12 March 2015
Greetings to AASSREC members and other interested parties,
In the final week of April 2015 the member organisations of AASSREC will gather to present data and exchange views on the evolution of the phenomenon referred to as Megacities, urban homes to ten million, twenty million or more people. The numbers are staggering. And so are the implications for virtually every social science discipline. At one end (call it the top) the implications for governments in the provision of public infrastructure, essential services and the regulation of institutional and individual behaviour should be overwhelming, except that often they are not. The impact on residents and their capacity to understand and behave in a civil society of such a scale should be cripplingly complex and difficult, except that most often it is not. How can this be? Top-down governance and bottom-up adaptation are part of the marvels that social scientists have the tools and capacity to understand, and to inform our societies and governments about in order to maximise what is good about high-density, high-rise and rapidly evolving cities, and to minimise what is not so good.
Forums, such as the 21st AASSREC Biennial Conference offer social scientists of all stripes opportunities to gather evidence and test ideas about aspects of the human existence that can and should benefit both the governing top-end of town, and the more mundane lives of the citizenry. In the days of the Conference I look forward to hearing about the differences to be seen in highly organised and very successful megacities, and about the difficulties encountered in megacities where circumstances make for fragility in governance and incapacity in informal adaptive human responses to needs. Where are the crucial lessons to be learned? Megacities will offer a potentially infinite number of dimensions to be studied and understood, and rich opportunities to test assumptions against the evidence they provide. Are the answers to be found in the core elements of economics and politics, or are the measures of what constitutes success and failure to be best understood at the margins where economic measures, political ambitions and social experiments are easier to observe and capture in our consciousness? Join me in hearing what our colleagues have to say about the past, present and future, such as it can be reasonably imagined, of our great cities and how they will serve our individual and collective human needs.
Here's looking forward to a successful and enriching conference at the Academia Sinica, Taipei.
Dr. John Beaton
Secretary General – AASSREC
The first of the megacities, arguably either Tokyo or New York, have been joined by a growing number of others. Whether measured as contained within the boundaries of a city limit on in the less precise terms such as conurbation, metropolitan area or urban agglomeration it is demonstrable that concentrations of very large populations into functionally (if not administratively) discrete units are now very significant matters in most of the world's familiar regions. In the Asia-Pacific, the Asian continent now leads the world with the most numerous and perhaps most populous megacities and projections suggest that will be a continuing trend. Many of the problems associated with megacities such as transport gridlocks and air pollution have been long-recognized while others are still emerging. Less well-known concerns are those of the individuals, families and associations of people who live in megacities, and these of course are the province of social science research. But megacities may also provide opportunities that can benefit human societies and their institutions. It is not difficult to see for instance that governments can benefit from the efficiency in the provision of essential services, and both public and private service providers can benefit from the increased population densities and megacities provide.
But what of the lives and aspirations of individuals and families who find themselves drawn by economic or other opportunities? Are megacities but more extreme version of what social scientists already know about city life or is there something in the towering high-rises, paucity of open space and increasing human population densities that social scientists need to address?
Most may have evolved through a mixture of circumstances both intrinsic and exotic. Excellent port facilities, rich rural surrounds or major river systems are obvious elements in the early establishment and subsequent great growth of. At least one major city, Shenzen, has its origins in national planning.
All megacities, like cities of other sizes, share attributes. These attributes may be planned or spontaneous. Either way, the complex characteristics of megacities will have many attractive and beneficial elements for their peoples, and also a number of problems that confront both government and citizens. AASSREC considers how social science knowledge gained from urban and other research can help to assess how governance and social behavior can strongly influence the quality of life in present and future megacities.