Medium-Sized Cities in Asia: What, How Many, How Different, and What to Do about it?

malaysia penang bus in trafficAs we look at the city of George Town, with a population of some 750,000 living with the city limits of ca. 120 sq/km (roughly the size of the city of Paris), one of the things that comes most immediately to mind is that, despite the significant challenges posed by the current transportation  arrangements, it is certainly not an example of a major Asian megalopolis, or even a “large city” by Asian standards. And even if we take into account the entire George Town Conurbation, the total population is just a bit more than 2.2 million.

So what can we call it? What about a medium-sized Asian city?

This is interesting to the extent that it would seem that there is a special problematique when it comes to planning for sustainability in general and for sustainable transport in particular in medium-sized Asian cities.  At least that is our thesis, and one to which we intend to give attention in the context of the Penang project in September.

” Medium-sized cities don’t get the same attention and resources that the large megacities do, but they face the same issues.”   – Stephen Tyler, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition in Vietnam

But what in fact is a medium-sized Asian city?

To get a feel for this we carried out some  back of the envelope calculation drawing on a quick survey of UN and other recognized statistical sources.  We came up with these  numbers which, though admittedly rough and conceptual, are certainly not without meaning.

Here’s how the rough numbers work: If we take half a million people as our lower size limit, we can see  there are on the order of 400 cities in Asia with populations of about 500,000 or more.

malaysia penang heavy traffic

Of these there are a rough dozen megalopolis or megaregions of more than 10 million, and another dozen of more than 5 Million. In addition there are about thirty more with populations of more than ca. 2.5 million (most of these in China).  These large and mega cities have their own problematiques and issues which set them apart from the rest.

If we take this as our rough limits — i.e., populations of greater than half a million but less than 2.5 million — we are looking at something on the order of 300 cities that fall into this roughly defined group.

Certainly cities like Penang, Suwon in Korea (1.1 million), Semarang in Indonesia (1.5 million) or Chiang Rai in Thailand (1.2 Million) —  just to take them as quick examples  — have their own problems when it comes to transport and quality of life more generally. But they also have a number of potential advantages when compared to their larger and more congested sister cities.  Their challenge being ot find ways to take advantage of their assets. And this for most of them is far from a hopeless task.

Against this background, here is our question: Do these cities have enough in common when it comes to the transport and related issues to warrant thinking about them as a category worthy of analysis,  not only as individual cities but as members of a larger group?  We intend to check into this in the months and weeks ahead.

In the meantime stay tuned to and .

malaysia penang  ped crossing

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eb - about the editor - 28jun13

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