East Asian Cities: Past Development and Onrushing Challenges

The East Asian export-led development model has served as a beacon for decades. For the many urbanized and rapidly urbanizing countries, the East Asian experience with and response to emerging challenges can be equally instructive. High-income East Asian economies are at or approaching peak urbanization. China is likely to catch up within the next three decades. Since the 1950s, urbanization was accelerated by industrialization, which provided a plenitude of jobs directly and indirectly. It generated the resources that helped build urban infrastructure and housing, financed essential services, and created modern, urban livability.

However, East Asian cities, like cities in other high- and middle-income countries, face new challenges. Services are displacing manufacturing as growth drivers and providers of jobs; the absorption of digital technologies, urban greening, and control of pollution/carbon emissions is more urgent; climate change is necessitating the upgrading of services and infrastructure to enhance resilience; climate change will also compel a managed withdrawal from some urban locations; and both services and physical facilities must adapt to meet the needs of aging populations. Responding to these challenges calls for strategic long-range planning, technological advances, implementation capacity, and resource mobilization. By 2050, 70 percent of the global population will live in cities. Therefore, how East Asians tackle these challenges can inform and guide policymakers in developed and developing countries alike.    

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