Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Megacities: A Survey and Prognosis

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Megacities: A Survey and Prognosis

Article excerpt


The role of geography phases in and out of civilizational studies, always competing with the roles of the individual and those of politics and culture. Today, modem geography is getting another run as a major player in how civilizations behave and interact. Jared Diamond's important work, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 1997, took on the question of geography's role in the civilizational advantages of Eurasia over the New World and Africa. Robert D. Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography (2012) shows the inevitability of much of today's geopolitics that loom even above individuals and events.

One aspect of geography includes the evolution of megacities in developing countries and how such cities affect the behavior of their residents, including those attempting to govern them. Climate, aesthetics (an ignored topic), sociological issues, population explosion and the new fertility crash impact populations only recently living a village life.

Demographic changes are part of the study of geo-politics, as are the physical features where cities are located. Megacities must be studied by demographers, economists, medical practitioners, educators, and political scientists, which makes the discipline complicated and interactive. This paper can only provide an overview of a topic that will weigh most heavily on civilizationists for years to come.


The rise of megacities is not a new phenomenon in the world. One fascinating study by Tertius Chandler1 traced the world's largest cities back to the first in 3100 BCE. Since there were few censuses before the end of the 18th century in Europe, he used travelers' estimates, data on the number of households within cities, the number of wagons carrying foodstuffs for cities, the size of the military, the area of city walls, church records, food supplies distributed to the citizens, and even estimates of lives lost during disasters. These estimates include most of the suburbs as well.

Chandler provides a fascinating list, part of which is offered on the next page:

Of course, since 1965, many other cities have joined the list of megacities, some of them with severe problems in managing these communities. The difficulty in assessing the accuracy of these numbers can be seen in almost every printed table, such as that in Wikipedia, which posts conflicting figures from a number of sources. Those numbers provided by the United Nations are the most problematical and are at the moment on the low side. The UN numbers have been provided by the host nations themselves (I called and asked), which aside from the developed world, make little pretense of taking a census.

However, other institutions have posted their estimates for the largest metropolitan areas in the world today, and a number appear to be over 20 million: Cairo, Egypt; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Istanbul, Turkey; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Lagos, Nigeria; Lima, Peru; Mumbai, India; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Shanghai, China; and Tehran, Iran are among these. In addition are a rising number of other, some new, cities in China.

In all of these cities, the countryside farming villages are emptying out, creating huge slums in their country's major cities. As terrible as these slums are, life there appears to offer more possibilities than life in feudal villages. Furthermore, as these countries are pushed into democratizing, the new city dwellers will vote, a daunting prospect for democracy's future.

Says Forbes, urbanization is continuing rapidly, and it is estimated that by 2030, 60% of the world's people will be city dwellers, "billions of people will be living in vast slums in the developing world, facing a long list of urban ills on which starvation may be just another bullet point."

Forbes further notes that there is some hope that the developing world might learn from the most developed countries some techniques for surviving such growth. …

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