A megalopolis is a cluster of two or more adjacent metropolitan areas. A megapolis example is Brooklyn and New York City which have merged into one continuous, connected economic area.
These urban areas are connected through common styles of transport, economy, resources, etc. Although the constituent metropolises retain their identities, they collaborate through coordinating policies that lead to greater mobility and efficiency.
So, megapolises can better tackle inter-regional challenges through cooperation, but they also face challenges like excessive urbanization. We will discuss the pros and cons of megapolises later.
Alexander Garvin defines megalopolis as
“…a string of urban centers that have grown so much that they have merged together into one continuous metropolitan region” (2002).
The term originates from the Ancient Greek city-state of Megalopolis; mégas means “great”, and pólis means “city”. In classical times, “megalopolis” was used as an epithet for great cities like Athens and Syracuse.
The modern usage, however, has its roots in the work of Jean Gottman. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gottman used the term to refer to an amalgam of multiple urban areas.
In the US, the term “megaregion” is preferred. America 2050 writes that megaregions are characterized by:
- Environmental Systems and Topography
- Infrastructure Systems
- Economic Linkages
- Settlement Patterns and Land Use
- Shared Culture and History
- Boston-Washington Corridor: The Boston-Washington Corridor, also known as the North East megalopolis, is the world’s largest megalopolis in terms of economic output. Jean Gottman first introduced the term megalopolis with reference to this area stretching from Boston to Washington on the Atlantic Coast of the US. The North East megalopolis is characterized by all five features (environmental systems, shared culture, etc.) discussed above, which is why it is one of the strongest megalopoleis. It is also home to the leading universities of the world, such as Harvard, MIT, Yale, etc.
- Pearl River Delta Megalopolis: The Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region, also known as the Greater Bay Area, is a megalopolis in South China. It consists of nine megacities in the Guangdong province and two special administrative regions, Hong Kong, and Macao. With a total area of 56,000 km2 and a population of over 71.2 million, the GBA is the largest and most populated urban area in the world. It contributes to 12% of China’s GDP and is the richest economic region in South China.
- Delhi-NCR Megalopolis: The National Capital Region in India comprises Delhi and several districts from the neighboring states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The satellite cities (Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurugram, and Noida), along with Delhi, are home to over 46 million people. The NCR was established in 1985 to plan development and harmonize policies in the region. But, despite its economic progress, the NCR has been struggling with environmental issues, and Delhi continues to be among the most polluted cities in the world.
- Blue Banana: The Blue Banana, also known as the European Megalopolis or Liverpool-Milan axis, is an urbanized corridor in Western and Central Europe. It stretches across cities in various countries (United Kingdom, Belgium, France, etc.) and has a population of over 110 million. The area was conceptualized in 1989 by RECLUS, a group of French geographers led by Roger Brunet. Brunet believed that the corridor of industries from northern England to northern Italy could become the “backbone” of Western Europe, and indeed, today, it is one of the most prosperous regions in Europe.
- Nile Delta & Greater Cairo: The Nile Delta region in Egypt is a megalopolis stretching from Alexandria in the West to Port Said in the East. Covering over 240 km of the Mediterranean coastline, it is one of the largest river deltas in the world and has a population of over 41 million. The Greater Cairo (consisting of Cairo, Giza, Qalyubiyya, and Helwan) region is another megalopolis in Egypt, and it is the largest urban area in Africa.
- Taiheiyō Belt: The Taiheiyō (“Pacific”) Belt, also called the Tōkaidō corridor, is a megalopolis in Japan. It stretches from Ibaraki Prefecture in the northeast to Fukuoka Prefecture in the southwest, covering almost 1,200 km and housing over 74.7 million people. The region’s large plains facilitate buildings in an otherwise mountainous Japan, which accounts for the high population. Japan’s sky view at night clearly shows a continuous strip of light (coming from urban centers) marking the region.
- Greater Tehran: Greater Tehran is an urban agglomeration around Tehran (Iran), which covers Tehran and Alborz provinces while also influencing Mazandaran, Qazvin, and Qom. The area has a population of over 15 million people and is one of the most populous areas in the Middle East. However, the accelerated influx of people and overuse of resources has led the city to sink at an alarming rate of 25 cm every year (Dockrill, 2018)
- Seoul Capital Area: The Seoul Capital Area is a megalopolis in northwest South Korea, consisting of Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province. It has a population of 26 million and is spread over 12,685 km2, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the world. The Seoul Capital Area has become a hub of innovation in recent decades and is home to some of the world’s leading technology companies like Samsung and LG. The region is also the cultural, residential, and financial center of South Korea.
- Quebec City-Windsor Corridor: The Quebec City-Windsor Corridor is the most heavily industrialized and populated region in Canada. It homes over half the country’s population (18 million people) and spans over 1150 km. The Quebec City-Windsor Corridor is to Canada what the Northeast Corridor is to the US, contributing hugely to the country’s economic and political infrastructure. The name of the region was popularized by Via Rail, whose passenger train service area was called “The Corridor”.
- Greater Buenos Aires: Greater Buenos Aires is a megalopolis in Argentina comprising the city of Buenos Aires and its 24 adjacent districts. In the 20th century, the spread of urban development created this vast urban area of 3800 km2, which is 19 times the size of the city of Buenos Aires. The region houses one-third of Argentina’s population (14 million people) and accounts for nearly half of the country’s GDP.
Pros and Cons of Megapolises
While megalopolises allow greater inter-region collaboration, they also come with several disadvantages, such as excessive urbanization & lack of open spaces.
- Cooperation in Addressing Challenges: Many challenges cannot be solved by interventions at the city or metropolitan scale. For example, protecting public watersheds spanning multiple regions or moving goods from coastal regions to inland destinations—these can be better addressed when there is cooperation among the constituent regions of a megalopolis (America 2050, 2022). Together, they can invest in mobility infrastructure, coordinate development strategies, and protect the environment.
- Formation of Global Integration Zones: Continents across the world are creating Global Integration Zones: specialized economic regions spread over large geographic areas connected with high-speed goods movement systems (America 2050). The increased mobility of workers and goods between these networked cities leads to greater collaboration, flexibility, and efficiency.
- New Framework for Federal Policies: Megapolises will allow countries to reshape their federal policies, such as transportation bills, urban development plans, farm policies, etc. (America 2050). High-Speed Rail lines will play a huge role in the future, and they will need to be integrated with other modes of transportation. Smarter highway tolling and information systems will also improve efficiency & capacity.
- Excessive Urbanization of Population: One of the biggest challenges of the modern world is excessive urbanization: more and more people are crowding into metropolitan areas to enjoy the socioeconomic benefits they offer. As of 2021, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. This will continue to overstrain natural resources.
- Lack of Open Space in Urbanized Regions: The American dream of every family having its own house (in its plot) has consumed vast open areas, and urban sprawl throughout the world has done the same. When land is used for suburban dwellings, there is little left for farm production or recreational activities (CQ Researcher, 1965).
- Exacerbation of Problems: Megalopolises exacerbate the urban ills of overpopulation, sanitation, etc. Jakarta (Indonesia) aptly demonstrates the problems that such urban centers face. Being a coastal area, it is the crossing point between the inside and the outside, and it is therefore a high crime area. It also faces other issues, such as growing slums, lack of adequate drinking water, etc. (Formisano, 2022)
A megapolis is a group of metropolitan areas that merge into a single unit through common systems of transportation, economy, etc.
Megapolises allow greater collaboration in tackling inter-regional problems and also promote economic growth by improving efficiency. However, they also cause problems such as excessive urbanization and lack of open spaces.
America 2050 Staff (February 19, 2022). “Megaregions”. America 2050. Retrieved February 19, 2022 – via RPA.org.
CQ Researcher. Megalopolis: promise and problems. (1965). Editorial research reports 1965 (Vol. I). http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1965021000
Dockrill. P. (2018). “This City of 15 Million People Is Sinking Rapidly, And It Could Be Irreversible”. Science Alert. https://www.sciencealert.com/this-city-of-15-million-people-is-sinking-rapidly-and-it-could-be-irreversible
Formisano, M. (2022). “The challenges of littoral megalopolis: Jakarta case”. Opino Juris.
Garvin, A. (2002). The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t. McGraw-Hill Education.
Gottmann, J. (1957). “Megalopolis, or the urbanization of the Northeastern Seaboard”. Economic Geography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.