Megacities: The Past, Present and Predictions for the Future

Learn about the historical problems of megacities and how their presence today could negatively affect the future of our world.


| September 2012


By 2025, at least 27 cities will have populations greater than 10 million and more than 600 cities will have populations greater than one million. Specific megacities, intimately connected to globalization, pose the most significant security and environmental threat to our existence. Drawing on the authors’ three decades of international fieldwork and seasoned policy analysis, The Real Population Bomb (Potomac Books, 2012) by P.H. Liotta and James F. Miskel discusses the effects these underserved megacities have on foreign, military, environmental and economic policies. Explore the historical dilemmas of megacities and how these problems are shaping the global, economic and environmental landscape of our world. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 1, “Introduction: Welcome to the Urban Century.” 

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We live in the age of the city. The City is everything to us—it consumes us, and for that reason we glorify it. —Onookome Okome

There was a time when the city was the dominant political identity. Centuries and even millennia ago, the most advanced societies in the Mediterranean, the Near East, and South America revolved around cities that were either states in themselves or were the locus of power for larger empires and kingdoms. The time of the city is coming again, though now in a considerably less benign way.



With the rise of massive urban centers in Africa and Asia, cities that will matter most in the twenty-first century are located in less-developed, struggling states. A number of these huge megalopolises—whether Lagos or Karachi, Dhaka or Kinshasa—reside in states often unable or simply unwilling to manage the challenges that their vast and growing urban populations pose. There are no signs that their governments will prove more capable in the future. These swarming, massive urban monsters will continue to grow and should concern the world.

By 2015 there will be six hundred cities on the planet with populations of 1 million or more, and fifty-eight with populations over 5 million. By 2025, according to the National Intelligence Council, there will be twenty-seven cities with populations greater than 10 million—the common measure by which an urban population constitutes a “megacity.” If measures are not taken soon, some of these megacities will pose the most significant security threat in the coming decades. They will become havens for terrorists and criminal networks, as well as sources of major environmental depletion. They will serve as freakish natural laboratories where all the elements most harmful to international and human security are grown. If crowded masses within these unaccommodating spaces are left to their own devices by inept or uncaring governments, their collective rage, despair, and hunger will inevitably erupt. And when inhabitants tire of the lawlessness, poverty, and instability of the megacities, they will leave—those that can—bringing violence with them. In the face of rising expectations that globalization inevitably entails, these petri dishes of despair and danger will spill over municipal boundaries and international borders with rapidly spreading contagion.

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