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Highly urbanized areas in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur - Asian center

Kuala Lumpur - Asian center

Most Asian cities do not yet have the huge number of private automobiles that have caused urban sprawl in most North American cities. However, as household incomes rise and globalisation generates a revolution of rising expectations, the demand for private cars is escalating. Asian planners are now engaged in a frantic race to come up with measures to prevent what occurred in North America from happening in Asia. Some of the measures they have used to control urban sprawl include: (a) planned development of self-contained industrial estates, hi-tech zones, special economic zones and other productive enclaves to concentrate growth in selected urban nodes within the mega-urban region; (b) construction of trunk infrastructure systems linking clustered cities together; (c) preserving agricultural land and open spaces; (d) encouraging the establishment of high-density settlements where people can live, work, shop, and have access to cultural activities; and (e) creating area-wide metropolitan planning committees with open stakeholder participation.

China has adopted as part of its national urban development strategy, the establishment of 5 special economic zones (Shantou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Xiamen and Hainan Island), 14 "open coastal cities," and 3 "open economic regions" (in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and Jiangsu provinces, and the Minnan Delta in Fujian province). Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are small areas "demarcated within a country’s territory and suitably insulated for adopting special and flexible policies to attract and encourage foreign investment in industrial and other economic activities" (Yee, 1992). In Shenzhen, for example, the government built a whole city from scratch, transforming a fishing village of 3 sq km and a population of 30,000 to a mega-city of 2,022 sq km with a population of 9.1 million. Shenzhen has attracted investments from local interest such as Hong Kong SAR of China, and from external investors like Japan, Korea, the United States and Canada. Even as it developed into a compact urban region, it has served to energize surrounding urban nodes like Dongguan, Foshan, Zhongshan and Huizhou. It has also sparked visions of a Southern China megalopolis linking it with Hong Kong SAR of China, Macao SAR of China, Zhuhai and Guangzhou.

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Putrajaya and Cyberjaya in Malaysia

Putrajaya and Cyberjaya in Malaysia

India’s largest city, Mumbai, with a population of about 20 million, has adopted a regional plan to control urban sprawl. As early as the 1960s, Mumbai’s planners had proposed a new settlement across the harbour called New Mumbai. Focused on the development of the port in Nava Sheva, the plan was designed to concentrate industrial and manufacturing activities so as to form a "counter magnet" to the old city (Jain, 1996). New Mumbai was established in 1972 as the largest new planned city in the world with a total land area of 344 sq km. Two bridges were built to connect New Mumbai with the old city and railway links were established with other urban nodes. In 2001, the new city had a population of 1.5 million, according to the 2001 census.

An ambitious scheme to control urban sprawl in Malaysia involves the creation of two "intelligent cities" linked to Kuala Lumpur by massive infrastructure facilities–Putrajaya and Cyberjaya. Putrajaya is being built on a green field site about 25 km from Kuala Lumpur, where some 500,000 people are expected to be residing by 2010. Some 53 per cent of the buildings will be for government activities, 29 per cent for commercial use and the rest for private residences and services. About 38 per cent of the city’s land area will be devoted to green spaces and wetlands.

Cyberjaya, Malaysia’s centre for high-technology is 5 km from Putrajaya. It covers an area of 2,894 ha and its development is estimated to cost $5.3 billion. It is linked to Kuala Lumpur by the Shah Alam Expressway. As a settlement fully devoted to hi-tech development, Cyberjaya has a national fibre-optic backbone, broadband connectivity to all buildings, wireless hi-fi spot services in all public areas, local online electronic commerce portals and "smart" homes and schools.

The population figures for the mega-cities mentioned above are based on official country definitions confined to formal political boundaries. However, it is now increasingly recognised by researchers and government authorities that the actual "urban field" of economic, social and technological influences of mega-cities extends way beyond their formal boundaries.

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Most modern cities in Asia

Most modern cities in Asia

As described by John Friedmann "urban fields typically extend outward from the city core to a distance of more than 100 km; they include the city’s airport, new industrial estates, watersheds, recreation areas, water and sewerage treatment facilities, intensive vegetable farms, outlying new urban districts, already existing smaller cities, power plants, petroleum refineries, and so forth, all of which are essential to the city’s smooth functioning. City-regions on this scale can now have millions of inhabitants, some of them rivalling medium-sized countries. This space of functional/economic relations may fall entirely within a single political/administrative space. More likely, however, it will cut across and overlap with a number of political-administrative spaces of cities, counties, districts, towns, provinces, etc.".

McGee, noting the unique feature of Asian urban agglomerations, has coined the term desakota development to describe their growth, combining the Bahasa terms desa (village) and kota (city) to indicate their mixed rural-urban characteristics. He observed that these city-regions tend to "produce an amorphous and amoeba-like spatial form, with no set boundaries or geographic extent and along regional peripheries; their radii sometimes stretching 75 to 100 km from the urban core. The entire territory – comprising the central city, the developments within the transportation corridors, the satellite towns and other projects in the peri-urban fringe and the other zones – is emerging as a single, economically integrated "mega-urban region" or "extended metropolitan region" (McGee, 1995).

Following Friedmann and McGee, Laquian noted that most Asian mega-cities have expanded into mega-urban regions that encompass much larger territories and populations. Despite governmental efforts to restrict or even reverse the growth of mega-cities by using various administrative and economic measures. For instance, internal passport systems that limit benefits to bona fide urban residents in China and Viet Nam; use of green belts to confine growth within highly urbanized areas in India and Malaysia; eviction and resettlement of inner city dwellers to outlying areas in the Philippines and Bangladesh;

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Urban Indonesian cities

Urban Indonesian cities

Transmigration schemes to move urban residents to frontier areas in Indonesia mega-urban regions have continued to grow. While some inner city areas have lost populations because of out-migration and forcible eviction, suburban and exurban areas around mega-cities have continued to grow. This "spreading pancake" or "palm and fingers" expansion pattern has engulfed small towns, cities and other settlements in the urban periphery, joined the urban fields of other large cities, and formed city clusters or sprawling mega-urban regions.

The proper definition of mega-urban regions, of course, is not an easy task. However, it may be possible in the future to go beyond formal country definitions of urban agglomerations by using technological tools such as geographic information systems and satellite imagery to determine the actual extent of urban built-up areas that make up mega-urban regions. This is particularly important because of the rapidly rising urbanization levels in many developing countries, the blurring of urban-rural distinctions, and the emergence of city clusters.

For urban planning and governance purposes, there is a need to go beyond the demographic and spatial features of urban agglomerations and to fully consider the complex economic, social, political and technological processes and linkages involved in what has been called "urbanism as a way of life".

This change of perspective is called for in light of the increasing influence of globalisation forces that are transforming the functioning and structure of mega-urban regions. This paper analyzes the growth of mega-urban regions in Asia and suggests a typology that may be useful for classifying them. It explores the various issues confronting their development and then suggests various planning and governance approaches that may enhance their positive role in regional and national development.

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Highly urbanized areas in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur
Highly urbanized areas in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur
Highly urbanized areas in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur
Highly urbanized areas in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur

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For instance, internal passport systems that limit benefits to bona fide urban residents in China and Viet Nam; use of green belts to confine growth within highly urbanized areas in India and Malaysia; eviction and resettlement of inner city dwellers to outlying areas in the Philippines and Bangladesh.

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