The (Soon-To-Be) Largest City in the World?


Source: Croquant, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

Tying into my post earlier this week on ‘world cities’, later that day The Telegraph just happened to publish an article on Chinese planners’ goal to join nine metropolises that occupy the land around the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Huizhou, Dongguan, Foshan, Jiangmen, Zhongshan, Zhaoqing, and Zhuhai) together to form what would be the world’s largest functioning city. Two of those nine cities, Guangzhou (already the centre of the world’s second largest city agglomeration, and one of the first Chinese cities to have a per capita GDP in excess of US$10 000) and Shenzhen, already appear on the world cities list referenced earlier this week. Also adjoining the Delta, of course, are Hong Kong and Macau, which are not part of this project owning to their separate administrative systems, but still critical to its success as economic gateways to the region.

Owing to its position adjacent to Hong Kong, particularly Shenzhen which was purposefully beginning in 1979 adjacent to Hong Kong to serve as the PRC’s first foray into market capitalism), the Delta is already the most economically dynamic region of the country. By filling in the already narrow gaps between the nine cities of the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone over the next six years, a megacity twice the size of Wales or the same size as Switzerland would be created (41 000 km2 or thereabout). The infrastructure being proposed under the plan (called ‘Turn the Pearl River Delta Into One’) is immense: two to three new metropolis-sized centres to house the rapidly-growing population; 5 000 km of rail lines and 3 000 km of highways to join the various centres; the joining of water, power, and communication systems into a single network to drive down living costs, and a series of 150 other projects totalling 2 trillion yuan (US$300 billion). This would help spread jobs equally around the entire Delta, and ensure interconnectivity between the various centres. Of course, the Telegraph article assumes that the gaps will be actually be filled; southern Guangdong is still home to a large agricultural base and many parts of the Delta are still well forested. Converting the entire area into a contiguous sprawl may not be that simple.There would certainly be environmental concerns in a region that is already heavily polluted.

With a current population of 45 000 000 (a finite number is hard to pin down because of the excessive amount of migration and seasonal workers), the nine Delta cities are already part of what the United Nations considers to be the world’s largest ‘mega-region’ with a population of 120 000 000 – an ‘endless city’ emblematic of the rampant urbanisation occurring across the world (and of the continual rise of non-Western economic power bases). This is not the only megaregion taking shape in China; there are also the Bohai Rim in the northeast (Beijing/Tianjin) and the Yangtze Delta (Shanghai) that the Pearl River Delta will be competing against for economic investment money. The Bohai Rim already has a population approaching 70 000 000 (which is forecasted to rise as high as 260 000 000). By 2025, there will be eight megacities of 10 000 000 residents and 221 cities of 1 000 000 or larger. China will take on another 350 000 000 people in the next 25 years, and intends to house them in these booming urban areas.

Further Reading

CNN (2011). China to create world’s largest city. CNNGo, 25 January 2011. Available at Accessed 26 January 2011.

Devonshire-Ellis, C. (2011). China’s Mega City? Er…Hang On a Second. China Briefing, 27 January 2011. Available at Accessed 26 January 2011.

Moore, M. (2011). China to create largest mega city in the world with 42 million people. The Telegraph, 24 January 2011. Available at Accessed 26 January 2011.

Tschang, C.C. and D. Roberts (2008). China’s Megacities. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 13 November 2008. Available at Accessed 26 January 2011.

Vidal, J. (2010). UN report: World’s biggest cities merging into ‘mega-regions’. The Guardian, 22 March 2010. Available at Accessed 26 January 2011.

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