New data indicators compare 58 metropolitan spaces

2nd August 2019

By Eugeni Villalbí Godes, Project Officer, Metropolis Observatory

Urbanisation, gentrification and metropolitan finance are by now rather well-known and reported-upon issues. But while these topics are commonly discussed both in the private and public spheres, solutions to the problems they engender are often hard to come by. One of the reasons for this is a simple lack of data at the metropolitan level.

While we may have access to an abundance of statistical evidence, this is usually constrained by the traditional administrative boundaries of our governance structures (cities, regions, provinces, countries etc.).

Metropolitan data for social, environmental and gender indicators were much harder to find, which pushed us to work with approximations of data from municipal, regional and national levels.

To fill this knowledge gap, Metropolis has teamed up with researchers from LSE-Cities to produce a new set of 38 indicators, covering six issues: context and governance, economic development, social cohesion, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and quality of life.

The initial sample contains 58 metropolitan spaces from all across the world, which in turn comprise 69 local governments–Metropolis members–for a total of 2,789 data points.

Large metropolitan spaces are growing exponentially throughout the world, with an increase of 600 million inhabitants projected by 2030. This trend is reflected in the average population of the metropolises studied, which is found to amount to just over 7.5 million, though there are vast regional differences. Latin American metropolises, for example, are found to almost exactly reflect this average, whereas European ones came in well below at around 3.5 million, while finally those in Asia vastly increase the average by coming in at approximately 14 million.

This trend of population growth has also been reflected in an ever-increasing economic prominence, with the metropolises studied accounting on average 23.5 percent of their nations’ GDP (though they only account for 20 percent of their nations’ populations, thus suggesting that citizens who live in metropolitan spaces on average generate more wealth than others).

Perhaps surprisingly, on the other hand, as metropolitan areas are often pointed to as the most glaring examples of widespread inequality, it is found that GINI coefficients are actually lower in the metropolises in the study than in their national states, thus indicating that inequality is actually lower within metropolitan areas than at the national level (this makes sense given the striking differences between urban and rural areas in many countries).

Despite the afore-mentioned rapid growth and increases in economic importance, which are unlikely to just be concentrated within existing jurisdictional boundaries, only 43 percent of the spaces analysed have governance arrangements in place at the metropolitan level, with others relying purely on municipal or regional structures. Within these structures, whether they are metropolitan or otherwise, gender equality in representation is higher than elsewhere, with 29 percent elected officials being women as opposed to 20 percent at the national level.

These are just some of the conclusions we can draw by the analysis of some indicators, and more details are available at indicators.metropolis.org, where all the data is collected and presented in graphic form, and metropolitan spaces and data points can be analysed individually.

It is noteworthy to mention, though, that filling the gap of international databases on metropolitan areas is still a work in progress, and data availability was not the same for all types of indicators. Throughout the data collection process, it was relatively easy to find data on a metropolitan scale about context, demography, governance and economy.

On the other hand, metropolitan data for social, environmental and gender indicators were much harder to find, which pushed us to work with approximations of data from municipal, regional and national levels.

In fact, the challenge of obtaining more accurate metropolitan indicators is what moves us forward to continue improving our database. Working more closely with Metropolis members and stakeholders, we look forward not only to refine the metropolitan data inputs, but also to expand the database to include all 138 of the association’s members.

In addition, because global comparisons may be ill-advised, specialised reports that cover each continent individually are in the pipeline, taking into account the incredibly diverse cultural realities and situations that exist in different parts of the world.

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