Cities of the 21st century: the urban transformation of Asia Pacific

At the heart of this transformation is the rapid urbanization of the region. Between 1970 and 2017, the developing economies of Asia outpaced the rest of the world in both population expansion and growth rate, with the increase in urban population 3.4% annually, compared to 2.6% in the rest of the developing world and 1% in developed economies. The pace is expected to continue in the coming years, with the region adding more than 1 billion new urban dwellers by 2050.

Today, Asia Pacific cities are achieving international renown with Auckland, Osaka, Adelaide, Wellington, Tokyo, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane making up eight of the top 10 in the world. Global habitability index 2021 by The Economist Intelligence Unit. But in the continent’s lowest-income geographies, citizens face one of the harshest living environments in the world. in a Ranking 2021 Of the 100 cities in the world most at risk from environmental factors such as pollution, extreme heat stress, diminishing water supplies, natural hazards and vulnerability to climate change, 99 are in Asia.

Urban dwellers often most affected by climate vulnerability are those from lower socioeconomic groups, who may live on dangerous and marginal terrain, in low-quality buildings that lack flood control and temperature control measures. They may also lack access to facilities such as air conditioning and have fewer financial reserves to cope with income crises caused by disasters such as floods.

As cities grow, they can often become more unequal as increased economic activity increases land values ​​and pollution, disadvantaging low-income citizens who have less ability to commute. better areas. Even laudable investments can make the problem worse. For example, mass transit systems that reduce travel time to central urban areas can also increase rents along routes, forcing low-income people residents to relocate. Homes in Asia have become increasingly unaffordable for many. An analysis of 211 Asian cities found that home prices were extremely unaffordable for middle-income households. With affordable housing out of reach, many urban residents settle for inadequate housing with limited access to clean water and sanitation.

Despite the breadth and diversity of the challenges, the region can be encouraged by its past and present. Singapore stands out as one of the most livable cities in the world, but it got off to a rocky start, recalls Khoo Teng Chye, former executive director of the Center for Livable Cities at the Ministry of National Development (MND) in Singapore.

“In the early 1960s, [Singapore was] rapidly growing and overcrowded, with housing shortages, many slums and people living in poverty and squalor. The Singapore River was an open sewer and there was water rationing. I remember when I was a kid, the taps would dry out all day, but during the monsoons we had floods. Every urban problem you can think of, we had them! Today our population has tripled, yet the city has become more livable, attractive and resilient. “

Now, progress is being made in Asia Pacific to become more sustainable, resilient and inclusive. Cities are beginning to break ground in exploring innovative responses to environmental challenges across the region, including harnessing nature-based resilience such as ‘sponge cities’ to reduce flooding and improve air quality, new construction with “net zero carbon emissions” and the modernization of old buildings to make them more climate sensitive and develop more sustainable transport solutions.

Leveraging technology is also helping cities address service delivery gaps and proactively support the vulnerable, including digitizing land rights and geospatial mapping that helps citizens in areas that lack formal address systems, start-up applications that address the challenge of urban safety and technology solutions for health care and support for the elderly.

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