Guess where the future's most crowded cities will be

Hong Kong in 2025, artist’s impression. Image: Guzmán Lozano via Flickr.

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past five years, you’ll probably know that the world’s cities are getting bigger. Half the world’s population currently lives in them; by 2050, demographers predict it’ll be 70 per cent.

Some of those additional 20 per cent will live in new cities, created to meet the insatiable demand for an urban lifestyle. Sometimes, that’ll mean cities expanding; but sometimes, it’ll just mean cramming more people into existing ones.

To find out which cities will grow not just bigger, but more crowded, Bloomberg has put together a list predicting which will have the highest population density by 2025. Perhaps unsurprisingly, seven of the top 10 are in Latin America, a region whose cities are already teeming with informal slum settlements.

Here's the top ten:

(You can view the full list here.)

Hong Kong doesn’t just take the top spot: it’s predicted to be nearly twice as crowded as second ranked Salvadar’s. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why: the city-state is an island, and an rich one at that, so there are many incentives to move there, but, short of expanding onto the water (something the city is actually considering) there’s no way for the city to expand outwards. It’s a similar situation in Singapore (also an island), and in Salvador (surrounded by water on three sides).

One thing that isn’t clear is the city definition used by Bloomberg to create the predictions. It’s possible they’ve used the same urban boundaries for the 1995 figure and the 2025 figure, despite the fact these boundaries will likely change. However, examining the same urban area’s population growth over 30 years is still useful – in cities with expanding suburbs, fewer people will need to live in the packed centre. In cities with nowhere to expand, like Hong Kong, the population of that urban centre will necessasrily just keep getting higher.

Another interesting metric the list explores is the cities' percentage growth between 1995 and 2025, a period Bloomberg defines by that hazy metric, a "generation". In Hong Kong, for example, its growth over that period is predicted to be 36 per cent. This may sound like a lot, but Brasilia, which is seventh on the list, is expected to grow by a whopping 119 per cent. Two cities in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh and Jiddah, are forecasted to grow by 167 per cent and 137 per cent apiece.

Another surprise is Atlanta, Georgia. In terms of density, it takes 40th place on the list, but its population is predicted to grow by 115 per cent. Here’s the top ten cities by growth:

A report in Arab News last year claimed that Saudi Arabia’s urban populations are increasing so rapidly largely because the central government is investing in urban areas far more than smaller settlements. These cities are also relatively new, with swathes still under construction: Jeddah is currently building an entirely new transport network to deal with its terrible traffic and swelling population.

The four US cities predicted to double or nearly double by 2025 have post-recession rebounding economies to thank. Houston’s oil industry is booming, while Phoenix is becoming a slightly improbably tourist destination (we hear the golf’s lovely).

The names on this list suggest that, as rising prices make bigger global cities more inaccessible, it might be less famous cities that’ll  take the brunt of the next wave of urban migration.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.