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This article is about the general category of conurbation. For other uses, see Mega City (disambiguation).

A megacity is usually defined as a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of ten million people.[1] A megacity can be a single metropolitan area or two or more metropolitan areas that converge. The terms conurbation, metropolis and metroplex are also applied to the latter.

As of 2014, there are 33 megacities in existence. The largest of these are the metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Mumbai, Mexico City, São Paulo, Beijing, Osaka, New York and Jakarta: each of these has a population in excess of 20 million inhabitants. Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area, while Shanghai is the largest city proper.

Largest cities[edit]

Tokyo, Japan, is the world's largest megacity
Delhi, India
Seoul, South Korea
Shanghai, China
Mumbai, India
1TokyoJapan JapanAsia37,800,000
2DelhiIndia IndiaAsia25,700,000
3SeoulSouth Korea South KoreaAsia25,620,000
4ShanghaiChina ChinaAsia24,750,000
5MumbaiIndia IndiaAsia23,140,000
6Mexico CityMexico MexicoNorth America21,600,000
7Sao PauloBrazil BrazilSouth America21,200,000
8BeijingChina ChinaAsia21,150,000
9OsakaJapan JapanAsia20,130,000
10New York CityUnited States United StatesNorth America20,080,000
11JakartaIndonesia IndonesiaAsia20,000,000
12ManilaPhilippines PhilippinesAsia19,700,000
13KarachiPakistan PakistanAsia19,500,000
14CairoEgypt EgyptAfrica18,420,000
15Los AngelesUnited States United StatesNorth America17,200,000
16DhakaBangladesh BangladeshAsia17,000,000
17MoscowRussia RussiaEurope16,500,000
18Buenos AiresArgentina ArgentinaSouth America16,100,000
19KolkataIndia IndiaAsia16,000,000
20LondonUnited Kingdom United KingdomEurope15,500,000
21IstanbulTurkey TurkeyAsia/Europe14,500,000
22BangkokThailand ThailandAsia14,500,000
23Rio de JaneiroBrazil BrazilSouth America14,400,000
24LagosNigeria NigeriaAfrica14,000,000
25TehranIran IranAsia13,400,000
26GuangzhouChina ChinaAsia12,400,000
27KinshasaDemocratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of CongoAfrica12,000,000
28ShenzhenChina ChinaAsia11,700,000
29LahorePakistan PakistanAsia11,320,000
30Rhine-RuhrGermany GermanyEurope11,300,000
31ParisFrance FranceEurope10,700,000
32TianjinChina ChinaAsia10,600,000
33BangaloreIndia IndiaAsia10,200,000
World's Largest Megacities


In 1800, only 3% of the world's population lived in cities, a figure that rose to 47% by the end of the twentieth century. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2007, this number had risen to 468.[2] The UN forecasts that today's urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, when three out of five people will live in cities.[3] This increase will be most dramatic on the least-urbanized continents, Asia and Africa. Surveys and projections indicate that all urban growth over the next 25 years will be in developing countries.[4] One billion people, almost one-seventh of the world's population, now live in shanty towns.[5] In many poor countries overpopulated slums exhibit high rates of disease due to unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of basic health care.[6] By 2030, over 2 billion people in the world will be living in slums.[7] Over 90% of the urban population of Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda, three of the world's most rural countries, already live in slums.

By 2025, Asia alone will have at least 25 megacities, including Mumbai, India (31.7 million people), Shanghai, China (32.4 million), Delhi, India (39.1 million), Tokyo, Japan (39.3 million people) and Seoul, South Korea (31.2 million people). Lagos, Nigeria has grown from 300,000 in 1950 to an estimated 12.5 million today.


For almost five hundred years, Rome was the largest, wealthiest, and most politically important city in Europe.[8] Its population passed one million people by the end of the 1st century BC.[9] Rome's population started declining in 402 AD when Flavius Honorius, Western Roman Emperor from 395 to 423, moved the government to Ravenna and Rome's population declined to a mere 20,000 during the Early Middle Ages, reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins and vegetation.

Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation in 762 AD until the 930s, with some estimates putting its population at over one million.[10] Chinese capital cities Chang'an and Kaifeng also experienced huge population booms during prosperous empires. According to the census in the year 742 recorded in the New Book of Tang, 362,921 families with 1,960,188 persons were counted in Jingzhao Fu (京兆府), the metropolitan area including small cities in the vicinity of Chang'an.[11] The medieval settlement surrounding Angkor, the one-time capital of the Khmer Empire which flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, could have supported a population of up to one million people.[12]

In 1950, New York City was the only urban area with a population of over 10 million.[13] Geographers had identified 25 such areas as of October 2005,[14] as compared with 19 megacities in 2004 and only nine in 1985. This increase has happened as the world's population moves towards the high (75–85%) urbanization levels of North America and Western Europe.

Since the 2000s, the largest megacity has been the Greater Tokyo Area. The population of this urban agglomeration includes areas such as Yokohama and Kawasaki, and is estimated to be between 37 and 38 million. This variation in estimates can be accounted for by different definitions of what the area encompasses. While the prefectures of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama are commonly included in statistical information, the Japan Statistics Bureau only includes the area within 50 kilometers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices in Shinjuku, thus arriving at a smaller population estimate.[15][16] A characteristic issue of megacities is the difficulty in defining their outer limits and accurately estimating the populations.

Another list defines megacities as urban agglomerations instead of metropolitan areas.[17] As of 2010, there are 25 megacities by this definition, like Tokyo.[citation needed][needs update] Other sources list Nagoya[18] and the Rhein-Ruhr[19] as megacities.



According to the United Nations, the proportion of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent in the developing world between 1990 and 2005.[20] However, due to rising population, the absolute number of slum dwellers is rising. The majority of these come from the fringes of urban margins, located in legal and illegal settlements with insufficient housing and sanitation. This has been caused by massive migration, both internal and transnational, into cities, which has caused growth rates of urban populations and spatial concentrations not seen before in history.[citation needed] These issues raise problems in the political, social, and economic arenas.[citation needed] Slum dwellers often have minimal or no access to education, healthcare, or the urban economy.

Crime and terrorism[edit]

The lack of proper and sufficient infrastructure and public services (such as proper sanitation, housing, education and healthcare) to support the growing population not only leads to the growth of slums, but also breeds discontent among urban dwellers, leading to high crime rates, as visibly seen in growing megacities such as Karachi, Rio de Janeiro and Lagos.[21]


Megacities often have significant numbers of homeless people. The actual legal definition of homelessness varies from country to country, or among different entities or institutions in the same country or region.[22]

In 2002, research showed that children and families were the largest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States,[23][24] and this has presented new challenges, especially in services, to agencies. In the USA, the government asked many major cities to come up with a ten-year plan to end homelessness. One of the results of this was a "Housing first" solution, rather than to have a homeless person remain in an emergency homeless shelter it was thought to be better to quickly get the person permanent housing of some sort and the necessary support services to sustain a new home. But there are many complications with this kind of program and these must be dealt with to make such an initiative work successfully in the middle to long term.[25][26]

Traffic congestion[edit]

Bangkok is notorious for its traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion is a condition on road networks that occurs as use increases, and is characterized by slower speeds, longer trip times, increased pollution, and increased vehicular queueing. The Texas Transportation Institute estimated that, in 2000, the 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.6 billion vehicle-hours of delay, resulting in 5.7 billion U.S. gallons (21.6 billion liters) in wasted fuel and $67.5 billion in lost productivity, or about 0.7% of the nation's GDP. It also estimated that the annual cost of congestion for each driver was approximately $1,000 in very large cities and $200 in small cities.[citation needed] Traffic congestion is increasing in major cities and delays are becoming more frequent in smaller cities and rural areas.

Urban sprawl[edit]

A flat land area in the Greater Los Angeles Area in the U.S. state of California almost completely filled with houses, buildings, roads, and freeways. Areas constructed to capacity contribute to urban expansion.

Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a multifaceted concept, which includes the spreading outwards of a city and its suburbs to its outskirts to low-density, auto-dependent development on rural land, with associated design features that encourage car dependency.[27] As a result, some critics argue that sprawl has certain disadvantages, including, longer transport distances to work, high car dependence, inadequate facilities e.g.: health, cultural. etc. and higher per-person infrastructure costs. Discussions and debates about sprawl are often obfuscated by the ambiguity associated with the phrase. For example, some commentators measure sprawl only with the average number of residential units per acre in a given area. But others associate it with decentralization (spread of population without a well-defined center), discontinuity (leapfrog development), segregation of uses, etc.[citation needed]


Gentrification and urban gentrification denote the socio-cultural changes in an area resulting from wealthier people buying housing property in a less prosperous community.[28] Consequent to gentrification, the average income increases and average family size decreases in the community, which may result in the informal economic eviction of the lower-income residents, because of increased rents, house prices, and property taxes. This type of population change reduces industrial land use when it is redeveloped for commerce and housing. In addition, new businesses, catering to a more affluent base of consumers, tend to move into formerly blighted areas, further increasing the appeal to more affluent migrants and decreasing the accessibility to less wealthy natives.

Environmental problems[edit]

Air pollution[edit]

Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or damages the natural environment, into the atmosphere. Many urban areas have significant problems with smog, a type of air pollution derived from vehicle emissions from internal combustion engines and industrial fumes that react in the atmosphere with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog.

Smog is also caused by large amounts of coal burning, which creates a mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide. World coal consumption was about 6,743,786,000 short tons in 2006[29] and is expected to increase 48% to 9.98 billion short tons by 2030.[30] China produced 2.38 billion tons in 2006. India produced about 447.3 million tons in 2006. 68.7% of China's electricity comes from coal. The USA consumes about 14% of the world total, using 90% of it for generation of electricity.[31]

In fiction[edit]

Many of the following fictional cities were inspired by Fritz Lang's 1927 film, Metropolis and the influential depiction of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott's 1982 film, Blade Runner.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How Big Can Cities Get?" New Scientist Magazine, 17 June 2006, page 41.
  2. ^ "Principal Agglomerations of the World". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  3. ^ "Megacities Of The Future". 2007-06-11. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  4. ^ "Nigeria: Lagos, the mega-city of slums and plums". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  5. ^ Whitehouse, David (2005-05-19). "Half of humanity set to go urban". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  6. ^ "Planet of Slums - The Third World’s Megacities". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  7. ^ "State of World Population 2007". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  8. ^ "Roman Empire Population". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  9. ^ "Population crises and cycles in history". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  10. ^ "Largest Cities Through History". 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  11. ^ New Book of Tang, vol. 41 (Zhi vol. 27) Geography 1.
  12. ^ Metropolis: Angkor, the world's first mega-city, The Independent, August 15, 2007
  13. ^ Tertius Chandler, 1987, St. David's University Press. "Top 10 Cities of the Year 1950". Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  14. ^ "Population statistics". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  15. ^ "Greater Tokyo population statistics". 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  16. ^ "Tokyo metropolitan area population statistics". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "p. 26" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  21. ^ P. H. Liotta, James F. Miskel. The Real Population Bomb: Megacities, Global Security & the Map of the Future. Potomac Books. Retrieved 2014-05-03. 
  22. ^ "Glossary defining homelessness". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  23. ^ FACS, "Homeless Children, Poverty, Faith and Community: Understanding and Reporting the Local Story", March 26, 2002 Akron, Ohio. [1]
  24. ^ National Coalition for the Homeless, "Homeless Youth" 2005 [2] PDF (164 KB)
  25. ^ Abel, David, "For the homeless, keys to a home: Large-scale effort to keep many off street faces hurdles", Boston Globe, February 24, 2008.
  26. ^ PBS, "Home at Last? – A radical new approach to helping the homeless", NOW TV program, December 21, 2007.
  27. ^ What is Sprawl?. Retrieved on 2008-02-07.
  28. ^ Benjamin Grant (June 17, 2003). Urban gentrification is associated with movement "PBS Documentaries with a point of view: What is Gentrification?". Public Broadcasting Service. 
  29. ^ World coal consumption 1980-2006 October 2008 EIA statistics
  30. ^ EIA, World Energy Projections Plus (2009)
  31. ^ "U.S. Coal Supply and Demand". Retrieved 2010-09-01. 
  32. ^ Sharp, Michael D. (2005). Popular Contemporary Writers. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 0-7614-7601-6. 
  33. ^ Namu, Adilifu (2008). Black space: imagining race in science fiction film. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-71745-8. 
  34. ^ Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy: themes, works, and wonders, Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-32952-4. 


Further reading[edit]