Source: adapted from McGee, T.G. (1991) “The Emergence of ‘Desakota’ Regions in Asia: Expanding a Hypothesis”, in N. Ginsberg (ed) The Extended Metropolis: Settlement Transition in Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 3-26.
Asian urbanization is focused on the emergence of urban regions composed of extended metropolitan regions (EMRs) and mega-urban regions (MURs). The components of such regional urban spatial structures include:
- Metropolitan area. A major gateway with significant accumulation of infrastructures and playing a coordination role in the national economy as a transshipment center for goods and resources, a transiting place for people, and a distribution/accumulation point of capital. The conventional city (often with a strong historical and cultural role) has been transformed by intense rural to urban migration and the development of financial, commercial, residential and manufacturing districts. In a matter of decades, the traditional Asian city developed on the principle of relative autarky was transformed into a city driving global economic changes. To such an extent, many gateways are port cities, a trade function that is being complemented by a fast growth of air transportation as economic functions become more related to international transactions.
- Peri-urban area. New urban developments including residential estates, commercial areas as well as manufacturing and logistics zones, often interwoven with rural activities that are supplying urban markets. Globalization has been an important driver in the of peri-urban development that are offering additional real estate that could not be accommodated by the metropolitan area. For instance, the setting of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in China has dominantly impacted per-urban areas through the development of large tracks of real estate, the setting of residential complexes and the intensification of traffic flows. The expansion of the SEZ status to delta areas (Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and Min River delta) in 1985 favored the emergence of the first Chinese mega urban regions. The regionalization of SEZs was coupled with the regionalization of urbanization. For the first time external corporations were allowed to invest in the countryside, which became integrated to global supply chains. This reach into the countryside and its related interactions incited the construction of road transport infrastructure that increasingly focused at improving regional accessibility with highway corridors and a fast motorization of the Chinese society. From 2007, high speed rail corridors were established to reinforce the accessibility of China’s main urban regions. Since this growth often takes place over high density rural areas, it represents a challenge in terms of land ownership and agricultural sustainability.
- Areas in transformation (Desakota areas; a neologism derived from the Malay language where “desa” means village and “kota” means town). Rural areas in transformation (a form of rural urbanization) where manufacturing and traditional agriculture exist concomitantly. Economic development mainly takes place in those territories, creating a strong growth in the mobility of people and freight. These areas are highly impacted by their gradual incorporation within regional and international transactional networks. As economic development occurs, desakota regions become important production and consumption centers with increasing linkages with metropolitan areas and urban centers. This form of transformation is rather unique to Asia because of the high rural population densities. In other parts of the world, such forms of development tends to be more clusterized.
- High density rural areas. They mainly supply commodities (food, energy, raw materials) to the metropolitan areas. Technological change, investment in extraction techniques (e.g. equipment) and the consolidation of farmland has freed a substantial amount of labor. This labor either migrates to EMRs or engages in non-rural activities which gradually transforms these areas into desakota regions.
- Urban centers. A set of urban centers performing some production, consumption, transportation and management activities as part of their commercial role within the national economy. They represent regional production and distribution nodes having control over an administrative division (e.g. seats of provincial or county governments). Some centers can exchange goods and resources with the international market via small intermodal centers, but the exchanges are mostly of small scale and of a very specific nature.
- Frontier. Remote and sparsely populated regions representing major physical challenge for the settlement of human activities; cold or arid climate, mountainous landscape. Several punctual locations provide raw materials, mainly minerals.
Although the above representation can be applied to other parts of the world, the population density level in rural areas (mostly because of rice cultivation) is unique to the Asian context. Desakota and high density rural areas are usually not found outside Asia.