DOI: 10.1355/ae23-2h Beyond Metropolis: The Planning and Governance of Asia's Mega-Urban Regions. By Aprodicio A. Laquian. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Pp. 488.
The book begins with a rather controversial title - Beyond Metropolis. In a world where the majority of cities in developing countries are struggling with metropolitan growth and change, the title might appear to be rather mocking to the governments that have been shown up more often than not for their inaptitude at metropolitan governance and change. It is a world, as the author has rightly pointed, where the mega-cities in Asia dominate the world's urban population growth statistics and, hence, urban development issues. Yet, the fastest growing urban areas are not the mega-cities but cities with populations of 1.5 million to 5 million. These are growing at triple the rates in mega-cities. In terms of sheer numbers, however, population growth in the mega-cities would be breathtaking compared with the population growth in the smaller cities. The author speaks of Shanghai as the "head of the dragon" in the Yangtze River delta and the dominant core of a metropolitan region covering about 100,000 square kilometres with a population of 72.7 million (p. 30).
What the author, however, has focused on in his discussion, has been the spatial growth of mega-cities to encompass regions or mega-urban regions. Intriguingly, much of the growth of these mega-urban regions is being attributed to planning aimed ironically at containing metropolitan growth or what many North American cities would be familiar with - urban sprawl. Debates are ongoing concerning the measurement and impact of urban sprawl. There are similar debates, which the author has highlighted, concerning the growth of metropolises and whether mega-urban regions are necessarily the best things that can happen in Asian urbanization, at least. While one school of thought has argued for smaller cities and cities apparently of "lower levels", the author notes that in Asian countries there has been a high degree of policy measures and intervention aimed at planning for and "regulating" the course of the urbanization process and city growth. The measures aimed at controlling the rate and nature of urbanization range from China's hukou or registration system to planning medium-sized cities as well as industrial estates or satellite towns to divert the stream of population migration from rural areas or small towns headed towards the mega-cities.
The concerns of the book are, first, the role played by planning and governance in the development of mega-urban regions in Asia and, second, the position that if the role of mega-urban regions in national economic and social development is important, then improved planning and governance, so the author argues, can enhance this role in Asian economies. Asia's long history of planning for cities is reviewed beginning with that of the ancient cities like Beijing and Tokyo to those that have been the handiwork of colonial plans - Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Metro Manila, and Mumbai. The origins of planning are traced variously to Utopian ideals like the "garden city" framework which Singapore, Bangalore, and Baguio employed, as well as the more ideological positioning of city plans in China. While the garden city framework sought the balance between a natural and built environment, the political ideologies of Marxism have stressed plans or state-centric agendas for industrialization, social housing and monumental architecture. The author then rightly points out that urban planning in more recent times, has had to be more "comprehensive, encompassing not only the highly urbanized areas of city-regions but also adjoining rural areas and open spaces (Bangkok, Jakarta, Tokyo). As a whole, the most common urban plans in Asia have been formulated to deal with specific problems, such as the proliferation of slums and squatter areas (Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Mumbai), traffic congestion (Bangkok, Metro Manila), environmental pollution (Mumbai, Seoul, Tokyo), serious health and safety problems (Dhaka, Kolkata), and uncontrolled urban sprawl (Bangkok, Jakarta, Metro Manila, Seoul)" (p. …