Megacities in the Global South should strengthen urban governance in light of their characteristics and specific problems

Fudan-Latin American University Consortium released the 2022 annual research report




Urbanization is an obvious global trend this century, especially in developing countries. During this process, megacities are growing rapidly, becoming important hubs connecting their home countries and the global system. Megacities are facing various challenges and playing important roles in achieving the world’s sustainable development goals. Fudan-Latin American University Consortium (FLAUC) Idea Lab conducted an urban studies project in 2022 setting the main topic as megacity development and urban governance in developing countries. Yuan Ren, the professor at Fudan University School of Social Development and Public Policy, is leading a global research team to accomplish this research.




Though the global spread of COVID-19 has added difficulties to the research work, the research team has actively organized several efficient academic seminars, and finally cooperatively completed and released the Chinese and English reports of the project. The English report is entitled “Better Megacity Governance in the Global South: Local Responses and Adaptive Modernity”.

The report points out that since 1950, the world urban population has maintained rapid growth, from 751 million people in 1950 to 2.868 billion people in 2000, and is expected to further increase to 5.167 billion people by 2030, an increase of nearly six times in less than 100 years. There shows an obvious trend of urban scale enlargement and urban population concentration during this period. Population in cities with an urban population of 1 to 5 million and 5 to 10 million will grow 8.3 times and 12.9 times respectively. In particular, megacities with more than 10 million citizens rose sharply from 23.61 million in 1950 to 250 million in 2000 and will reach 750 million in 2030, showing a huge increase of 30.8 times (UN,2018).Compared with developed countries, large cities and megacities in the Global South are notably greater in numbers, showing a significantly faster development speed and a higher concentration of urban population. In 2000, 11 of the world’s 16 megacities were located in the Global South, accounting for 68.75%; By 2030, 36 of the 43 megacities in the world are expected to be located in the Global South, accounting for 83.72%. In 2020, among the 20 countries with megacities, there are 10 countries whose megacities account for more than 25% of the national urban population, that is, one out of every four urban residents live in megacities, while nine of these 10 countries are in the Global South.

The report figures out that with the rapid development of megacities in the Global South and the continuous increasement of urban primacy, a series of sustainable development problems have emerged. To start with, diseconomies of scale like traffic congestion and high housing prices appear in megacities. In addition, the mismatch between the supply and demand of basic public services such as urban emergency, garbage disposal, and medical care put megacities at risk of sudden natural disasters, environmental pollution problems, and public health events. Furthermore, due to the insufficient development of urban industries, or “urbanization without industrialization”, the slums in megacities in the Global South continue to expand, and the unemployment rate and crime rate of which stay high, resulting in prominent social security problems. Nevertheless, the report also points out that it is not objective to emphasize the “urban diseases” unilaterally. Although megacities face various difficulties and challenges, the vigorous development of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Dubai, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, etc. also shows that megacities in the Global South constitute the most dynamic urban development regions in the world.

The report shares practical experiences in the development of megacities in the Global South. First of all, taking the informal settlements in Buenos Aires as an example, the study investigates the phenomenon of informal settlements in megacities in the Global South and proposes effective strategies for land and housing ownership management and implementation of rental housing support programs. Secondly, it is proposed that we should respond to the unordered urban sprawl in the Global South by implementing a compact urban development strategy. Taking Hangzhou and Mexico City as examples, it calls for accelerating the establishment of a more comprehensive and coordinated planning system that fully considers local socio-cultural, political, and economic issues. Thirdly, it is suggested that the architectural heritage with different styles and functions should be given full play to its important role of inheriting and maintaining urban culture and history. Fourthly, taking six Latin American megacities as examples, the study also conducts a comparative study on the governance methods and structures of intergovernmental management, illustrating the diversified practices of promoting urban-regional management. Fifthly, the development of megacities is expected to attach importance to digital city management and strengthen the technology empowerment in the digital transformation of the government. Sixthly, the megacities in the Global South are also expected to have Smart and Slow City paradigms to build a sustainable and equitable social life. Last but not least, the study recommends that creative megacities in developing countries need to combine the specific needs of the region so that universities and surrounding communities can develop a more amicable relationship, and improve the social service effect of knowledge innovation on the country and local society.

In the specific practice of promoting the modernization of urban governance in the Global South, while learning from and exchanging ideas with cities in the Global North are important, megacities in the Global South need to implement governance according to their own characteristics and institutional contexts and focus on their specific difficulties and problems, so as to enrich the road and content of urban governance modernization in megacities in the Global South.” Professor Yuan Ren said.

The report notes that under the background of rapid development of global urbanization, the development of megacities will play an increasingly important role in the world urban system. Exploring the particularity and effectiveness of the governance of megacities in the Global South is of great significance for stimulating urban economic vitality, improving the urban ecological environment, enhancing the well-being of citizens, and thus achieving global sustainable development and urban sustainable development. The rapid development of megacities is also a prominent phenomenon in China’s urbanization. The practical experience and theoretical thinking on better megacity governance in this research report are instructive for promoting the development of urbanization and governance of megacities in China.

* This research is supported by a FLAUC annual grant (grant no. FLAUCIDEALAB2204) and partly supported by the Chinese Ministry of Education (grant no. 20JZD030).

January 9, 2023 – by Congwen Su