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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Hello, I’m Kathy Pain. I’m Professor of Real Estate Development here at the Henley Business School at the University of Reading. And by background, I’m an urban geographer and planner. So, as you can see, I’m pretty interested in cities. But I’m also interested in a new idea, the mega-city region. Half of the world’s population is now urban. And more people are living in and moving to cities. Also, large cities are getting bigger, as towns and cities that are physically separated become interlinked by virtual flows of information, but, also, physical flows of trade, people, and goods. And these super cities are being called mega-city regions. And they’re called an unprecedented urban form. But in reality, it isn’t new.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds The mega-city region’s been in emergence for decades. And it was first recognised in the United States in the mid-20th century. But what is new is that the mega-city region phenomenon is now a worldwide reality. Mega-city regions are getting bigger, especially, in developing countries. So we’re going to look at the example of China. And we’re going to look, especially, at the example of the Yangtze River Delta, which is a very large mega-city region with, at its heart, the city of Shanghai. And the population of Shanghai is already 24 million. In China, there are also another two mega-city regions of a similar population size. But in China, tomorrow, there will be more and bigger mega-city regions.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds So there are positives and negatives to this new urban form. Let’s look, first, at what the positives of mega-city regions. Well, very big cities offer the promise of work and a better life for ordinary people. They’re raising people out of poverty, especially, in the developing world. Over half of China’s population is now urban, and 100 to 150 million people is estimated to be middle class. Big cities are dynamic places. They have an intermixing of people and skills. and, also, their senses of culture and education. They have hospitals, schools, and all the other facilities that people need to live their daily lives. So, actually, 440 cities in the world are generating half of global growth. What are the negatives, though?

Skip to 2 minutes and 26 seconds Well, development in mega-city regions has impacts on the environment, and it contributes to climate change. We’re going to turn now to the example of the United States. In the United States, they don’t call the mega-city regions. They call them megaregions and they’re certainly mega. They cover 20% of the land area of the United States. They contain 2/3 of the population. And they generate 70% of GDP. But they also generate– on the downside– extreme commuters, travelling over 90 miles a day. And that number has doubled since 1990. Where will it all end? So as we’ve seen from the two cases so far, mega-city regions are like a super-sized city. But they’re also a complex multi-center form, which is called polycentric.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds So, in other words, lots of smaller towns and cities make up the mega-city region, or the super region. Those towns and cities generate crisscross travel of all different kinds. So there’s daily commuting, as we’ve seen. But there’s much more. There’s business travel. There’s travel for leisure. There’s travel for home deliveries and, also, freight. And all of that can’t be supported efficiently by public transportation in such a complex region. But contrary to what you might expect, in Europe, policymakers, have actually been encouraging these polycentric urban regions as a more sustainable urban form than regions that just have one big compact city, which is called monocentric. So now we’re going to look at the example of the Netherlands.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds And we’re going to look, in particular, at the Randstad region, which is an example of a polycentric urban region. So, in other words, it’s meant to be more sustainable than regions that have just one big city. And it’s been a sustainable planning vision in the Netherlands, since 1958. But all is not rosy in this polycentric garden. Why not? If we look at a map of the Randstad region, what we see is very intense cross-cutting movements by car for daily commuting. So, actually, contrary to what was expected, the Randstad qualifies as one of Europe’s pollution hotspots. Surprising, isn’t it? So what can we do about resolving the mega-city region climate change challenge?

Skip to 4 minutes and 54 seconds Obviously, it requires coordinated governance and planning for the spaces that are in between towns and cities that make up this mega-city region. But no mega-city regions that are being studied so far have actually got joined up policies. Administrative structures don’t map onto these big functional regions. And, actually, the functional regions are very liquid. They’re changing all the time, as patterns of movement and the use of the region’s changes. Also, very importantly, there’s competition between the various public administration bodies that govern those regions. What do we do about this worldwide phenomenon of a lack of mapping of governance structures and planning onto functional regions, which have this climate change problem? So I’d like to leave you with the big question.

Skip to 5 minutes and 42 seconds It is the question that policy makers and planners are asking themselves everywhere in the world, which is, what is the solution to thinking about this climate change challenge of mega-city regions? What kinds of new governance structures do we need? Do we need, perhaps, a type of city mayor who’s able to take responsibility for the whole of that functional region? Or do we need new kinds of collaboration, more cooperation between the various local bodies that are responsible for their small patches within that mega-city region, as it stands? I’d like to leave you with that thought. And I’d be really grateful for any kinds of answers that you’ve got. Everyone would like to hear them.

Mega-city region challenges and opportunities

In this video, Professor Kathy Pain looks at the trend for population migration to urban areas. Resolving the mega-city region climate change challenge requires coordinated planning for the spaces in between cities, but no mega-city regions studied have joined-up policies. Administrative structures don’t map onto mega-city regions and competition between local public administrations within mega-city regions is a worldwide phenomenon.

Watch Kathy’s video and then, in the comments section below, share your thoughts on:

  • What is the solution to the climate change challenge in mega-city regions?

  • What new kinds of governance structures are needed?

  • What new kinds of collaboration are needed?

You may like to watch this video of Kathy discussing China’s Jing-Jin-Ji integration project in an interview for CCTV America.

You can find a PDF document with the diagrams from the video below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future

University of Reading