Why you should care
If you’re looking for signs of growth and prosperity, then you’ll want to know more about these metropolises.
Ever heard of Izmir? Neither had we. But don’t tell Herodotus, or any of the other its former inhabitants who once made this so-called pearl of the west a key city when the Greeks ruled. Turns out, its glory days may not be ancient history.
Don’t look now, but China isn’t the home to all of the world’s fastest growing cities. Neither is India. Turkey, with a port city like Izmir that alone has some 4 million denizens, has moved out of the history books to the top of at least one contemporary chart.
Turkey boasted four of the world’s fastest-growing cities, out of the top 10 in 2014. This for a country that doesn’t make a ton of developing nation news. “Turkey surprised us,” says Joseph Parilla, who compiled the list as a research analyst at the Brookings Institution, the D.C. think tank. Parilla ranks the cities not by population growth, but by an index that combines growth in employment with the rise in per capita economic output. So more than anything, it’s a measure of increasing economic firepower.
Izmir, for its part, is home to diverse industries but is aspiring to become a hub of high-tech (who isn’t?). Last year, its employment jumped 6.6 percent, which just happens to be the biggest jump among all major cities. Other more familiar Turkey locales closely followed it, including Istanbul, Bursa and Ankara.
The best long-term indicator of urban growth is still population, as nations, one by one, enter and exit a process of rural-to-urban migration.
Meanwhile, China’s gambling mecca, Macau, came out on top of the index, due to a blistering 8 percent rise in per capita GDP, though with a population of just 574,200, the broad economic impact won’t be as large. Other Chinese cities further down in the top 10 include Kunming, Hangzhou, Fuzhou and Xiamen, which all boasted stronger growth in output more than increases in employment. While these are large cities, Chinese megacities like Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai ranked noticeably lower on the list.
What’s behind the growth spurt of China’s medium-sized cities? Leaders seem to have learned from the swift expansion of gigantic and unwieldy urban centers in Latin America, including Mexico City and Sao Paulo, says Jaana Remes, an urban specialist at McKinsey Global Institute. China, she adds, has a “broad base of large cities that are real engines of growth,” rather than just a few megacities in the lead.
These days, the best long-term indicator of urban growth is population, as nations, one by one, enter and eventually exit a process of rural-to-urban migration. All told, 440 emerging market cities will account for half of the world’s growth in the next decade, many in Africa, Remes says.
But among rapidly growing economies, India was noticeably absent from the top tier. That could change in the years ahead, though Delhi ranked only 18th, while Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai cracked the top 60 but certainly didn’t dominate. As for the U.S., some cities spurted ahead as the country’s economy continued to recover. Leading cities in the top global 60 included Houston and Austin in Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Fresno, California.
Expect some big changes on the list going forward. Macau, for one, may see its days of growth glory become history. As a gambling and hotel center, it’s a service economy, sure. But a lot of money has been funneled into a small place, and gambling revenue has been sliding in recent months, due in part to China’s massive crackdown on corruption. “We may have captured the end of a very significant run,” says Parilla.