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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Sweeping global changes are reshaping urban destinies

By Choong Tet Sieu

asia in the new millennium
Mapping the Future The future wealth and size of Asian nations

The 21st Century By Arthur C. Clarke

Asia Trends 2000 The promises and perils of one wired world

The Microchip Silicon will get into everything
The Power As the region prospers, chances for conflict may become greater
Essay by Fidel Ramos Ending repression was easy; now we must defend freedom
The Dynasty It's here to stay
The Classes Many more Asians may escape poverty
The People Democracy in Asia will become increasingly deep-rooted
Essay by Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo Shifts to new paradigms may include the "common good" and spirituality
The Mind Classrooms of the future will be virtually unrecognizable
Essay by Stan Shih The challenge of creating markets in a competitive world
The Body Science will soon deliver miracle cures, designer babies and new dilemmas
The Soul Asia seeks a new cultural identity
Essay by the Dalai Lama Balancing material progress with inner development to achieve true success
The Food Are the pushers of genetically modified edibles out to lunch?
The Vacation Inner and outer space are the destinations of the future
The Design Asia still has a place in the shape of things to come
The Metropolis Sweeping global changes are reshaping urban destinies
The Earth Environmental awareness is growing
The Jobs New and reinvented careers will fire the imagination
The Money The cashless society is on the way
The Investor Globalization and the Net will empower future shareholders and savers
The Sexes Democracy, capitalism and the Internet can lift women to the top
Essay by Marina Mahathir In Malaysia, we should change the way society looks at their roles
The Family The family promises to be much different than it is today
The Economy New ways of working call for new ways of thinking
Essay by Donald Tsang Financial well-being is a responsibility for each nation and the world
The Network The connection will go much deeper

The Asiaweek Round Table on ASEAN in 2020

Celebrations Asia is gearing up

Celebrities How some of the region's most visible personalities intend to welcome the New Year

Millenium Dictionary From pop anthems to dawn sites and midnight nuptials, a guide to 2000

ASIAPOLIS 2025: A CLUSTER of towers rises above the smog. This is the business and financial center, citadels protected by electronic security systems at every level. They overlook festering tenements housing millions who have left villages and provincial towns in search of a better life. Beyond, there is a green belt of sorts, suburbs for an embattled middle class which commutes to work in robotized, armor-plated vehicles. Stretching out in the horizon are overflowing landfills from which the most unskilled make a living.

An extreme vision of urban blight, but perhaps not that far-fetched if Asia's cities don't shape up. The population pressures will be enormous. Although major cities are growing at about 2.5% annually, secondary and regional cities are swelling by as much as 4% each year from the rural influx. Development experts estimate that by 2020, more than two thirds of people in Asia will live in urban centers. Nine of them - Beijing, Bombay, Calcutta, Jakarta, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Tianjin and Tokyo - already rank as megacities: those with populations of 10 million or more. By 2025, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) believes another 11 others are likely to join the club: Bangalore, Bangkok, Dhaka, Hyderabad, Karachi, Lahore, Madras, Manila, New Delhi, Shenyang and Yangon.

And half of city dwellers will be poor, experts say. That is if urban life is allowed to be synonymous with sprawling slums, traffic congestion, deteriorating municipal services and choking pollution. In India, the Center for Science and the Environment estimates that there is one premature death per hour in New Delhi due to dirty air, mainly from motor vehicles. Affluence offers no protection. At its worst, the air quality in Hong Kong has been compared to that in Mexico City.

The next 20 years will be "strategically important" for cities in Asia, says Keshav Varma, manager of the World Bank's urban development unit for East Asia and the Pacific. Competition between cities for capital and talent is keener than ever, both within a country and worldwide. Key transformations will widen the gap between them: globalization, the info-tech revolution and rapid urbanization as Asia shifts away from agrarian economies.

"You can't stop the trend of people moving toward cities, but you can manage the process," says Varma. That's why urban governments need to rethink their positions. "There can be no tolerance of mediocrity," he says. "With globalization, it is no longer possible for inefficient cities to hide behind national boundaries." The challenge is not just providing sanitation and keeping streets clean, though many civic authorities cannot fulfil even those requirements. If cities are to have a place in the new order, says Varma, they need professional managers, and they need to harness all their resources, especially the human variety. Secondary cities need not be marginalized. ADB strategist Naved Hamid suggests that they, too, can tap into new opportunities. There's the livability factor: some people may prefer smaller cities for a more laid-back lifestyle, cleaner air and cheaper housing. In the wired world, location may not be as important for some jobs.

Transport will be a crucial element in determining not just a city's efficiency but also its sustainability. Consider how core Tokyo, with a population of 12 million, avoids perpetual gridlock when traffic in cities one sixth its size crawls along at a snail's pace. A policy of discouraging cars while promoting good public transport helps. The Japanese capital's rail system carries 7.2 million passengers a day, safely, quickly and on time. Many inter-urban trains can already travel at 300 km per hour. New magnet-levitation trains will double that speed. Add compartments that can be whipped on and off at stations, as some schemes suggest, and you have a truly rapid transit system.

There are cheaper solutions. Curitiba, a medium-sized city in Brazil, shows how much can be achieved with buses. Its coaches pick up and unload passengers swiftly at enclosed, space-age stops much like underground trains. Improved systems in Asia may link drivers to networks that keep them updated on commuter demands and traffic conditions. For canal-blessed cities such as Bangkok, automated waterways are an option.

Poison-belching vehicles can and are being retooled. Cars, which offer individual mobility, need not be wedded to steel and fossil fuels. Look to composite plastic cars with light, strong and recyclable parts and efficient electric-hybrid engines. Can the developing world lead the way with such leap-frog technology? Automotive Design & Composites, a Texas company, has designed an all-composite car for production in China. Of course, more people working from home may relieve congestion. Japanese economists estimate that in two decades, 15%-28% of the country's workforce will be telecommuting. But for most employers and employees, there is no substitute for the workplace buzz and face-to-face communication.

Futurists propose cities on ocean beds or anchored out at sea that will mine vast marine resources. That's an even longer way off. Dream instead of ever-higher skylines. The technology exists. Ultra-strong concrete allows vertical streets to be raised on tiny areas, served by state-of-the-art speed lifts (currently up to 1,000 meters a minute). Kilometer-high towers may rise in Tokyo before long. Such skyscrapers will be quake-responsive, resting computer-controlled shock-absorbers containing a suspension of iron particles in oil. Inside, count on offices with built-in motion detectors that will sense when occupants have left the room and adjust the power supply and micro-climate control units.

But while cities regularly vie to build the world's tallest building, they pay much less attention to smart, energy-efficient structures that minimize the ecological "footprint" we make. For a glimpse of the way ahead, consider the new headquarters for advanced materials company Kyocera in Kyoto. The design by Kurokawa Kisho boasts environment-friendly technologies such as perimeter-zone air-cooling and an array of solar panels on the fa┴ade supplying about 13% of its energy needs. Superwindows, which use high-tech film to reflect away infrared light while absorbing visible light, may become the norm. These minimize heat gain and reduce the need for cooling. Combined with other features such as turbines harnessing the wind drafts at the base of buildings, smart towers can be largely energy sufficient.

Ultimately, of course, cities are for people. They are not just engines of economic growth but also of social development. It is in cities that civilizations emerge. And those which flourish offer a healthy environment, mobility and lively cultural and civic life that attract creative people. For world-class metropolises in the information age, real-time voting may decide most of those city issues. Heads up, mayors to be.


City   Population (in millions)  
  1995 2010 2025
Bangalore 4.8 7.3 10.2
Bangkok 9.7 14 22.5
Dhaka 7.8 16 25
Hyderabad 5.3 9.4 13.2
Karachi 9.8 17.6 26.5
Lahore 5.1 9.1 14.2
Madras 5.9 8.3 11.8
Manila 9.3 13.7 16.5
New Delhi 9.9 15.5 21.6
Shenyang 5.3 7.8 10
Yangon 3.9 6.3 10

Source: Asian Development Bank

Figures are for extended metropolitan areas


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel ý at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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