Commission 3 at the 9th Congress of Metropolis

Trends in Megacities – Metropolis Congress 2008

Sydney, Australia, 22-25 October 2008

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FIG Commission 3 has set up a working group (WG3.2) to identify relevant spatial tools that will support development and use of spatial data infrastructure (SDI) by city authorities in the world’s largest cities.

The working group is currently pursuing two lines of inquiry to identify problems facing Megacities and how SDI can be used to address these problems:

  1. Questionnaires and visits to a selected number of Megacities;
  2. Review and assessment of existing publications and other sources.

The working group has published the results of questionnaires and visits in its Stage 1 Report. Various members of the working group are currently undertaking the review of existing published information and their findings will be progressively reported as they become available. The working group will use all this information to prepare its final report due in 2010.

This document summarises relevant information found at the Metropolis Congress held in Sydney in October 2008 as part of the review of existing information. Metropolis is an international NGO that has 106 member cities, with a focus on “connecting cities” through knowledge networks. Some conclusions are drawn about issues relevant to FIG Commission 3.

Current Situation

  • This year for the first time in history, over half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. This equates to 1.6 billion people.
  • It is estimated that 500 million people will be urbanised in the next five years and projections indicate that the percentage of the world’s population that is urbanised will be 60% by 2030.
  • Urbanisation is a major change that is taking place globally.
     There are 19 Megacities (over 10 million population) now, expected to be 27 by 2020.
     Thirty percent of urban populations live in slums; providing affordable housing is a major challenge in all cities.

Reported Trends

  • Rising infrastructure costs means that investment is needed from all sectors of the economy, driving the need for public/private partnerships for infrastructure development and maintenance.
  • Transport congestion is a major challenge, and growth in Megacities is trending towards creation and growth of centres or sub-cities, rather than just growth in the central business district.
  • Over half the growth in Megacities will be in Asia: the world’s “economic geography is now shifting to Asia”.
  • The 20 largest cities consume 80% of the world’s energy use and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas. Cities are where climate change measures will either succeed or fail.
  • Informal settlements are especially vulnerable to climate change impacts as they are usually build on hazardous sites in high-risk locations.
  • A city “can be run on information” and cities will be differentiated by their effective use of technology. For example, the Internet will be a tool for city planning, where everything can be connected and there will be increased use of sensor webs as input to city administration.
  • Megacities exert significant economic, social and political dominance over their hinterlands. Mega-urban regions are growing, especially in China (Pearl River Delta) and the US (central east coast) to create clusters of cities or “system of cities” and while not Megacities in the traditional form of centre and suburbs, they will form “multi-centre Megacities”. This form of urban area will exhibit both a strong internal and international spatial-economic relationship. Is a new science of international “spatial econometrics” needed to measure social, economic, environmental and governance outcomes?
  • There is a clear dichotomy between the terms “world or global cities” that are based on interconnections and economic function and Megacities, which is based on size. It is not just a developed versus developing country paradigm, but rather the reason the city is growing. For example, the growth in Chinese cities is based on an outward looking global focus, while some cities (especially in Africa) are driven by internal population changes. This means that analysis of needs of cities will be differentiated not just on geography but also on economic function and “connectiveness” with the global economy.


  • Most presentations provided at the Congress contained some element of spatial awareness or specific use of spatial information. It cut across governance, planning, infrastructure, energy, food, environment, financing, urban mobility and performance management issues. Spatial technology was also covered in looking at trends in use of technology in urban environments. However, there was no specific paper focussed on spatial information.
  • Managing performance of cities, including monitoring, evaluation and reporting functions is a key challenge. This includes data collection and analysis and a conclusion reached was that you couldn’t monitor performance without relevant quality (spatial) information.
  • The philosophy behind Metropolis is that “all cities have common problems, Metropolis helps to share solutions”. There is a strong alignment between the goals of FIG and Metropolis.
  • Cities are increasingly being funded by use of private capital, a long-term trend notwithstanding the current problems in credit markets.
  • Training city administrators is a key task to improve their knowledge about how SDI can be used to address problems. This training should be undertaken with local training providers to build local understanding and ongoing training capacity. Perhaps building relevant training programs about spatial information use is needed, perhaps along the lines of Metropolis, which has created a training institute based in Montreal.


  • Given the tipping point of population between urban and rural environments has now been reached (where over half of the world’s people live in urban environments), FIG Commission 3 appears correct in its interest with urban issues and using Megacities as a “headline” issue. Metropolis is a potential partner.
  • Spatial information and technology is being recognised widely as one of the tools needed to address the big urban problems, but there is still a general lack of knowledge amongst communities of practice about how spatial solutions can be used. Knowledge transfer, especially through training is the key.
  • “The climate change battle will be won or lost in the cities”. One key issue is that the world’s climate change initiatives will either succeed or fail based on their effectiveness in urban areas. Therefore, there should be a strong urban focus in climate change policies and projects. Potential partners for Commission 3 include UN Habitat Global Urban Observatory and the C40 Group. The latter covers 40 cities collaborating in CO2 reduction including joint procurement of solutions.

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Paul Kelly
Chair FIG Commission 3 Working Group 3.2 - Megacities
30 October 2008