How big is big?

Big city life,
Me try forget by,
Pressure nah ease up no matter how hard me try.
Big city life,
Here my heart have no base,
And right now Babylon deep on me case.

Sounds familiar? Probably.

These are some lyrics of the song ‘Big City Life’ by Mattafix. They popped up in my head when I was writing. It’s a catchy earworm and the perfect soundtrack to read this blogpost.

Let’s get to the point and talk about big cities and the question ‘How big is big?’.

Why are big cities so important and why will they become more and more important:


This is a graph I recently saw in a presentation at work. You can see that big cities are booming. They will become more and more important in the future. In fact, by 2030 almost 5 billion of us will be urban, which means living in a city.

So, people living in cities better be happy and I if you want to know more about how we can achieve this, you can read a blogpost I wrote earlier.

So yes, big cities are a huge thing.

But I strugle with the defintion of a big city. How big is big?

The United Nations uses three definitions to clasify cities:

  • Urban area

An urban area can be defined by one or more of the following: administrative criteria or political boundaries (e.g., area within the jurisdiction of a municipality or town committee), a threshold population size (where the minimum for an urban settlement is typically in the region of 2,000 people, although this varies globally between 200 and 50,000), population density, economic function (e.g., where a significant majority of the population is not primarily engaged in agriculture, or where there is surplus employment) or the presence of urban characteristics (e.g., paved streets, electric lighting, sewerage).

Top 3 (2015): Tokyo, Jakarta and Delhi

  • Metropolitan area

A formal local government area comprising the urban area as a whole and its primary commuter areas, typically formed around a city with a large concentration of people (i.e., a population of at least 100,000). In addition to the city proper, a metropolitan area includes both the surrounding territory with urban levels of residential density and some additional lower-density areas that are adjacent to and linked to the city (e.g., through frequent transport, road linkages or commuting facilities).

Top 3: Tokyo, Shangai and Jakarta

  • City proper (administrative)

The population living within the administrative boundaries of a city or controlled directly from the city by a single authority.

Top 3: Shangai, Karachi and Beijing.

The definitions are very alike if you aks me. Maybe it is fair for Tokyo to claim they are the biggest. They have a population of 37.750.000 (!) people.

My brother in law and his girlfriend recenlty went to Tokyo and sent me the video below of people crossing a street in Tokyo:

For me this seems more like the start of a Marathon but anyway. If you want to have an idea how big is big, well… this is a perfect example I think.

One thing is for sure: Asia dominates. Just take look at the video below:

So big cities will pop up the upcoming decennia. The obvious reason behind this is, is off course the fact that the population is exploding. More people means more housing which means bigger cities.

A very cool (and disturbing) visualation of our population growth is this animated video:

Crazy stuff, isn’t it?

A very interesting article about an evolution in cities I read recently is ‘Hyperconnected cities’. Parag Khanna talks about his new book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of the Global Civilization:

We’re now moving toward a new era where insular, political boundaries are no longer as relevant. More and more people are identifying as “global citizens,” and that’s because we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been before. As a result, a “systems change” is taking place in the world today in which cities—not nations—are the key global players.

Thus Khanna claims that political geography is not determinant anymore, because cities are more important.

Cities are a key element to that evolution for many reasons. First of all, the world has become urban. If you want to understand where people are, people are in cities. Second: economics. Most of the world’s economic power is concentrated in cities, and therefore they become the pivotal entities you need to analyze to understand the world economy. Thirdly, cities are increasingly connecting to each other. They’re forging their own diplomatic networks, [which] I call “diplomacity.”

There will be 11 billion of us on this globe in 2100. The effects on the nature are obviously huge and also disturbing. There are many things we can do and in my home country their is an interesting debate going on at the moment.

We gave it a cool name: Betonstop. In English: Concrete Stop.

Belgium has the most number of kilometers in Europe of roads with a building aside. We love to build but we are building too much. People will now be encouraged to move to the city so we can rise our population density. There is a lot more to say about this but I leave it to that. You can read more about it here.

Just remember: Tokyo has 37 million inhabitants and this is only a fraction of the 11 billion people who will live on earth in 2100.

Big city life just got real.

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