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Megacities 2050: should we be building new cities?

09.12.2019 | 5 min read | Written by Alexandra Hasek

Global business and finance concept with businessman touching world map with connected dots in network architecture for telecommunication, internet of things, financial technology, data servers

Urbanisation is having an impact on the world’s entire population. According to the UN, the current world population of 7.7 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. Meanwhile, the trend toward megacities is expected to add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050. Back in 1900, only 15% of the world’s population were city residents. Today, more than 60% live in megacities. A megacity is defined as having a population of more than 10 million people. Historically, Rome has been the largest city in the world, followed by Baghdad. Between 1800 and 1900, London took the crown, while the early 2000s saw Tokyo take over this rank.

A megacity offers better opportunities for investment and employment. That’s why there has been a shift in residents from suburban and rural communities moving to these megacities. However, living in such cities has multiple shortcomings as well. For example, some megacities are surrounded by slums, while others are trapped in a housing bubble. Meanwhile, high levels of traffic, pollution, and class inequality tarnish the city planners’ utopian image of a megacity. According to research by Euromonitor, the world currently includes 33 megacities, with 6 new megacities expected to be added to the list by 2030.

euro monitor report

Should we intentionally build new cities?

The current existing megacities are suffering from excessive burdens of overpopulation, high energy consumption, and struggles to provide high-quality infrastructure and resources. Cairo was built for 1 million residents while more than 20 million are living there today. The result is a city that is uncomfortable to live in, overwhelming residents with the amount of time it takes to travel between districts for even the smallest of tasks.

To resolve the situation, governments have started to plan for new megacities that will relieve the pressure of the old city. The main purpose of establishing new cities was to redistribute the existing problems from the old dilapidated cities; however, it has turned into a City Branding game.

Neom new Saudi Arabian city:

A 500$ billion budget megacity that is 33 times the size of New York City. With an area 20,230 square miles located in a golden location between Saudi, Egypt and Jordan. In October 2017 the Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman announced this project, with plans for the city to run on 100% renewable energy. Neom is a central piece of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision to grow and will be part of the country’s bid to play a leading role in global economic development.

Duqm new Omani city

On the theme of “starting from scratch” cities, Oman started a big economic port city project in 2011, located about 480 km from Muscat, the capital. The location of Duqm formulates the gateway to the Arabian Gulf region. Almost a fifth of the world’s oil flows through this passage on its journey to distribution.  The city is planned to attract investment from a diverse range of nations including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan, India and South Korea. These countries plan to get access to the Duqm port dry dock for both commercial and military purposes.

Cairo a new administrative capital           

The new administrative capital is located 35 kilometres east of Cairo, with a total area of 170 acres (almost as big as Singapore) targeting a population of 6.5 million residents and offering more than 2 million new jobs. It is planned to be a smart city including smart traffic, smart utilities, smart energy management and smart buildings. The city will consist of 21 residential districts and 25 dedicated commercial districts, 90 square kilometres of solar energy farms, and a major theme park 4 times the size of Disneyland. The city will include the main governmental ministries which are planning to relocate 40 – 50 thousand employees to the new government headquarters in the first three years.

The world map is waiting for the arrival of these newly emerging cities. The Dubai-style city has become an international inspiration, offering real estate investors a golden chance to win big. Building new cities is a logical response to the growing population and demand for urban living. But when we consider the cities that are starting from scratch, it sparks the question: is it working the way it was planned?

Future new cities – are they sustainable solutions?

The main goals for building new cities are the management of urban sprawl, the creation of new housing options and employment opportunities and the release of pressure on old cities and their struggling infrastructure. However, it is far from clear that new cities are achieving these goals. Most newly built cities are not accessible to the poor or even to middle-class residents. When planning for a new city, investors prefer luxury opportunities where they can make a bigger profit, building expensive housing, parks and recreational facilities. This consequently made the housing options in these cities much costlier than expected. So, instead of offering opportunities that would help those struggling in existing cities, new cities have widened the differences between social classes. In future, city planners and developers alike need to build for the coming generations, not for those who have already built their empires.

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