Emmanuel Brousse
Focus | 24 mai

The states are dead, long live the “mega-cities”
Huge conurbations are emerging on all continents. They might very well become tomorrow’s political actors.

 © DR
Venice, Lübeck or Malacca… Today the names of these cities are associated to Italy, Germany or Malaysia. But for centuries, they referred to independent entities, hubs fiercely struggling for their independence. From Mesopotamian cities to Ragusa and Carthage or Tyre, the medieval cities or Marco Polo’s fabulous oriental cities, they have for a long time been the reference scale of political and economic games. It is only with the advent of modern states that “cities” declined before being absorbed by bigger entities.
Will the 21th century mark their return in the forefront of world’s actors? It is possible. Today’s rivalries are no longer about military matters or borders, they take the shape of economic and technological competitions to maintain and extend a domination.
And, at this game, the entities with the best weapons might be the cities. Not “old style” powerful cities like the ones which spread around Europe and Asia a few centuries ago, but “mega-cities”, uninterrupted urban areas gathering dozens of millions of inhabitants and bringing together many riches and services. The “true” world map would not then show 200 states, with many being too small or too disparate to play a real role, but rather about twenty huge megalopolises reflecting the reality of the places where decisions, riches and population are concentrated.
This world living at the megalopolis’ beat is a reality that researchers have identified a long time ago. From The global megalopolitanian archipelagos, described by Olivier Dolfus in 1996, to Parag Khanna’s Connectography, published this month and praised by the critics, geographers and analysts predicted this new step of globalization.

From BosWash to SanSan

If some urban areas like “BosWash” (an American megalopolis going from Boston to Washington) or the Japanese megalopolis have been considered “mega-cities” for dozens of years, others are still emerging, notably in China.
Beside their growing population and their developing infrastructures, these new megalopolises are progressively untying themselves from the states’ tutelage. Dalian (7 million inhabitants), in China, following the example of Hong Kong or Macao, is opening up abroad and is getting closer to neighboring Korea. If big western cities, often capitals, have been close to the states they belong to, many emerging countries’ megalopolises are booming while the rest of the country struggles to get out of poverty. Lagos, Karachi, Bangalore, Cairo… For these cities, the dependence to a poor state and the incorporation in territories with years of development delay constitutes a curb on their expansion.

“Mega-cities”… that don’t exist

Yet, “mega-cities” have the odd characteristic of having no real institutional existence. They have no mayor, since they are formed by several big cities sometimes located in different countries, no parliament, no collective projects… Their reality does not come from a political existence but from a multitude of economic connections, of transportation networks, etc.
Concretely, it means that Paris, Brussels, London, have no common governance. But that, on the other hand, the multiplication of exchanges, the creations of means of transportation such as Eurostar or Thalys and the existence of a freedom of movement between these three cities participate in the creation of a huge “mega-city” in Western Europe. It is the same for the urban fabric “SanSan” going from San Jose to San Francisco, passing by Los Angeles: these cities are all linked and connected by a wide automobile network (and soon by high speed railways), sharing a common Californian culture and with the Silicon Valley as a technological motor.
In the long term, these urban poles which economic and demographic weight is already huge could very well emancipate from their states’ tutelage’s heaviness. Each of the agglomerations of Mexico and Chongqing, in China, weighs more than Australia in terms of population and the metropolitan complex of Austin-Dallas-Fort Worth in the South of the United States gathers itself more riches than South Africa.

40 “mega-cities” in 2025

The map below, extracted from the book Connectography (Parag Khanna, 2016), show the distribution of the world population, with in yellow the densest areas, which form the future “mega-cities”, the ones which concentrate a big percentage of national riches and work like hubs.
In 2025, there will be at least 40 “mega-cities” in the world, among which the megalopolises of Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka in Japan, the Pearl River Delta in China, the Great Sao Paulo in Brazil, or Mumbai-Pune in India. In China, about twenty “mega-cities” are emerging, some of which will count over 100 million inhabitants.
 © Parag Khanna
Crédits photo : Parag Khanna, DR
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