[Urban Policy] ASEAN CONTEXT: Urban Population Growth and Urbanization Trends

by bushra

ASEAN CONTEXT: Urban Population Growth and Urbanization Trends

Hor Keomayourado

ASEAN’s urbanization is moving forward with its economic growth. Due to foreign direct investment and participation in global value chains, the economy has shifted from agriculture to industry to industry and also to a service-based one. The cities in each country have served as engines of economic growth, attracting millions of people from the countryside and lifting them out of poverty. Connectivity is a key factor in this transition, as it has helped cities to exploit free trade and facilitated rural migration, expanded urban employment, and reduced labor costs. And maintain a competitive economy. As ASEAN plans to deepen economic integration, including strengthening regional connectivity for further economic growth, it should be considered that better connectivity will inevitably boost urbanization, which requires good governance to achieve Benefits and cost reductions.

Urban Population Growth

From 2015 to 2040, the ASEAN region is expected to see its population increase by some 135 million residents (from 633 million to 768 million, a 21 per cent increase). Over that same period, the region’s urban population is expected to increase by some 158 million new residents (from 301 million to 459 million, a 52 per cent increase), meaning that functionally all new growth will be concentrated in urban areas and that millions of currently non-urban residents will become urban residents.

By 2050, that urban population will grow by another 47 million to reach 507 million, a 68 per cent increase over 2015 levels. As these population changes take place, the region’s economy and energy use profile will also change rapidly. By 2040, the region’s GDP is projected to triple, primary energy use will increase by 80 per cent, and electricity demand is expected to more than triple (OECD/IEA, 2015).


Table 1: ASEAN Region Current Future Urban Population Trend across ASEAN NATION

Country Per cent Urban 2014 Per cent Urban 2050 Absolute Urban Population growth 2014-2050 (million) Annual Urban Population Growth Rate 2014-2050
Brunei 77% 84% 0.1 1.14
Cambodia 21% 36% 5.0 4.40
Indonesia 53% 71% 93.8 1.94
Laos 38% 61% 3.8 4.13
Malaysia 74% 86% 13.8 1.72
Myanmar 34% 55% 14.2 2.19
Philippines 44% 56% 43.8 2.74
Singapore 100% 100% 1.5 0.78
Thailand 49% 72% 11.3 0.95
Vietnam 33% 54% 25.2 2.30

Source: UNDESA, World Urbanization Prospects: 2014 Revision

Classification of ASEAN Urbanism

It is important to note that the classification of “cities” varies substantially in the national context in ASEAN, resulting in multiple heredity in the patterns of settlement and reflecting in the total for the total urban population in the region. Urban population growth will occur across national contexts in different locations and will occur at variety of speeds.

ASEAN countries such as Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore are already highly urbanized, with 70% or more of the population now living in urban areas in 2014. The remaining seven ASEAN countries show the level of urbanization, ranging from a low by 21% in Cambodia to one higher city of 53% in Indonesia.

Going forward, the slow urban population growth relative to the annual urban growth rate observed in the industrialized economy of about 1% or less will indicate the urban population growth rates in Brunei, Singapore and Thailand. The annual urban population growth rate is between 1.5 and 3 percent for Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam. The highest levels of annual urban population growth of more than 4% is expected in the ASEAN countries of Cambodia and Laos.

Rapid urban population growth could lead to a lack of infrastructure as urban areas face the potential for decline with infrastructure investment and supply for the rapidly growing population. The inability of fast-growing cities to invest in infrastructure that responds to population growth is a key factor behind the creation of slums, overcrowded transportation and the provision of basic services.

Urban Impacts of Enhanced Connectivity

Urban and rural areas have a close relationship with each other. Because cities are the engines of economic growth, income inequality, wealth, and political power between them and the rest are high. This is important and helps explain why people move to the city, even if they have to live in informal homes and work in informal jobs. Cities provide opportunities for socio-economic mobility that rural areas cannot offer. Hard-working migrants with education, skills and entrepreneurial attitudes can lift themselves out of poverty and join the middle class. Others may still be poor, but hope their children can be lifted out of poverty and help them in the future. Policies to control migration have been shown to be ineffective and unprofitable, leading to labor shortages.


Table 2: Urban Poverty (Headcount Ratio, using national Poverty line)

Country Urban Poverty ratio Year Country Urban Poverty ratio Year
Cambodia 6.4 2012 Philippines 13.0 2012
Indonesia 8.3 2014 Thailand 7.7 2013
Lao PDR 10.0 2012 Vietnam 3.8 2014
Malaysia 0.3 2014      

Source: UN-Habitat, 2016: table C3

In order to be economically efficient, the corridor will connect the cities that are already the engines of economic growth. Those cities will attract more investment and labor. If managed well, their economy will grow, but the population of cities and populated urban areas and the economy grows. Despite calls from environmentalists to build small towns for energy, cities in the region are spreading out due to the push and pull of factors that could have a negative impact on the environment and society.

Rising land prices are shifting urban land use from urban to commercial, while improved transportation and communication have allowed families and companies to relocate outside of the city, as determined by the administration. Rural and urban areas defined by the administration. The result is already a bigger cause of big cities. Dividing plans Dividing economic growth and urban population often fails because the selection of cities to be developed is often made for political reasons rather than their economic potential. Instead, investment continues to focus on potential cities that are expanding further into larger urban areas.


Urbanization is a national and local issue that requires a response to national and local policies. ASEAN’s regional plan, and in particular its plan to promote regional connectivity, has urban consequences where costs and benefits will not be evenly distributed between the countries, cities and towns involved. Examples include border towns with their labor on one side and factories on the other side of the border, and roads and railways connecting seaports in a country with less developed and bordering parts of the another country. Faced with such a situation, member states should act as a community rather than an independent country responsible only for their own national interests.

Local and provincial governments should be involved in joint programs to develop human resources and build capacity to manage urbanization. This can be organized efficiently and effectively at the regional level. ASEAN is a region that is diverse with cities at different stages of development. This provides a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences and good experiences, but city policies, programs and practices cannot be cloned.



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