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The City States of Europe (bigthink.com)
124 points by ingve on Feb 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

I don't think the Megacity is a good model and here in Germany we certainly don't "lack it". It's nothing we desire. Germany is currently happy NOT to have cities like London, Paris, Tokyo, New York or similar.

What's the future for those Chinese Megacities? I'm not sure we see a linear/whatever development of them over the next decades. Already huge cities like Beijing or Delhi (India) are having huge problems (waste, energy, water, air quality, and all kinds of pollution, transport, ...) which easily could lead to very nasty scenarios.

The medium sized large cities (1-3 million people) usually offer better quality of life, especially if there is enough space around them.

If we look at Germany, there are competing concepts like the "Metropolitan Region" (the region with a big city or a city landscape as its center) and the "Region" (sometimes the Bundesland/State, sometimes a bit smaller). The region is defined by cultural/political/economic aspects - it could lack a big city, but have a cultural identity, which provides the bonding. The large cities were growing, not because of foreign migrants, but because they provided the better infrastructure and cultural life + the young east germans were looking for work after the fall of the 'Wall'.

At the same time in western Germany quite a bit of the economy has been driven by medium sized companies sometimes in remote/rural areas in small towns. Some of them are no longer medium sized, but kept the spirit of one. They show that it is possible to deliver high-tech to a global customer-base from small cities. Just take 'Herzogenaurach' in southern Germany, a small town with just over 20k people. It hosts three large companies: Adidas (> 10bn Euro revenue), Puma (3bn Euro revenue) and Schaeffler (>10bn Euro revenue).

> What's the future for those Chinese Megacities? I'm not sure we see a linear/whatever development of them over the next decades.

Individual cities like Beijing and Shangai are peanuts compared to what is coming. I don't know if you are aware and if that is what you were referring to with "Chinese Megacities", but the Chinese government is working to tightly integrate larger regions. Some very explicitly directed from the central government, some thanks to city/province level cooperation.

E.g. the Bohai Economic Rim[1] include cities like Beijing and Tianjin. Currently about 66 million people in the whole area. There's work underway to tie them together with high speed rail, more highways, combining communications networks, government structure etc. Some projections suggest that all of the Bohai Rim will merge into a megacity with 250m+ people over the next few decades.

Then there's the Pearl River Delta [2], which includes Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Macau, Shenzhen, Dongguan and a number of other large cities, and which is headed in the same direction. Depending on how you count, the PRD is already the largest metropolitan area in the world with the number of people ranging from somewhere around 63million people and up to 120 million.

Then there's the Yangtze River Delta [3], which may compete with PRD for the largest population - the main contention is whether the YRD is one metropolitan areas or series of adjacent ones - it's not as tightly integrated as the PRD. Yet. But it has 140 million inhabitants, and includes cities like Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou etc.

Chances are all three of these will in practice merge. Whether or not they will be unified to the point of being governed like cities is another matter (they are large enough that currently they straddle multiple provincial boundaries.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohai_Economic_Rim

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_River_Delta

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yangtze_River_Delta

> Individual cities like Beijing and Shangai are peanuts compared to what is coming. I don't know if you are aware and if that is what you were referring to with "Chinese Megacities",

That's basically also what Tokyo is today. 40 million people in its 'metropolitan prefecture'. The Chinese versions will be a lot larger.

Yeah... anybody who knows Germany will laugh at the idea of Berlin being some sort of powerhouse in comparison to Munich and Stuttgart. The fact the last two weren't even mentioned makes the author look really uninformed.

Indeed. Berlin is nice in many ways, but it is precisely because it is a historical anomaly from the Cold War time; it was subsidized in several way to keep it alive as a West German (BRD) enclave within DDR (East Germany).

Now it's the capital again, and "normalizing", which means that rents and property prices are going up, and so is the general price level (which is currently lower than in other German cities - not usual for a European or any capital city).

Though Stuttgart, at least, really is "just a city," albeit one dense with industry and finance. If the author was looking at describing cities that exist as quasi-independent entities, I'm not sure it'd really fit.

As well to consider is its size: as big as it feels, the city is around 600k people and the official metropolitan region, even with its 5.3 million, is very low density (the Wiki heads say ~340 persons/sq.km., vs thousands in other reported areas).

Also send to miss the fact that Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen are (uniquely in Germany), both cities and states officially.

Bremen and Hamburg are an oddity since they have maintained some degree of state autonomy since the forming of the 'Hanseatic League', the history of which is several hundreds of years old, dishing numerous cities birding the North and Baltic Seas.

Interestingly, the German city of Lübeck also held this honour, up until it was removed by Adolf Hitler, after they refused him to publicly speak in the city.


Germany has only 80 million people, however. And the cities in Germany are all spread out around the country.

China has 1.3 billion people, mostly clustered on the east coast. Building megacities is basically mandatory. According to Wikipedia [1], a "medium sized city" with population 1 to 3 million people, in China, would be among 169 other cities. There are 73 cities with a population over 3 million, in 2010. A city with exactly 1 million people would be rank 242 in China... the city (town?) ranked 242 in population in Germany would be the city/town of Eisenach, population 42,700. That's a seriously small city, or about half the population of Mountain View, California.

And these numbers are from the 2010 census- according to some sources, China's population has increased by 80 million people from 2010 to 2016. That's the size of one entire Germany.

The comparison here between cities in Germany vs cities in China isn't exactly fair.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_China_by_pop...

[2] http://www.citymayors.com/gratis/german_topcities3.html

You are not accounting for surface area for both countries or population density.

Germany has even higher population density than China (245 vs 137). Of course we have to account for the gobi desert but even so population shouldn't be a factor of comparison.

I agree that the comparison is not fair though, mainly because the infrastructure development between both countries is vastly different, a better infrastructure helps in distributing population over large areas in my opinion.

Since state area alone doesn't produce anything (maybe it's a rough indicator for general access to share of natural resources, but that's not relevant here)

The comparison could be done on province level though.

If you add up Jiangxi and Fujian Province you would end up with roughly the same are and population as Germany with a slightly higher density.

A significant part of China is a desert. Historically the population of China has been clustered along its east coast. That area is not that much bigger than Germany (if at all).

Look at this section of the wiki article for reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_China#Populati...

From the exact link you provide, if you remove the desert regions (Tibet, Inner Mongolia..etc..), you end up with 4,403,605 km2 (45.55%) for a population 1,221,000,000 (93.89%) and a density of 277h/km2. It is still 10 times the size of Germany.

The population density for that region (277/km2) is higher than that of Germany (235/km2).

My point was to demonstrate that you sentence "That area is not that much bigger than Germany (if at all)" is completely wrong.

I'm not entirely convinced either way.

Look at the Ruhr region. Like all German cities the cities in the Ruhr region have their own identities which the locals are very attached to and their own differences and rivalries. But to outsiders moving in it's all one contiguous region and this is exactly the direction politics is taking the region (with things like the Ruhr University which has merged the various local universities into a single distributed entity).

I don't see Cologne swallowing Bonn or even Leverkusen anytime soon (or in Leverkusen's case: swallowing it again) but given enough time (and in comparison with the total age of the cities even a hundred years isn't much) it might happen eventually.

That said, I'm a Cologne native who recently moved into a small city in Westphalia and am still amazed how many major companies have their headquarters in the region despite having theoretically outgrown their home towns.

As far as I can tell, Germany seems to define itself in terms of regions as you say. Whether those regions will eventually grow into megacities or merely "polycentric urban areas" (as Wikipedia describes the Ruhr region) is ultimately philosophical.

Cities merging does not need to mean identities merging, or getting a single city centre anyway.

I live in London suburb. I rarely go to central London. It's close for when I want the amenities there, but it's just one centre amongst dozens in London. Heck, my own borough, which is one of 30 in London, has at least half a dozen town centres with their own distinct identities. I've not even visited all of them.

I doubt that will change even with mega-cities. What is considered "low density" regions between the centres will just change. E.g. if you drive through London, it's not like you'll suddenly see farm land (unless you try to - there is some) in between the town centres - it is continuous urban/suburban - but you notice when you come to a new town centre, by the increased density of shops, offices and non-residential side streets. The distinction is quite noticeable even in the inner core boroughs where the "non-town centre" areas may be residential high rises or large town houses instead of small terraced houses, but still noticeable different from the commercial and cultural centres.

I lived in the Ruhr for a while, and I have to say that I think that it is quite easily overlooked, but nevertheless true: the Ruhr is a mega-city. What once were unique enclaves and villages and small towns are mere pit-stops across a vast concrete jungle, which has - admittedly - quite some green spaces between it, but is nevertheless well-navigated by its citizens. It is nothing to go for a night out from Bochum to Mannheim-Ruhr, or live in Dusseldorf but work in Cologne .. the rail - and general design of German civilization itself - allows for a much, much bigger scale of things - in this region - than might be generally accepted.

I think of the Ruhr region as a mega-city-one (Judge Dredd) kind of thing, anyway ..

> Whether those regions will eventually grow into megacities or merely "polycentric urban areas" (as Wikipedia describes the Ruhr region) is ultimately philosophical.

I think defining regions around cities vs. regions around an area (Franken, Ostfriesland, etc.) makes some difference. In one concept the big city is the central point of orientation/development/... It's not necessarily political the center, but where the money, the development, the modernity and the culture is located. The other concept of the 'region' distributes power/wealth/culture/infrastructure across the region more even, with some respect for the different strengths of the enclosed areas.

    huge cities like Beijing [...] are having huge problems
I don't think these problems are city problems. The problem is a consequence of the numbers of people. For example the waste n people produce is more or less constant (relative to a given level of development) regardless of whether these n people live in a dense city space, or are spread out.

Indeed, densely populated cities are probably better placed to deal with transport energy and so on, because economies of scale work in favour of dense cities. A particularly good example of this is public transport. Only dense cities can be walkable, and only dense cities can support efficient, well utilised public transport networks.

Density alone is not an argument for mega-cities, though. While it's possible that the economies of scale keep increasing with size -- ie. maybe the electrical network of a dense city of 5 million people is more efficient than that of a dense city of 100k people -- there is probably a point somewhere between those two points where the gains are only marginal.

A dense city of a 100k can support an excellent bus network, a dense city of 250k can additionaly support an excellent networks of trams or subways. 500k gets you direct access to high speed rail and beyond that I'm not sure what additional millions get you in terms of public transport -- an airport, I guess.

And a dense city of 100k people is more walkable than a dense city of millions: In the former case, you can pretty much reach the whole city area by walking (if you are a healthy adult). In the latter, you can only walk in your general neighbourhood -- which probably ends up being much like a city of 100k itself, meaning you rarely have to venture outside for everyday needs (shopping, services, culture, even your job if you're lucky).

I live in a London suburb. My suburb has about 300k. I can walk to the local town centre, three major train stations one of which is 20 minutes on the train from a major international airport. I can also walk to any number of tram stops, or take a bus. From the largest nearby stations, I can also reach central London in 15 minutes (two separate terminals), and any number of other city centres.

The main difference with this vs. when I lived in Oslo, in a city of ~500k and a metro area of maybe 3-4 times that, is that in London I have the same amenities nearby, within walking distance or a short bus ride away, but I also have a vastly larger selection of all kinds of things: Tens of times as many theatres with accordingly larger selection; tens of times as many night clubs or bars; tens of times as many museums, most of which are larger, and many of which cover subjects not covered at all by museums in most smaller cities. In terms of business I have access to a pool of people that is tens of times larger, and equally a market within a range where I can get in a taxi to go see them face to face that is tens of times larger.

That's what density brings.

So yes, my local suburb is like a city. But I can pop over to any number of other places that are also like their own cities in 15-30 minutes, and that makes a big difference to having greater distances.

    there is probably a point somewhere between 
    those two points where the gains are only 
I think we have not reached it in any city currently on earth. I think the whole earth's population could live in a space the size e.g. of Texas, if that space was as densely populated as London (which is not that dense). In such a scenario it would be near trivial to provide everybody with top-notch public transport, waste disposal and so on.

   In the latter, you can only walk in your general 
That's true, but why is this a problem? For a sustainable, walkable city it's only relevant that all key infrastructure (e.g. schools, shopping, leisure, parks ...) is within walking distance and this infrastructure gets replicated in bigger cities.

Of course there exist many places where we have not reached the point of marginal gains (and hence massive room for improvement), but you don't make an argument why you think we haven't reached that point anywhere on Earth.

I think you underestimate the practical difficulties of providing 7 billion people with top-notch public transport and other public services, and there is no precedent of what a region the size of Texas with an average density of 10k/km2 would even look like (though there are artists' renditions, most of them dystopian). But anyway, if that could be done, it could just as well be done if you split everyone into groups of 200k to 2m and settled them in smaller regions of similar density. And that's not a hypothetical, that's what we call a city now, and they work fine.

That's true, but why is this a problem? For a sustainable, walkable city it's only relevant that all key infrastructure (e.g. schools, shopping, leisure, parks ...) is within walking distance and this infrastructure gets replicated in bigger cities.

I agree. I'm not saying that cities larger than 10m are a problem, per se, I'm just saying that smaller, dense cities get you most of the advantages from a quality of living and services aspect. I think it's a matter of taste whether you prefer to live in a city of 50k, 100k, 500k or 2m, and all of these are broadly similar in terms of sustainability.

   underestimate the practical difficulties
My point is not that this is easy/hard, but rather: it's easier to provide top notch infra structure for the worlds population if it is concentrated in a few dense urban centres, rather than spread out. I find this hard to contest. Just think about distance, bearing in mind that the cost of sewage systems, rail (over- and underground), fibre-optic cables and so on basically tracks distance.

   if you split everyone into groups of 200k to 2m 
This is an interesting point. B b b but ...

I cannot think of an existing city with 200k inhabitants and great infrastructure. I can't even think of a city with 2m inhabitants whose infrastructure can compete with world leaders such as Tokio, Manhattan, Hong Kong and the like. And even in these places the best infrastructure is found in the densest parts of the city, not in the outskirts.

Note that the cities you have in mind, say European cities of 200k - 1m size, are rather spread out, and low density. I have lived in enough of those.

But it would be really interesting to have cities that have 200k - 1m inhabitants and are extremely dense like central Hong Kong. Such small cities may be big and dense enough to have the economies of scale of their larger rivals. But, as pointed out by "vidarh", they would not remotely match megacities in terms of interesting cultural life.

   not a hypothetical, 
I don't think it works that well. European cities of 200k - 2m are car-centric in my experience. I supect China would run into major problems if its population live in low-density European style cities with 200k inhabitants each.

> But it would be really interesting to have cities with that have 200k - 1m inhabitants and are extremely dense like central Hong Kong. They may be big and dense enough to have the economies of scale of their larger rivals. But, as pointed out by "vidarh", they would not remotely match megacities in terms of interesting cultural life.

I think with that kind of density, if you go to 1m-2m size, you have a sufficient base for very regular high capacity public transport to other similar sized high density cities very near.

E.g. Macau fascinates me (though I've never visited). It's a fairly small city - roughly 643,100 people (2015 estimate) - , yet it's spread out over a positively tiny area - about 30km^2. Overall density of 18,568/km2. If you condensed London into smaller cities with that density, you could have e.g. split London into four cities of about 120km^2 each, and still free up more than 1000km^2 for green belts or low density zones around them, and yet they'd still be near enough to each other for it be pretty much as easy to travel between the areas as today, and the increased density in each city might even cut down total travel times in many cases.

The biggest challenge with something like that would be disciplined planning, beause obviously if you put big, dense cities like that near each other, the land in between would become immensely desirable.

I agree, this would be a fascinating experiment. 2m city on around 50 km2 is almost completely walkable, and certainly bicycleable. It would be just about big enough to have an interesting cultural life. I wonder why historically such a city has not evolved.

I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the fact that density is expensive in terms of building and infrastructure and also that many people don't especially want density as a matter of choice. As a result, most cities that have highly dense areas largely created those after they had already built out into surrounding areas. (The somewhat exceptions are geographically constrained areas. Even pre-skyscrapers there were very dense areas on Manhattan like the Lower East Side although presumably a return to tenement living conditions isn't a desirable future for cities.)

I don't think density is expensive, on the contrary, density is cheap due to economies of scale.

I think one reason might be food production and transport. Before the invention of refrigeration, fertiliser, mass transport, humans had to live rather close to food production, which stands in the way of density.

Another reason might have been that really dense living required the ability to build high-rise houses, with concomitant requirements for being able to pump water high up, have elevators and so on.

Reliable sewage systems and provision of fresh water was another problem.

Some of the above became widely available only at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. At that time, the automobile encouraged sub-urbanisation.

It may be only know that small, yet very dense cities are possible.

> I think you underestimate the practical difficulties of providing 7 billion people with top-notch public transport and other public services

While some public transport issues increases with density (harder to e.g. dig new tunnels), one of the major issues with public transport at scale is the cost of laying rails and digging tunnels, and amortising those costs over larger populations makes it far more affordable. Once you have the rails, density means you can offer far more frequent service, which makes a huge difference to users. Being able to just assume there'll always be a train within a minute or two is a huge deal to get people to actually use public transport. Density also works the other way and reduces the need in many cases, as well as drop delivery costs and give new options (e.g. I can get stuff from one of the local Amazon competitors couriered over in 2 hours) that first become cost effective when density is high enough to create big enough markets.

> (though there are artists' renditions, most of them dystopian)

That may be so, but density to an extent also creates opportunity. E.g. my local road takes up roughly 45,000 square metres. Of this, roughly 1/3 is gardens where each family in effect only gets use of a very small portion, leaving many of them largely unused. Another roughly 1/3 is pavement, front yards mostly used for bins etc., and the road. Near our local station, new highrises are going up that will house almost the same number of people on a couple of thousand square metres of space. That's a lot of space freed up.

In other words: The question is how far you want to go. If you slash space wasted on roads and wasted duplication, and increase heights, you can get massive increases in density almost everywhere and still end up with more desirable and practically usable space for most people to actually use for things other than transport that is only necessary due to the low density. If you go further than that, and take away all the green space etc., then yes, you get a dystopia.

But you don't need to go very far. E.g. where I live is relatively average density for London. Increase the density of the London metro area five times, and you could empty the entirety of the rest of the UK into London. If every road like mine was replaced with high rises, you'd be able to achieve that with ease and still be left with vast empty tracts of land for new parks (and allotments for those who actually use their gardens today). London makes up well below 1% of the land area of the UK.

I'm not suggesting it'd be a good idea to create a single megacity for the entire UK population. But achieving the density would free up huge amounts of land even if we set aside space for lots of big new parks. It'd also save vast amounts of energy used on transport by cutting distances for most travel.

Most of the UK already can't think of anything worse than living in London, and you want to make it 5 times more crowded?!

Pretty much everyone I know in London have moved here willingly, and like it here. I no, I'm not suggesting making it more crowded. I'm suggesting making it denser.

They're not the same.

Taking the current structure of my street and moving in 5 times more people would be a disaster. It'd be tiny little flats and bedsits, no space for parking. Endless queues.

Compressing my street into 1000m^2 of highrise would be a very different matter, and would let you increase density 5-times (so 5,000m^2 of highrises) near the end of the road closest to the rail station and bus station, and you'd still be left with 40,000 square metres of free land for e.g. extra parks and other amenities.

I don't think that'd be more crowded at all - on the contrary. Most work journeys would be drastically simplified and shortened. Far fewer people would need to depend on cars. Dense residential towers close to major transport interchanges could free up massive amount of road capacity, and outright remove the need for many roads even while pushing overall city density up towards Macau levels.

A lot of crowding is created by bad planning that lengthen journeys and force people to take routes that are already busy.

E.g. 15 years ago or so I lived at Marble Arch. I walked Oxford Street to Holborn where I worked every morning. It was relaxing and quiet in the morning. Then the Central Line derailed and there were repair works for weeks. Of course this was not a result of bad planning, but an accident, but it is a good example of the level of impact available transit options has: Suddenly it was as crowded in the morning as during the afternoon/evening shopping rush. (Lack of) crowding is as much a function of well planned transit as it is a function of density.

Plan a city right, and build dense, well located, housing within easy reach of high capacity transport, and it doesn't need to feel very crowded, because the feeling of it being crowded is not down to how many people that are near you, but how many people you can see and hear immediately surrounding you. Reducing the unnecessary roads, and freeing up space for leisure activities that spread people out (e.g. parks) can often reduce the feeling of being in a crowd even if the actual residential space is incredibly compact.

London is 5100/sqkm, with 7.125 billion people, you'd need 1,397,059 sqkm, or 539,407 sq. miles.

Texas is 268,820 sq. miles. You'd need higher density than Manhattan to fit all these people and have any hope of growth.

Supplying such a monster would be a logistical miracle (or nightmare, depending on your perspective). Water alone would be extremely challenging - where are you going to get a steady supply and where can you store it?

There are cities that are much denser than London, though. For instance, Paris, or for a much more extreme example, Kowloon Walled City. Paris is probably not overly dense, but I think KWC definitely is.

A fundamental problem with huge cities is that smart, talented people go there and never have children who would inherit they smarts. For this reason they are a human resource drain on everywhere else. In short, "cities are IQ shredders" (per http://www.xenosystems.net/iq-shredders/).

The argument your link makes is that Singapore has low fertility therefore cities are bad, and I'm not being reductionist here that is literally all the content to be found there.

How do you uncouple the effect that the people moving into cities have on the city fertility rate from the effect the city has on the fertility rate of the people moving into it? Cities offer things that are valuable to people who don't want children (like, high utility activity for the time they aren't spending raising the children they don't have, compared to places that aren't cities) so they are especially attractive to people who don't want children, and you would expect any place that is attractive to people who don't have children to have a low fertility rate.

Exactly. A common pattern is also that people are more likely to move out of a city once they plan to raise children.

This trend has been reversed in the last decade here in Germany.


> n auf Kernstädte fest. Auch Familien orientieren sich mehr und mehr in Richtung der City-Bereiche. Bis zur Jahrtausendwende waren viele 25- bis 49-Jährige hinaus ins grüne Umland gezogen, um dort ihre Kinder großzuziehen. Das scheint sich umzukehren. Der in den 90er Jahren weit verbreitete Trend zur Suburbanisierung sei weitgehend zum Erliegen gekommen, so die Wissenschaftlerin in ihrer Studie.

I don't think OP was thinking about density but really about huge cities.

In Europe, even mid-size and smaller cities can be as dense as the big cities.

What he was arguing against was a model with a few huge metropolises instead of many Mid-size and Small cities.

> They come from numbers of people.

Huge numbers of people on medium or large areas. There is no way around it: infrastructure also means stuff like waste handling, clean energy, clean transport, etc. These huge megacities often provide the least clean and the least modern infrastructures. Take Beijing. The city has a ring of waste disposal sites around it. Many of them are fully unregulated and illegal. Basically a catastrophe in the making.

> favour of dense cities

Dense cities have their own problems. They grow like cancer in the outskirts, because the dense parts growth is only in skyscrapers. The modern dense city is completely different from the small town here in Germany from the middle-ages (I grew up in one). My theory is that we have seen nothing yet. Once cities like the big ones in China will age, they will be hell on earth. Their impact on the people living their will be a nightmare. We've seen it in East Germany and also certain West German cities after the war. The centrally planned cities with low-quality buildings, degrading over time, at some point start to be fully depressing.

> Only dense cities can be walkable

Use a bicycle.

I'm currently living in the outskirts of one of the bigger German cities (Hamburg). I can tell you, the quality of life is really really amazing - at least for me and my interests. This quality of life is very very hard to get in the center of the town, which btw. is only 30 minutes away with public transport.

   The city has a ring of waste disposal 
   sites around it. Many of them are fully 
   unregulated and illegal. Basically a 
   catastrophe in the making.
This is not a problem of big cities as such but one that Beijing (and China more generally) has because it has only recently transitioned from a developing country. Indeed, modern sustainable waste disposal becomes more economical for bigger cities.

    They grow like cancer in the outskirts
I'm afraid I can't follow your argument here. Land consumption is inversely correlated with density. Compare Hong Kong with Los Angeles. As I said in another answer, all the world's population would fit Texas if Texas was as densely populated as London. The tendency for suburban sprawl we observer around big cities can be counteracted with appropriate legislation.

   the quality of life is really really amazing
I'm happy to believe this, but it's not sure this is scalable to and sustainable for the projected 10 Billion population.

> This is not a problem of big cities as such but one that Beijing (and China more generally) has because it has only recently transitioned from a developing country.

That's where it happens: Big cities in developing countries.

> scalable to and sustainable for the projected 10 Billion population.

Are ten billion sustainable at all? In Megacities? Will it be more sustainable to have them living mostly in Megacities? I don't believe those theories that these cities are more sustainable.

I agree.

The whole idea seems to be based on people that adore living in tiny boxes in concrete paradise.

It really is mind boggling to me. If you're a person that wants to live in such conditions, go for it.

There is a reason that the wealthy have holiday homes. Apartments in capital cities are based on the needs of capitalism and the workplace, not on the needs of humans.

Consider that many cities aren't "concrete paradise" despite being high density. A large proportion of London is parkland. Parts of my suburb is outright rural, and I live in an area full of terraced houses with gardens, and about a dozen parks within walking distance, of which one is a "country park" where you can easily walk for half an hour without seeing a car - or other people.

London still has a density of 5,437/km2 (14,080/sq mi).

Yes, some of the inner boroughs have little green space, but even most of them have large parks.

As for being based on the needs of capitalism over humans, I don't agree. It is both. I don't want to live in the countryside, or in a small town. I moved this "far out" because this is where it was affordable to buy, not because I had any issues with living further in (now that I have a young child, I might have picked an area like this for that reason, but not for myself).

There are appeals to many of living in a big city. In just living near the edge of one, I still miss the days when I lived two minutes from Oxford Street (one of the busiest shopping streets in Central London) and could wander out at 3am and walk a couple of minutes to buy ice cream, or could go out during the weekend and just walk to Soho where the big night clubs are (I don't care so much about that any more, but in my 20's that was a big plus), and could walk home rather than depend on expensive cab rides or rare night trains.

A lot of the reasons we seek together in big cities are not about (just) jobs, but about the social factors and the network effects that for many makes it hard to imagine living somewhere smaller after you've come to expect there to always be something to do or see, or people to meet, no more than a few blocks away, any time, day or night.

I agree in a lot of ways. I've kind of dramatised the point for clarity.

I live in London, out in Zone 6. In some ways it's the best of both worlds, but often it feels daft that I don't just live in the actual countryside. (I previously lived in Z1/2 - great for 'doing stuff', but it had me feeling like a farm animal fairly rapidly).

There is indeed lots of green space, within the city and outside of the city.

But it's still a city. It's almost completely manmade, there's pollution or at least distraction everywhere (billboards, vehicle noise and fumes, people).

It doesn't appeal to everyone, and the idea that it's the 'way forward' I find quite obscene. We should be giving people the choice.

There are lots of parts of living in the city I enjoy, and lots of parts of living in the country that I enjoy, and I think we should be setting up society so that people can choose their poison. Remote working would be a great start.

I think the most basic issue I have is with the idea that all of the problems of cities can be solved.

There's at least one which is impossible to solve - and that is the sheer number of humans and the restrictions that go along with that. I don't want to live in a street or a tower block that has 10,000 other humans in. It makes me feel like I'm in an ant farm.

As a counterpoint to London, consider that in equivalently thriving cities in the US, due to poor planning and investment in transit infrastructure, living near the outer edge of the city means very long commutes into the jobs and idea centers.

By comparison, people I know living in "outer" London Suburbs (Wembley, Harrow, etc.) enjoy many public infrastructure benefits that you have to be in the inner urban core to enjoy in the US (again, in equivalently vibrant regions in the US, not in the dying cities).

Also, UK and European suburbs and small towns seem to have more mixed-use or close proximity residential and retail zones, perhaps because their layout predates the advent of cars, trucks, and freeways.

Not that it's all peaches over there, but in some ways, the urban "planning" seems much better.

Wembley and Harrow being considered 'outer' suburbs feels quite odd to me. Wembley is ~10mi by road and Harrow ~13mi.

A quick scroll through Rightmove has me getting bored before I can find an affordable 1br flat (got to 180,000 and got bored).

A better example would be just inside the M25, where you're either at a station, or in a blank spot with no rail.

I don't disagree that London has better public transport than some places.

Just making a comment because almost definitionally it feels like the 'outer city' is the bit that isn't well connected (i.e. it's not really the city any more).

And (central) London is a lot more concrete-heavy than Berlin, for example, which has trees everywhere. The only thing I'd change about Berlin is switching all the cars to electric, so we'd have clean air. Some day, inevitably.

It's a beautiful city otherwise, lively but rarely uncomfortably crowded.

I agree, Berlin being so green is a great plus. Something I'd change about Berlin is to make the place more dense. For example by doubling the height of each house.

Berlin does not need more density in the first place. They need more jobs. Work. Companies. Berlin already hasn't enough jobs and a relatively low GDP per capita rate - for Germany.

Jobs come with people. The more people, the more interesting the cultural life, the more exchange of ideas.

Berlin is still recovering from being surrounded by / part of a communist society. It will slowly normalise. Berlin is now the capital of a European power and money as well as jobs follow power.

Tiny boxes of private space, and a HUGE public "backyard" full of things to do.

The inverse, a big house in the middle of nothing is also mind boggling to many.

It's not the tininess of the box, it's the overflowing wealth of opportunities for profit and for experience provided by the surrounding city. Most people want to live in such conditions, and judge the smallness of the private living space to be a reasonable tradeoff.

There is a reason that those wealthy people only visit their holiday homes and don't simply move to the remote places where they are located.

"Already huge cities like Beijing or Delhi (India) are having huge problems (waste, energy, water, air quality, and all kinds of pollution, transport, ...) which easily could lead to very nasty scenarios."

I seriously doubt the waste and environmental impact per capita in urban communities approaches the staggering amounts of waste and environmental devastation caused by suburban living. Having many people living in close proximity increases opportunities to optimize energy efficiency and control environmental impacts.

Look at the water used to create lawns out of deserts in Arizona and California, the natural environments paved over for parking lots, and the greenhouse gases produced by hour commutes by one person in an SUV.

'suburban' is still a feature of the huge metropolitan areas. Suburban usually means that there is a big city or more around, where people drive to work.

> Having many people living in close proximity increases opportunities to optimize energy efficiency and control environmental impacts.

Alternatively you could have a landscape with smaller and dense cities, which each are more self-sufficient.

> Having many people living in close proximity increases opportunities to optimize energy efficiency and control environmental impacts.

Look what happens in these large Megacities in China or India: there are lots of opportunities to optimize efficiency. But these opportunities are not exploited. China still creates their electricity from a zillion dirty coal power plants (that's today) and the air is dirty, among the worst in the world.

There are a lot of mechanisms at play, and better energy efficiency or cleaner production is not the top mechanism. With larger energy providers, we see less modern energy creation. They tend to run huge systems for decades and avoid every pressure to modernize (-> invest money). They won't replace a paid dirty power plant with an expensive state-of-the-art gast turbine-based power plant. They are happy to invest into large scale nuclear, though. They tend to create corrupt political structures just to be able so. We've seen the effect of these large energy providers here in Germany. Without political pressure, they would not have installed one filter in a power plant, would not have invested in distributed/decentralized energy systems.

Decentralized energy production can be MUCH more energy efficient, than the big generation systems we've seen for the last decades. A typical combined electricity/heating system is extremely hard to beat. These don't need large cities. Some of them need dense cities, but not all.

The article started off so promising. Just when I reached the part where I expected the author to begin making their point, it was over and all I saw were comments.

Not just that: towards the end he started talking about "winners", like population growth was always a positive. Clearly he's never been to Mexico City or one of those Chinese megacities he seems to envy.

It's Big Think, not Big Talk.

That seems to be a common experience these days, particularly with newspaper articles. Has it always been this way?

From the article:

"Since 2000, this "urban draining" has been reversed, largely as a result of migration from beyond national borders."

Is this correct?

For Copenhagen the urban draining ended in the 1980es.

As far as I know most European capitals had a similar development and were growing comfortly in 1990es.

The change coincided with the end of the cold war and the wave of growth, increased global trade and migration that it enabled.

I think the urban draining referred to the inner core of each city, not the entire metro area.

I boggled at a map of big cities which included Bradford but not Edinburgh; I think they're counting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Yorkshire_Urban_Area as "Bradford". Of course a built-up area doesn't have a unitary urban government, which can result in planning anomalies.

Yeah - I was confused by that. Bradford has a population of 293,277, whereas Leeds (15 miles down the road, border to border and included in the larger West Yorkshire stats) has a population of 751,500.

It seems a bit of a push to categorise several small cities and larger towns separated by miles of rolling hills and countryside as a "Megacity"

Maybe they are treating Edinburgh as part of Glasgow? ;-)

I came away less than convinced after reading that.

I'm not a history expert, but wasn't it basically the industrial revolution that made the city important? Before then, most people were farmers, and the cities didn't matter that much, no? Ok, so how do the latest technological developments, such as computers and Internet affect things? It makes online shopping and remote work possible, so you no longer need a city for those things. The only thing that I can see that you still really need a big city for is an interesting social life, and admittedly, that is important.

>but wasn't it basically the industrial revolution that made the city important

Not really. Cities were important since basically the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculture going back to Babylon and Nineveh.

>The only thing that I can see that you still really need a big city for is an interesting social life, and admittedly, that is important.

Which isn't to everyone's tastes but there does appear to be real and perceived value in concentrating specific industries. As others have remarked many times, it's ironic that the industry that should be among the most amenable to being distributed has instead so concentrated in specific places like the Bay area. (With the result that so many people have convinced themselves their life is over if they can't work there that they'll put most of their income into a crappy apartment.)

Istanbul is as European as Shanghai is American. Turkey is not part of Europe. Whereas other metropolitan areas that are _very_ European are simply left out: Moscow, St Petersburg & Belgrade.

Istanbul is as much European as Paris, London or Berlin. Its western side is located in the Balkans which last time I checked is still in Europe.

Get over the Istanbul/Constantinople debate already. It's been settled some 500 years ago. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never been part of the collective psyche of ًWestern Europe and this sudden concern and activism about this issue is not fooling anyone.

Ah, the tired knee jerk comment whenever Turkey and Europe mentioned. What exactly makes Istanbul a non European city?

How do you define European, anyway? Is Moscow a European city? How about Tbilisi? Tel Aviv feels pretty European to me as well.

I realize it's not PC to talk about these thing in the open, but Europeans do share some form of common cultural heritage that unites them - they're all part of the West and Western Civilization and all that implies.

Historically, Istanbul was always part of "The Orient" - it's where Europe ended.

I'm from Eastern Europe originally, which has a complex relationship with Turkey - Ottoman Empire and all that. Most people I know do not think Turkey is part of Europe, nor that it should be ever let in. And that position is considered "soft" compared to how the Greeks feel about it - whoooooo boy.

> Historically, Istanbul was always part of "The Orient" - it's where Europe ended.

That is factually wrong in so many ways.

To start with, the archipelagos and coasts between today-Greece and today-Turkey shared a common history right about the time "western civilization" is commonly supposed to be born.

Then the Roman Empire happened and Constantinople became central to the whole enterprise, in many ways more Roman than Rome, to the point of surviving almost unscathed the fall of its Western counterpart in a myriad of tribal wars. In the meantime, one guy born in today-Turkey went on to become St. Paul and basically rewrite the Christian gospel as he saw fit.

Istanbul "left Europe" only when the Ottoman conquest happened; and the Ottomans themselves quickly rebranded Constantinople as their capital, openly stating that they were the true heirs of the fallen Roman Empire. Even at this time, with the follow-up of crusading and so on, Venetian ships were busy building cultural and economic bridges between today-Turkey and today-Italy. Despite the friction of Islam and Christianity, Mediterranean traders went along better than either side ever did with their barbarous Northern counterparts.

The fracture that Islamization brought never quite healed, and you can argue about Turkey being "different" from mainland Europe ever since the Ottomans; but you simply cannot say that it's "always" been like that, there is just no factual basis for that statement.

Regarding the views of this or that population about Turkey, they are not unique. Someone was busy this morning on HN arguing that the French don't think the UK belongs in Europe. I know plenty of Swedish people who don't think Finland is Europe, let alone Russia. Personally, the low level of civility demonstrated at various points by several politicians in Hungary, Poland and so on, could very well mean they are not Europeans either. That is not the point. You build the future by looking ahead, not by looking back.

I've always felt that Europe ended at the Urals, but then again I think that was mostly influenced by having read Miguel Strogoff as a boy.

Just about everything?

You could make a case for Izmir, though.

I was born and raised in Turkey. What makes Izmir more "European" than Istanbul (whatever that means)?

"European" is a myth. It doesn't mean anything. It means what is convenient politically and economically. Sweden and Spain don't have that much in common. If Silicon Valley were in Turkey, you'd love to call them European.

> If Silicon Valley were in Turkey, you'd love to call them European

The Bay Area isn't even considered American by Americans. They call us anti-American with our heathen, libertarian ways and alien sanctuary laws. And yet here were are, paying American taxes and anxiously following the presidential primaries.

> The Bay Area isn't even considered American by Americans. They call us anti-American with our heathen, libertarian ways and alien sanctuary laws.

The Bay Area isn't exactly known for "libertarian ways", the issue of whether or not is considered American aside.

Turkey could never have something like Silicon Valley. Islamic culture is far too repressive for something like that to organically grow; SV was the product of a culture which rewarded individualism and free thinking, which is the antithesis of Islamic culture.

There's a reason SV is located in California, and not Alabama or Mississippi, let alone the middle east.

Turkey is NOT European, and it's not about geography so much as it's about culture. Spain is far more similar to Sweden than it is Turkey.

Now, if Istanbul declared independence from the rest of the country which elected Erdogan, then maybe you could argue that it deserves to be in the EU as much as other places like Kosovo or Serbia. But Turkey as a whole belongs in the EU about as much as Iraq or Saudi Arabia.

> SV was the product of a culture which rewarded individualism and free thinking, which is the antithesis of Islamic culture.

Its may be the antithesis of the reactionary Islamism which is currently ascendant in much of the Islamic world, but that's something of contrary to the historical culture of many parts of the Islamic world (whether there is such a thing as a historical "Islamic culture" rather than the very diverse cultures of various regions where Islam has been found is a different debate.)

Not that Silicon Valley was really the product of a culture that rewarded individualism and free thinking. Its the product of a focus on defense and related national prestige investments, and a culture that reward success. Neither of which is foreign to any part of the Islamic world. (To the extent that a culture of individualism that rewarded free thinking evolved in the region, it was a product of the focus on success as the tech hub developed, not the reason the tech hub developed.)

> There's a reason SV is located in California, and not Alabama or Mississippi, let alone the middle east.

Yeah, and its mostly because of the military-industrial complex, not local culture (the technology firms gathered around the nucleus of Moffet Field NAS, which, when certain naval operations moved out, made it an attractive place for NACA -- which became NASA -- to locate operations, which continued attracting tech firms.)

It's in the process of joining the EU (a process that started in 1959, had various setbacks and then restarted in 2004): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accession_of_Turkey_to_the_Eur...

As to whether it's "European" is another question. You could argue that Portland is European, but it's a long way from Brussels.

Joining the EU does not make it a part of Europe. Turkey is used as the definition of where Europe ends. While Istanbul is an exception, being a transcontinental city.

>>Turkey is used as the definition of where Europe ends.

By whom? Because it's also the definition of where the Middle East ends, culturally speaking.

Well that adds up, Middle East ends with Turkey, where after Europe it begins. Now we could debate which "border" is inclusive in respect to Turkey. The pragmatic answer would be, after looking at the map, to put Turkey to the ME side.

If you don't agree to the pragmatic argument and take Turkey to the European side, you don't really have an answer yet. It'd just modify the question slightly: Suppose you "include" Turkey to "Europe", now what borders should we use for Turkey? The current border that arbitrarily cuts across the map? They're mostly the result of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).

That's akin to saying: we reject the current (arbitrary) definition of Europe (mostly a consensus among "Europeans"), in favor for an arbitrary definition made by the Europe's "big boys" to chill a bit after WWI. Also I wouldn't call Turkey's current borders completely uncontroversial, a big part of eastern Turkey could as well be part again of a future resurrected Kurdistan. Would you then include the Kurdish parts also to Europe? So you'll end up anyways to draw borders around cultural or ethnical "regions". Thus to get back to my original point, given that we still subscribe to the line-drawing-game, I'd suggest to draw it before Turkey and call it a day.

This is in line with the philosophy of Jane Jacobs. Check-out some of her ideas regarding the City as the true measure of macroeconomic analysis: http://www.zompist.com/jacobs.html [previously discussed: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10834435]

I would love to see a map of the US arranged like this. New York is often undersized in statistics because so much of the metropolitan area really exists in New Jersey or West Chester. The fact that the eastern parts of Brookly & Queens count towards NYC while Jersey City & Hudson County doesn't feels like an accident of geography and not an actual distinction that matters.

This is exactly why I think many state borders in the US need to be redrawn, for better administrative efficiency and less political problems. New Jersey as a state should not exist, at all. The northern half should be part of a new city-state called "New York City", which includes not only present-day NYC boroughs, but Jersey City, Newark, and the rest of northern NJ in the west, White Plains and all that area to the north, and Stamford and the eastern half of Connecticut to the east, as well as all of Long Island.

The southern half of NJ should be part of a new city-state called "Philadelphia", which also includes Philly, the surrounding area in PA, and maybe Newark Delaware.

This pattern should be repeated across the nation, with state lines redrawn so that no large metro area crosses a state border. If a metro area crosses a state border, we're doing it wrong: there should be a clear hierarchy with towns/cities being lower-level than states, being lower-level than the federal government, and having cities spanning states breaks that and creates confusion and generally a big mess, as is seen with the screwed-up transit systems between NYC and NJ.

While they're at it, they should re-organize the states so they're roughly the same population. So tiny-population states like Rhode Island and Vermont and Wyoming need to be merged with neighbors somehow, and huge-population states like California and Texas need to be broken up. This would lead to better representation in the Senate.

There's a web page here about someone's idea along these lines: http://www.tjc.com/38states/ This was a class project in the 70s, but the idea is sound and makes even more sense now with greater urbanization since then. They also reduce the total number of states, which would save taxpayer money overall by reducing administrative overhead.

When the megacorps like Alphabet and Apple start building their own cities, the nation state will really be in trouble.

Why build it ? It's far easier to lobby the current nation states to get what they need. They just have to keep enough of the public funded government policies and infrastructures they need to continue to strive.

> Why build it ? It's far easier to lobby the current nation states to get what they need.

You are truly an optimist. Google can't even get Mountain View to allow them to put up a few skyscrapers.

"Google’s plans to build housing on its Mountain View campus in Silicon Valley are being resisted on the ground that residents might keep pets, which could harm the local owl population." (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21647614-poor-land-use...)

This was such a ludicrous decision. I've heard through the grapevine, though, that the council were concerned that if Google build residential housing in North Bayshore (or really anywhere in Mountain View) that they would end up being a large voting block that would control the entirety of local politics. If this was the justification, which I could certainly believe, they should have just said so... not give Intuit the building rights with no additional comment period. Intuit's plan, of course, only includes commercial development, which will make local traffic even worse. But hey, it doesn't cost the city of MOuntain View anything since most of the affected roads are state highways, and the town will collect millions in property taxes.

I have never seen an owl in SV. Nor have I ever met a person who has seen an owl. To me, that either indicates the population is in far worse straits than I imagine or this issue is entirely made up (porque no los dos? Because the land proposed for development is already pretty developed -- not remotely "pristine wilderness", I don't really see much happening to drive out what's not there.

Seems like google could just move anywhere they wanted or threaten to and the city would have to comply.

Google already has moved: they have offices around the globe, Sydney, Singapore, New York, London, etc. They still rely on Mountain View as their main campus.

I fucking hate that NIMBY culture in California. It's already ruined San Fran. It's ridiculous and short-sighted to fight high-density housing in this day and age. Ooooh, but yeah, sure is nice to watch your property value go up on that little shack you bought in 1992....

Yep. Every time the new thing comes along (megacorp 'cities'), it breaks the old assumptions about how/why things are done ('build'). Why own a car when you can Uber everywhere? Etc.

Why build your own city if you can just settle in an existing city and rebuild it in your own image?

This is pretty much what Facebook has been accused of.

You can't build a city, you'll end with something not entirely livable and very boring.

USSR did this with cities like Tolyatti and Magnitogorsk. You can convince Soviet serfs to live in one but not to-be employees of megacorps.

This sounded plausible until you came to "megacorps". They are not very much different from the Soviet state

I think they are very very much different, in fact so different that the comparison is a bit of an insult to the millions of people killed by the Soviet state (its own citizens as well as others).

Brasilia did better

Everyone who has to live in it hates Brasilia. You can force people to live there because it's a powerful capital city, but it's still awful.

Sorry to break it, but mostly people do like here (I know, because I don't - I'd much rather life at some smaller city).

Some come from a coastal area, and will keep complaining about the lack of a sea their entire life, and they are loud. If you are just listening around, you'll get a very biased sample.

Are you sure? I've mostly heard complaints about it.

A national capital is an exception, not the rule.

Wait until its main industry moves or goes into crisis.

Of all places its one has smallest chances to move or go into crisis.

sure but it certainly did move there. So it's not like it's 0% chances long term.

I would like to see that map with metro areas but with GDP figures (and/or GDP per capita) in stead. I find GDP per capita figures hard to find for cities.

You can find it here, with the original sized maps and the original article:



There's a map[0] on wikipedia with the GDP per capita for different regions in EU (data from 2007).

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_GDP_per_capita_in_...

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