Economic Capacity Categorization of Cities

Categorization of cities based on their economic capacity to meet urban service needs from 2015 - 2030

  • Source: Oxford Economics/World Bank Group/UN/WRI

City categorizations were created by the World Resources Institute (WRI) from Oxford Economics' Global Cities 2030 database in conjunction with the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects and the World Bank's World Development Indicators. Oxford Economics’ Global Cities 2030 service has been developed to explore markets trends and opportunities among the world’s largest 750 cities. The service provides city (and corresponding national) annual historic estimates (back to 2000 where possible) and forecasts (to 2030) to support business decision making and strategy, research analysis, urban planning, and client consultation and engagements. The service targets a definition of cities on the basis of urban agglomerations (UAs) and metropolitan areas, which include the built-up area outside the historical or administrative core (i.e. city proper).

WRI categorized cities by their current income, projected population, and economic growth. This helps to identify both the cities that will likely face the greatest challenges in providing urban services, and the cities that have the opportunity to avoid locking in unsustainable patterns. They used current gross domestic product (GDP) per capita between 2015 and 2030 relative to the projected growth in urban population over the same time period. WRI posits that these are good measures of how well a city's resource base can serve its population into the future. These two measures allow cities to be assigned to four categories: strugging, emerging, thriving and stabilizing. In addition, WRI calculated the percent of projected population change for cities from the years 2015 to 2030.

Struggling Cities —These cities have a low GDP per capita today (i.e., GDP per capita less than $10,000), and a low ratio of projected growth in GDP per capita to projected growth in population between 2015 and 2030, as compared to other cities (i.e., ratio less than 1). These are classified as struggling cities because, in the near future, they are likely to experience more rapid population growth than per capita economic growth, pointing to an impending resource gap. While this category includes predominantly sub-Saharan African cities, some cities in the Middle East and North Africa, and a few cities in South Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean are also represented.

Emerging Cities —These cities have a low GDP per capita today (i.e., GDP per capita less than $10,000), and a high ratio of projected growth in GDP per capita to projected growth in population between 2015 and 2030 (i.e., ratio greater than 1), as compared to other cities. These are classified as emerging cities because, while their economic strength is low today, their projected economic growth is greater than their projected population growth, indicating projected increases in economic productivity. These cities are more likely to have the capacity to overcome current resource constraints and strengthen their position globally. Most of the cities in this category are in East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia, with some in Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean as well.

Thriving Cities—These cities have a high GDP per capita today today (i.e., GDP per capita greater than $10,000), and a high ratio of projected growth in GDP per capita to projected growth in population between 2015 and 2030 (i.e., ratio greater than 1), as compared to other cities. These are classified as thriving cities because, not only are they economically strong today, their economic growth is projected to outpace their urban population growth in coming years. These cities are growing and thriving. Cities from East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean fall within this category.

Stabilizing Cities —These cities have a high GDP per capita today (i.e., GDP per capita greater than $10,000), and a low ratio of projected growth in GDP per capita to projected growth in population between 2015 and 2030 (i.e., ratio less than 1), as compared to other cities. These are classified as stabilizing cities because they are economically strong today, but their economic growth is expected to be lower relative to their population growth when compared to emerging or thriving cities. In that sense, these cities are starting to stabilize and in some cases, their economies are starting to shrink. It is primarily cities from North America, Latin America, and the Middle East that fall within this category.

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Formal name

New Categorization of Cities based on Current Income and Expected Population and Economic Growth (2015-2030)

Cautions

It is important to note that there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes an urban area. A city typically refers to a geographic area that conforms to a political, jurisdictional, or administrative boundary. Many contiguous urban areas or urban agglomerations, however, extend well beyond a city’s jurisdictional boundaries. Most countries define urban areas by a single population or density threshold. Many countries use a low threshold to identify urban areas. For example, the United States defines an urban cluster as an area containing at least 2,500 inhabitants. Using low thresholds creates thousands of small urban centers that lack the attributes typically associated with cities.

These analyses are based primarily on three data sources: the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects, the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, and Oxford Economics databases. The overall population threshold used in the Oxford Economics database is about 400,000 inhabitants.The database covers the United Nations list of urban agglomerations with at least 750,000 inhabitants and some other “strategically” important cities such as country capitals.

Suggested citation

Beard, V.A., A. Mahendra, and M.I. Westphal. 2016. “Towards a More Equal City: Framing the Challenges and Opportunities.” Working Paper. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, p. 9, based on data from Oxford Economics Global Cities 2030 database. Oxford, UK: Oxford Economics: https://www.oxfordeconomics.com/global-cities-service. Accessed through Resource Watch, (date). www.resourcewatch.org.

Sources

Oxford Economics
World Bank Group
United Nations (UN)
World Resources Institute (WRI)

Geographic coverage

Global

Spatial resolution

City

Date of content

2030

License

All analysis, reports, tables, base don WRI's analysis of the Oxford Economics data will properly reference and credit Oxford Economics as the data source. WRI will retain ownership of all copyright and intellectual property. Restrictions Apply.

Published language

en

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