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ASEAN Urbanisation

Understanding Nuances to Address Complexities

Where Does ASEAN Stand in This Urbanisation Wave?

ASEAN countries have experienced starkly differing trajectories of urbanisation, with some nations crossing the 50% urbanisation mark as early as the 1960s, while others are still some way behind. The anticipated addition of 70 million more urban dwellers by 2040, 60% of the region’s total, heralds a transformative era. This rapid growth presents a profoundly terrifying dual effect, offering both substantial opportunities and formidable challenges for ASEAN. 

Urban and Rural Population Trends in ASEAN Countries

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East Africa
Central Africa
East Asia
Mexico and Central America
North Africa
South America
South Asia
Southern Africa
West Africa
Western Asia
Select Region
East Africa
Central Africa
East Asia
Mexico and Central America
North Africa
South America
South Asia
Southern Africa
West Africa
Western Asia

Urbanisation Levels in Developing Economies

ASEAN’s urbanisation needs to be captured, understood, and judiciously analysed. To date, little attention has been given to ASEAN cities and their prospects.  

Select Country
ASEAN
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia
Indonesia
Malaysia
Myanmar
Lao PDR
Philippines
Thailand
Vietnam
Singapore
Select Country
ASEAN
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia
Indonesia
Malaysia
Myanmar
Lao PDR
Philippines
Thailand
Vietnam
Singapore

The Gap We See

Urban Insights Series — Future of ASEAN

The story of urbanisation in ASEAN is one of contrasts and complexities, shaped by a multitude of factors — economic growth, social dynamism, and environmental. It is a tale of cities swelling with ambition, and it is vital to explore the intricate interplay of macro and micro trends, providing valuable insights for a sustainable and prosperous urban future in the ASEAN region. In this Urban Insights series, MORROW Intelligence (MI)’s research explores the complexities and opportunities within urban systems across ASEAN countries and its cities to provide a more bespoke and appropriate lens against the urbanisation backdrop.

For any queries on potential collaboration, please reach out to us here or send an email to hello@morrowintel.sg.  

There is a chronic lack of data on the ASEAN region, due mainly to accuracy and accessibility issues. For this reason, ASEAN is heavily underrepresented in most global indices, which exclude cities like Bandar Seri Begawan, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, and Yangon.

City IndexTotal No. of CitiesBandar Seri Begawan,
Brunei Darussalam
Phnom Penh,
Cambodia
Jakarta,
Indonesia
Vientiane,
Lao PDR
Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia
Yanggon,
Myanmar
Manila,
Philippines
Singapore,
Singapore
Bangkok,
Thailand
Hanoi,
Vietnam
Innovation Cities Index5004572461633155145403
Happy City Index20015226190
Global Liveability Index17313994129
IMD Smart City Index141102891157100
Arcadis Sustainable Cities100837193357285
Sustainable Cities Index7048
Urban Mobility Readiness Index65494260645
Safe Cities Index6046326051343
Global Power City Index484541538
Resilient Cities Index25224
Quality of Living City Ranking2411122011481808622613529124167

Countries Appearances in indexes

1
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2
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9
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1
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9
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2
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6
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10
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7
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5
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Indexes included:

This perpetuates a skewed perspective of the way cities grow and interact in a particular regionBy excluding ASEAN cities, the existing datasets fail to establish a baseline for comparison as urban development progresses in these areas. Furthermore, the cultural diversity across the region may also impact ‘liveability’ criteria. In ASEAN cities, vertical development is common due to limited land and high population density, whereas in other regions, suburban expansion and abundant open space often characterise people’s lives. 

Compounding this issue is the prevalent misuse of interchanging country-level data with city-level data. For example, indicators measuring Greater Bangkok are often used to portray Thailand’s overall socio-economic situation. This approach risks distorting comparisons and misrepresenting impacts of urbanisation. 

Indonesia (Jakarta) Population Density Ratio: 100.7 Thailand (Bangkok) Population Density Ratio: 27.3 Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) Population Density Ratio: 14.9 Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) Population Density Ratio: 81.5 Brunei Darussalam (Bandar Seri Begawan) Population Density Ratio: 57.6 Philippines (Manila) Population Density Ratio: 203.6 Myanmar (Yangon) Population Density Ratio: 9.4 Cambodia (Phnom Penh) Population Density Ratio: 38.6 Lao People's Democratic Republic (Vientiane) Population Density Ratio: 6.7 Singapore (Singapore) Population Density Ratio: 1

ASEAN is one of the most diverse regions in the world, where cities have vastly different socio-economic attributes and cultural characteristics. For instance, the nuclear family unit remains sacrosanct in Southeast Asia, providing the backbone for a sturdy workforce, a stable ideological foundation, and a rich heritage. This contrasts sharply with America, where the once prevalent image of the ‘white picket fence’ is fading, with a sharply decreasing fertility rate since the 60’s. Additionally, the income disparity among ASEAN countries is more than seven times that of EU member states. Understanding ASEAN requires tailored approaches that acknowledge these inherent differences, because each ASEAN city faces a distinct urban development pathway. Increased focus and dialogue are needed to ensure important nuances are accurately captured.

Deconstructing ASEAN’s Urbanisation

A region’s urban development can typically be divided into four stages: Urbanisation, Sub-urbanisation, De-urbanisation, and Re-urbanisation. The position of a city on this dynamic urbanisation curve is influenced by various push and pull factors, which affect the development, liveability, and sustainability of its urban areas. In ASEAN, such factors include population density, economic opportunities, infrastructure development, and environmental considerations. By analysing these drivers, we plot ASEAN’s economic cities on the urbanisation curve as follows, illustrating their unique development pathways.  

What Lies Ahead for ASEAN Cities?

With its economy set to triple in size, ASEAN will witness the emergence of over 200 small secondary cities over the next 30 years, with Southeast Asia’s energy demand expected to jump 60% by 2040. This rapid transformation spans from rural communities to burgeoning megacities, highlighting interconnected effects often overlooked. ASEAN leaders must grasp these dynamics to better leverage emerging policy opportunities presented by the current urbanisation trajectory, shaping each city’s unique urban development. Notably, with over half of ASEAN’s population under 30, the region’s youth hold the potential to drive urban policies that directly impact their lives.    

In thisASEAN Urban Insightsseries, MORROW Intelligence offers a deep dive into the intricate interplay of macro and micro trends across key urban system pillars. We analyse the causes and effects of urban challenges, assessing potential policy outcomes, whilst paying close attention to their nuanced impacts. We begin with the first urban system:Housing, exploring its critical role in the sustainable development of ASEAN cities.