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The world’s cities by 2030

This UN report (2018) on urbanization trends is a fascinating way to understand how our world is growing and changing. So today’s post is about some of my takeaways. If you have others, feel free to add them to the comment section below.

But first, some definitions.

The UN report considers 3 ways to measure the size of a city, all of which we have used before on this blog. The first is the “city proper.” That is the current administrative boundary of a city. The second is the “urban agglomeration” area, which is a city’s contiguous built-up area. And the third is the “metropolitan area,” which is the approximate area of economic and social interconnectedness.

Above is what these 3 boundaries might look like for Toronto (which is the example they use in their report). About the only one that isn’t debatable is the “city proper” boundary; but it really doesn’t capture the full extent of a city. Wherever possible, the UN report relies on the city’s urban agglomeration area. They also define a “megacity” as a city of over 10 million people.

The largest city in the world is currently Tokyo. However, from 2018 to 2030 it is expected to decline by almost 900,000 people. Whereas, the city in 2nd position — Delhi — is expected to add more than 10 million inhabitants during this same time period. By 2030, these are expected to be the largest cities in the world:

Most current megacities are located in what the UN refers to as the “Global South.” And 9 out of the 10 cities projected to become megacities by 2030 are located in developing countries. The one exception is London. Though all regions in the world are becoming more urban, the real population growth is happening in Asia and Africa.

Most cities — 59% of cities with 500,000 or more people — are at risk of at least one natural disaster. And 3 megacities — namely Manila, Osaka, and Tokyo — are high risk for 3 or more types of natural disaster.

Going through the report’s data charts, it’s also interesting to note that Toronto is not projected to become a megacity by 2030. However, the Toronto area already represents over 20% of Canada’s entire urban population.

In the United States, Chicago’s urban agglomeration is projected to continuing growing and does come close to megacity status by 2030. The Miami region is similarly expected to grow and is actually right on top of Toronto in terms of population. But the fastest growing regions are, of course, expected to be the city’s that can more easily sprawl (Las Vegas, Phoenix, and so on).

Bogotá, Colombia is already a megacity and is expected to add almost 2 million people by 2030. It currently represents about 26.5% of the country’s entire urban population. São Paulo remains one of the top 10 largest cities in the world and is similarly projected to add over 2 million people in the same time period, but to a much larger base.

In Europe, it’s London, Paris, and Moscow, with the latter two already in possession of megacity status.

Now quantity isn’t everything. Despite not ranking in the top 10 in terms of population, both New York and London are widely considered to be the world’s preeminent global cities. At the same time, we do know that the size of a city does create certain socioeconomic benefits. Urban agglomerations create agglomeration economies.

If you’d like to download a copy of the World’s Cities in 2018 (United Nations), click here.

Charts/Maps: United Nations


  1. This is a cool piece, its nice to think about how the cities will change as we know them and how they will adapt systems to keep up with the population growth, especially as many of these are not known as really organized countries as Egipt, Congo or my own Colombia.I’m from Medellin Colombia wich is a ¨exheption to the rule¨ if you will.

    An interesting fact on Bogota, it elected its first woman mayor this past Sunday, and she’s also a Lesbian, a huge deal for a country like mine, regardless of her political agenda.



  2. The Toronto delineations are odd, to be honest. They don’t even include all of the already-defined GTA and GTHA. Moreover, our version of a “Chicagoland,” would include the Greater Golden Horseshoe as well and almost all of that is missing. It just seems to capture a lot of York Region farmland.


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