Doubling the size of a city boosts per capita income and creativity by 15%

The three major economic mega-urban zones are the pearl river delta in the south (merging into one 42 million person city) and Yangtze River delta around Shanghai and the Bohai economic rim

Geoffrey West and the Sante Fe Institute performed a study of cities and found that if the size of a city doubles, then, on average, wages, wealth, the number of patents, and the number of educational and research institutions all increase by approximately the same degree, about 15 percent. They refer to this systematic phenomenon as “superlinear scaling”: The bigger the city, the more the average citizen owns, produces, and consumes, whether it’s goods, resources, or ideas. As urban creatures we all participate in this process, manifested in the metropolitan buzz of productivity, speed, and ingenuity. Doubling the size of a city increases wealth and innovation by about 15 percent, but it also increases the amount of crime, pollution, and disease by roughly the same amount.

China is trying to capture superlinear scaling effects by economically integrating cities into regions that are 8-16 times larger. Success would mean a 45-60% boost in per capita income, productivity and creativity.

The downsides of urbanization are not inescapable. Innovation in the space of rules can ensure that cities are cleaner, healthier, and safer places than the places urban migrants leave behind. As West suggests, developing cities that unambiguously enhance human welfare will require a deeper understanding of the social networks underlying the scale effects of urbanization.

China is merging Beijing/Tianjin and several other cities around the Bohai Sea into one big super-urban zone over the next several years. By 2020 there could be 260,000,000 people (3% of the world’s population) in one big super-city.

This city would have 12 times the population that Beijing has now (22 million although some estimates have Beijing at 18 million, so the area would then be 16 times the population). If the Bohai super-economic zone could capture the urbanization gains then per capita income would be 50-60% higher. China is choosing to shift to cleaner power with mass produced nuclear power, hydro power and some contribution from wind and solar.

China is also integrating cities around Guangzhou and around Shanghai

New Scientist recently tried to examine rebuilding civilization from scratch but had contributors choosing solar and wind power and imagining concentric urban new construction.

The United States has rebuilt it cities in past decades but choices have been made which are preventing optimal restructuring.