Governing megacities

OECD Observer

The ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro once wrote, “Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities.” The adage is still very relevant at the turn of the 21st century. Nowadays, nearly two-thirds of the population of the OECD area lives in cities. Ten years from now there are expected to be about 500 “megacities”, each one home to over 1 million inhabitants. How do cities govern themselves as they expand beyond their boundaries?

Governing the City attempts to analyse the challenges of the urban sprawl, focusing on two strategic issues: transport and spatial planning. If there is insufficient co-ordinated planning when cities grow bigger, territorial imbalances and inequalities arise, whether in poor cities, such as Puebla-Tlaxcala, or large wealthy cities such as Greater Paris.

Socio-economic inequalities are also exacerbated by a lack of efficient transport governance: the Aix-Marseille metropolitan area is the third-largest in France in terms of population and contribution to national GDP, but around three-quarters of the population living outside the central city do not have easy access to a public transport system. This helps explain why Marseille is one of Europe’s most congested cities.

The report maps a series of local initiatives to offer guidance for cities: it recommends an integrated approach towards planning transport and land use, following the Korean example. The No Car Day campaign, which took place in Daejeon in 2012, rewarded participants who did not drive one day per week with various tax benefits.

According to the report, the key to better management of metropolitan areas is inter-municipal collaboration in all sectors, from water governance–as seen in the Greater Bilbao Water Partnership supported by the central, regional and provincial governments–to cultural projects such as the cross-border Eurométropole of Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai straddling Belgium and France, where there are plans to create a shared cultural space for 2 million inhabitants, 147 municipalities and 3 regions.

OECD (2015), Governing the City, OECD Publishing,

©OECD Observer No 305 January 2016

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