
International students are increasingly mobile within the Asia region. Asia has been for some time the major origin of students to OECD countries (Abella 2005; Kritz 2006), but there is an increasing movement to other Asian countries. For example, 20% of Singapore’s university students are foreign. There have also been large student migrations to Malaysia, the PRC, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
There is a substantial influx of women to work as domestic maids, especially in the cities in the newly developing economies (NDEs)—Taipei,China; Hong Kong, China; Singapore; Brunei Darussalam; and Malaysia. They are predominantly drawn from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka and number more than two million (Huang et al. 2005).
The construction industry in many cities in NDEs is dominated by foreign workers. In several economies, low-skilled foreign workers have been brought in to work in factories and in other low-pay, low-skill areas.
The so-called entertainment or sex industry is an important element in the major cities (Lim 1998), and in several places, foreigners, especially women, are involved. Undocumented workers often trafficked into the country are substantial.
In several cities, foreign workers, many of them undocumented, have become an important part of the informal sector.
The gender differentials discussed earlier are contributing to increased marriage migration of women in the Asian region. Hugo (2006) shows that a third of marriages in the Republic of Korea and a quarter in Taipei,China, are now to foreigners, mostly from elsewhere in Asia. Asian international marriage is also being driven by increased global movement of young Asians, the role of a burgeoning marriage migration industry and the changing role of women in many receiving economies.
All of these increasing flows of intra-Asian international migration are disproportionately concentrating foreign populations in the cities of Asia. They are leading to increased diversity in these cities—even in places like Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taipei,China, which have traditionally stressed their ethnic homogeneity. Other cities like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh have long had ethnic diversity because of the diversity of the nations in which they are located and earlier waves of international migration from the PRC and India. As the demographic and development differences between Asian economies become more stark, it is likely that the pressures for international migration to fast-growing cities in better-off economies will continue.
Urban areas house more than a half of Asia’s population, while two generations previously, only one in ten Asians lived in urban areas. This represents a profound change in the way in which Asians live their lives. However, there are many challenges that Asian urbanization presents to policymakers, planners and researchers. One crucial area lies in the arena of data collection and research. Planning for efficiency and equity in Asian cities requires timely and relevant research. However, in Asia, as elsewhere, conceptualization and definition of urban areas has remained mired in the thinking of the 1970s and does not capture the nature of contemporary dynamic urban systems. Moreover, data collection systems are based on large areas, while modern technology allows small building block units for censuses and other data collection, which in turn allows flexible and appropriate definition of urban boundaries. Sound planning and governance of urban centres in Asia require better delineation of boundaries and of appropriate specifically disaggregated data within those boundaries. Moreover, research in urban areas needs to be integrated so that an understanding of the dynamics of population change in urban areas may be achieved.
A reduction in the number of local young people entering the workforce.
A rapid growth in the elderly population and in their ratio to the replacement working age population.
Migration from internal, and to a lesser extent international, sources will be essential to the sustainability of those cities that are most strongly affected. There is no doubt that the proportion of immigrants of major cities in several Asian nations is likely to continue to increase. This, however, is not simply a function of ‘replacement migration’. There are a number of processes operating to increase migration, both internal and international, in Asia. Moreover, that migration is disproportionately directed towards major cities, and this will continue because the labour markets into which they predominantly move are found in those centres. The forces of globalization and economic restructuring which are reshaping the economic and social, as well as physical, form of Asia’s major cities of north nations have included an important population movement component. Indeed, an increased volume of international migration has been identified as one of the key defining characteristics of world cities (Friedmann 1986) and global cities (Sassen 1991).
The overall growth of urban populations will be slower than in the past half century but will continue at a significantly higher rate than in national populations.
The working age population will stabilize because of low fertility, meaning the numbers of local people moving into the working age will decrease.
The aged population will increase substantially, creating increased pressure on pension schemes, health services and so on.
The distinctive residential pattern of aged populations will be increasingly evident in north cities, and the services they require will account for an increased part of the workforce.
Ageing of the population will result in different demands for transport, housing, retail services, human services and so forth.
There will be increased levels of female participation in the urban workforce and an increase in the average age of retirement.
The future of these cities will depend to a large degree on the extent to which immigration can compensate for the slow local growth (or decline) of the workforce and ageing. Much will therefore depend on the policies at the city, regional and national levels towards migration, both internal and international. Currently, throughout much of Asia, there are policies in place that are effectively anti-migration and anti-migrant. Migration is too often seen as a temporary necessity rather than a crucial long-term structural feature of these cities. Emphasis is on stopping migration altogether or restricting it in a variety of ways. Yet migration is crucial to both the short-term and especially the longer-term sustainability of those cities. There is a need for policies that accept this reality and hence facilitate the flow of migrants and protect their rights as being important contributors to the prosperity of cities. Hence, policies towards not only who may enter a country or city but also newcomers settling in cities on a permanent or temporary basis need to be reconsidered. Too often, migrants are unfairly negatively stereotyped or made scapegoats for cities’ problems like crime, health, pressure on services and environmental degradation. They need to be seen as being significant, indeed in being increasingly significant, to the long-term sustainability of cities. However, development of appropriate policies with respect to migrants and migration needs to be based upon an understanding of the relevant migration processes. This understanding can be an important separate tool that urban policymakers and planners can use to not only accommodate rapid demographic change but also meet it head on and initiate interventions to maximize its potential benefits and minimize its negative impacts.
In this chapter, ‘Asia’ refers to Asia and the Pacific which is defined using the United Nations classification, including Eastern, Central, Western, Southeastern, and Southern Asia and Oceania.
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