The future of Megaprojects

The Age of Megacities

Since the mid-20th century, the world has witnessed the rise of the megacity. The trend towards these urban conglomerates can be traced back centuries. In 1800, only 7.3% of the global population lived in urban areas. Fast forward to 1950, when 30% of the world’s population inhabited an urbanised environment. Recent predictions for 2030 expect that 60% of people will live in an urban environment, many of these in cities. Essentially, while the population of earth is itself growing fast, the speed at which we are flocking to cities is also rapidly increasing.

The result of these dual trends has been the creation of the ‘megacity’. Today our Future of Megaprojects blog is taking a deep dive into these megacities and what they mean for our industry.

What is a Megacity?

A megacity is defined as a “huge urban agglomeration with more than 10 million inhabitants”. Such vast amounts of people living with one city naturally creates a significant demand for infrastructure. Housing, water systems, power supplies, roads & bridges are required in order to facilitate smooth coexistence. It appears that the accelerating rate of construction is likely to produce more of these cities at a faster pace than could have been imagined. For example, Mexico City and Sao Paulo took only 15 years to grow to the size that New York City took 150 years to reach. Additionally, Lagos and Kinshasa are 40 times bigger than they were in the 1950s. To put it simply, the sheer scale and rate of continued growth in megacities is astonishing.

There are currently 33 megacities, including Tokyo, London, New York, and Beijing. According to recent projections, we are likely to see that number rise to 39 by 2030. The concentration of existing megacities in developing countries has been highlighted by analysts, with developing nations boasting 26 of these infrastructure hubs compared to just 7 in the developed world. These megacities are overwhelmingly concentrated within the Asia-Pacific region (19 to be exact).

Why are they so important?

Beyond the impressive rate of expansion, the role of megacities as economic and social hubs, the scale of which has never been seen in human history, is important to highlight.

In terms of economic growth, megacities are in many ways the bedrock of the global economy. By 2025, the GDP of the largest megacities is expected to grow to $20.4 trillion (with other estimates forecasting that megacities will produce 15% of the world’s GDP by 2030). Mumbai serves to demonstrate the financial benefits of investing in megacities. A study conducted by GlobalData’s found that Mumbai is the world’s fastest-growing city economy, and concluded that this is in large part due to infrastructure investment (for example, $575 million invested from the Asia Infrastructure Bank for Mumbai’s suburban railways and renewable energy projects).

Improving city graph

The second characteristic that makes megacities so exciting is the human element. These cities are expected to become home to 9% of the global population in the next decade. Casting that projection forward, the World Economic Forum predicts that around 84% of the world’s population will be living in cities like this by 2100. Such vast amounts of people living within megacities presents an opportunity for communities to live, learn, work and enjoy life in a radically new way. To facilitate this, megacities need megaprojects. Our infrastructure needs to innovate to meet these growing needs. If project delivery is done right, there are high-hopes that these cities can enrich the experience of life within them.

What challenges do they pose?

While GlobalData’s study made a convincing case that infrastructure investment presents great opportunities for both economic growth and citizen well-being in megacities, there are challenges ahead that must be taken into account as we continue to build big.

The first of these challenges is building in a way that will meet high demand caused by rapid urbanisation, while at the same time tackling the inequality that is already a growing problem in megacities. Newly constructed projects must be embedded within existing (sometimes crumbling) infrastructure, but will need to be strong enough and stable enough to handle huge population influxes.

In addition to being robust, it must be able to address the fact that megacities are often home to “extreme disparities in wealth and life opportunities”. In some of these cities, “75% of the population is under 30, often lacking education and jobs”. There is hope that “investments in infrastructure can spread opportunities to the disadvantaged”, but it is important that project organisations and government bodies keep this goal in mind from the get-go as megacities expand.

The second challenge to address as megacities bloom is climate change. Estimates suggest that by 2030, cities around the world will be spending an average of $314 billion each year on climate change and natural disaster recovery. There are two factors that work together to highten the threat of climate change for megacities. First is the concentration of megacities in the developing world, the region most likely to first bear the brunt of climate change. The second factor is that the majority of megacities (20 in total) are located very close to the coast, increasing the threat of flooding. These factors make the challenge posed by climate change to megacities an extremely pertinent one.

The Future is Here

Megaprojects make megacities what they are. As stated by RICS, “we are living off infrastructure built for a world of three billion as the world population heads to nine billion”, to address this, we need to build big and build fast. Megacities represent an exciting opportunity for our industry to shape the way humanity lives in the future into something economically exciting, climate resilient and beneficial to the lives of inhabitants

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Madeleine Jones Casey

Madeleine Jones-Casey

Business Writer at Foresight Works

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