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Go Figure: The World’s Top Megacities in 2050

Photo Credit: Semmi W.

Today, more than half of the world’s people live in urban environments. In 2050, another 2.5 billion people will be added to the planet’s urban areas, with the majority of growth taking place in Asian and African countries. Using data from the UN and the Global Cities Institute, the visualization above highlights the world’s top ten megacities in 2050.

According to the UN, a megacity is a city that has over 10 million residents. Currently, Tokyo is the world’s most populated megacity with approximately 37 million residents. However, starting in 2020, population rates in Tokyo are expected to decline. The same goes for São Paulo, Brazil (which currently has about 22 million inhabitants). By 2030, the world will have 43 megacities, the majority of which will be located in developing regions.

CITYPopulation in 2050 (millions)
Mumbai, India42.4
Delhi, India36.2
Dhaka, Bangladesh35.2
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo35
Kolkata, India33
Lagos, Nigeria32.6
Tokyo, Japan32.6
Karachi, Pakistan31.7
New York, United States24.8
Mexico City, Mexico24.3
Cairo, Egypt24
Manila, Philippines23.5
Sao Paulo, Brazil22.8
Shanghai, China21.3
Lahore, Pakistan17.4
Kabul, Afghanistan17
Los Angeles, United States16.4
Chennai, India16.2
Khartoum, Sudan15.9
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania15.9

Data Source: Global Cities Institute

Europe, South America, and the Middle East are not included in the data visual because in 2050, the ten most populated cities in the world will not be from those regions. Though Kabul, Afghanistan comes close (at number 16) with a projected population of 17.09 million residents. Buenos Aires, Argentina landed outside the top 20 megacities in the data set, with a projected population of 15.5 million inhabitants.  

What exactly does all of this mean? Does it really matter if Europe and parts of North America no longer contain the majority of urban populations? The table above not only lists the top 20 future megacities, but reveals the changing dynamics of global diplomatic power. Between now and 2050, just three countries will account for 35% of the world’s city dwellers: India, Nigeria, and China. Low birth rates and population stagnation is already taking shape in places like Poland, South Korea, and Sweden. In the United States, the national birth rate has hit a historic low. According to a provisional report released earlier this month by the National Center for Health Statistics (at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the number of births in 2018 decreased by 2% from the previous year. In France and Japan, governments are pushing pro-family policies to propel birth rates.

If megacities in developed countries are headed towards a future with declining populations while developing nations are facing rapid urbanization and population growth; immigration, automated jobs, and global warming will become even bigger political issues. In the coming decades, urbanized population growth and forced migration patterns will erode multiple borders. No megacity can survive without a strong tax base and conversely, no population within a megacity can thrive without stable governance and sustainable development.

GO FIGURE is a data visual series highlighting the numbers which shape culture. Subscribe here. What should I analyze next? Tell me what you think of this story via contact or comment below.

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