Home World What cities for the next 3 billion?: OECD symposium

What cities for the next 3 billion?: OECD symposium



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The symposium gathered together three world experts to discuss the future of cities in the current context of rapid urbanisation. This forum set, side-by-side, the views on futures cities of an urban economist, an urban planner and those of a professor of economics from an emerging country. The Symposium was held at OECD Headquarters in Paris on 4 December 2012.



Over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Within the next decade, there will be nearly 500 cities of more than a million people, including several “megacities” with populations exceeding 20 million. The United Nations estimates that the world’s urban population will rise by around 2.6 billion in the period between 2010 and 2050, an increase of more than 70%. Indeed, urban population growth is expected to exceed total world population increase – the rural population worldwide is expected to fall over the period. By mid-century, the world’s urban population is projected to be slightly above the total population at the start of the century. While most of this growth is expected to occur in the developing countries, urban population growth is also set to continue in the OECD area, as population concentration within countries increases and rural populations fall.

As urban areas may be classified differently in different countries, the OECD calculations below have been made using a more comparable system based on functional areas.  


Urban population increase (%) 

Percentage of urban population increase 

Source: OECD (2011), OECD Regions at a Glance 2011.


The 264 large metropolitan areas in OECD countries account for more than 50% of the OECD GDP, although their share varies between continents. The urbanisation process has various spillover effects, both negative and positive that need to be taken into account, such as:

  • pressures on land use (urban sprawl)
  • CO2 emissions
  • increased population in proximate rural areas
  • positive growth spillovers from urban to rural regions 


Urbanisation as opportunity 

Professor Paul Romer, from an urban economy perspective, put forward the notion that it is not only future cities that present opportunity, but also the actual process of urbanisation. It is an opportunity to help the developing countries that are not yet riding the growth wave to do so, closing the gap between the developed and developing worlds. It is also an opportunity to build these future cities with the necessary planning and infrastructure so that they can continue to grow.

Read the presentation by Professor Paul Romer.


Changing urban forms: changing urban mobilities  

Sir Peter Hall presented an urban planning perspective, noting that increasing urbanisation affects not only cities, but also the surrounding regions. His focus was on connectivity in view of the current decentralisation effect and the importance of implementing sustainable forms of transport such as tram-trains and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to peri-urban peripheries. He looked at model cities such as Freiburg, Ypenburg and particularly Montpellier, whose extended transport plan has created a growth corridor along the transport routes.

Read the presentation by Sir Peter Hall


Urban avalanche in the global south 

Professor Amitabh Kundu challenged the projections for urbanisation in Asia, suggesting that they can largely be attributed to Asia’s massive share in total population, and questioned whether urbanisation improves income, suggesting that it created territorial imbalances. He argued that urban policy should address the challenges facing small and medium-sized towns as well as the large cities. 

Read Professor Kundu’s presentation as well as his notes


Some urban facts

The OECD uses comparative systems of classification (OECD Regional database and OECD Metropolitan database) which show that urbanisation rates continue to rise across much of the OECD, although the speed of both population growth and urbanisation is far slower in many emerging countries. The urbanisation process generates significant pressures on land use but also results in positive growth spillovers to surrounding rural regions. OECD work emphasises that cities should be considered in a more integrated way and that urban policy be applied on a national level, notably through a national urban strategy*, to achieve coherence between different sectoral policies.  

Read the full OECD presentation


* This is the main focus of the National Urban Policy Reviews undertaken for Poland, Korea and Chile (forthcoming). 



  • Mr Paul Romer is Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and Director of its Urbanization Project.
  • Sir Peter Hall is Professor of Urban Regeneration and Planning at the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL, London.
  • Mr Amitabh Kundu is Professor of Economics at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.



For more information please contact William Tompson, Email: [email protected] 




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