Cities merge into a global megalopolis

On November 15, 2022, a baby girl named Vinice Mabansag, born in Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila, Philippines, became the world’s eight billionth token person. Of the 8 billion people in the world, 60% live in urban areas. It is estimated that, by the end of the 21st century, cities will house about 85% of the projected 10 billion people on Earth.

The growth of cities is not only due to the increase in their population. As more people live in them, they also need more services like public transportation, energy infrastructure and water supply. Furthermore, they require stronger governance and a stronger economy to be able to adapt to these demands. In reality, there is no single definition of what constitutes a city.

During the Middle Ages, cities from London to Seoul were protected by walls that delimited their territory. Even in the 20th century, the notion of city limits was still relevant. Currently, although some large pre-millennial cities such as Tokyo, São Paulo, New York or Mumbai still maintain characteristics of intense urbanization, they represent a smaller and smaller proportion of the total number of cities in the world.

In densely populated and rapidly growing cities such as Lagos, it is common for a mayor’s official jurisdiction not to cover the entire population he is supposed to serve. This means that there are areas where the mayor does not have direct authority to make decisions and carry out actions. Meanwhile, its economy is often deeply intertwined with that of neighboring cities.

The question of determining the precise limits between what constitutes and what does not constitute a city, as well as the difference between the end of one and the beginning of another, becomes increasingly complex to answer. As urbanization advances, human settlements grow and merge, forming what is known as a “megalopolis”, according to urban experts.

How machines saw cities grow

The Greater Bay Area in China is a megacity comprising 11 cities, including Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. With more than 60 million inhabitants, it has become one of the largest metropolises in the world.

With a total population of over 70 million, this country has approximately 2 million more people than the total population of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, this large number of people is concentrated in an area that represents about a fifth of the total size. From an economic perspective, it is equally significant: its GDP in 2018 was $1.64 trillion (£1.39 trillion), equivalent to 11.6% of China’s total.

On the west coast of Africa, specifically the 600 km stretch between Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and Lagos, Nigeria, a rapid recovery is being observed. According to experts, it is expected that by the year 2100, this conglomerate of nine cities will become the most populous in the world, reaching a density of up to 500 million people.

The growth of cities accelerated in the 18th century with the introduction of machines that allowed us to move faster and over greater distances than ever before. It is remarkable that for the first time cities, especially London, have crossed the 1 million population threshold that used to be characteristic of the urban world. This marks a milestone in demographic development and the growing concentration of population in urban areas.

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Chicago and New York experienced vertical growth due to technological advances in steel structures and elevators. These cities allowed those with means to build the first skyscrapers, known as “Cathedrals of Commerce”.

The invention of the automobile had a big impact on the growth of cities like Los Angeles, which expanded into the suburbs, despite the opposition that this idea usually generates. In some developing cities, like Dar es Salaam in Tanzania or Nairobi in Kenya, the compact city concept has been adopted. This idea is based on an efficient public transport system and a greater concentration of housing, which has led to the internal growth of these cities.

How the metaverse is redefining the city

Currently, most people reside in medium or even small cities. Despite this, we continue to rely heavily on internal combustion engines to move between different activities, particularly from home to the workplace.

During the past five decades, advancements in technology have allowed people to live far away from their co-workers. This has led to the blurring of the geographic boundaries of any city, thanks to the use of computers and networked communications.

When defining what a city is, several aspects must be taken into account, such as counting its inhabitants and mapping its geographic boundaries. However, in the age of global digitization, the “digital skin” that covers our planet allows citizens to interact with anyone anywhere, anytime.

As the 21st century progresses, cities are likely to continue to experience significant growth and physical changes. While each place takes on characteristics of a city, the term itself is unlikely to disappear completely. However, its meaning can evolve and adapt to new urban contexts.

In 1937, historian Lewis Mumford highlighted in his book “The City Reader” that cities are more than just physical spaces, but also places of social interaction and communication.

This is in line with the idea that in the future cities will no longer be considered as simple physical centers in a rural environment, but as patterns of digital movement that cross the planet at different scales, from megacities to local neighborhoods. After the first industrial revolution in Great Britain in 1830, the concept of limits underwent a significant change. The transformation caused by this revolution has affected the way we understand and apply boundaries in many areas.

According to academics, as cities grow, economies of scale are generated that have a significant impact on their economic growth and prosperity. Evidence supports the idea that the urban environment is increasingly complex.

Cities are increasingly adopting capabilities from biological systems rather than mechanical systems. Their transport networks branch out and extend inland, creating an effect similar to arboreal fractals.

With information from sustainability-times.com

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