Metropolitan Growth and Security in Asia-Pacific: Correcting the Dislocation of Public Policy

45 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 28 Sep 2014

See all articles by Daniel E. Esser

Daniel E. Esser

American University - School of International Service

Date Written: 2009


International development agencies have recently been warning of a ‘dark side of urban growth.’ Fast-growing cities are characterized as potentially destabilizing forces preventing human progress. Indeed, in Asia-Pacific, the world’s fastest urbanizing region to date, the number of large-scale conflicts is now en par with those taking place in Africa. The central analytical question, then, is whether urbanization and armed conflict in the region are not only coexisting but in fact causally linked. Here, one possible direction appears rather obvious across countries; large-scale conflict has played a role in catalyzing urban concentration. The opposite trajectory is less evident. Have growing cities fuelled insecurity, and if so, at which levels? The article first illustrates the dimensions of metropolitan growth and insecurity in Asia-Pacific. The associations rendered by this analysis are then examined in more detail by investigating the dynamics of urban growth and insecurity in five countries in the region; Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. This approach produces several new insights. First, causal relations between different measures of urbanization and large-scale conflict in Asia-Pacific appear moderate at best. On the contrary, the comparative case study analysis suggests that the varying strength of state institutions in the region is the dominant explanatory factor in this context. At the same time, local-level insecurity in Asia-Pacific is on the rise. However, although the latter can be associated with rapidly growing cities, it is not the spatial concentration of poor people per se that seems to cause local insecurity. Rather, features such as asset deprivation and limited access to services, typical of rapidly urbanizing areas, have exacerbated the gap between the urban rich and the urban poor. These findings lend only limited credibility to concerns about fast-growing cities as cradles of national or even regional instability. They do, however, remind planners and politicians that human security in cities cannot be achieved by local interventions alone. On the contrary, rising delinquency and victimisation as symptoms of rapid metropolitan concentration can only be addressed effectively where local urban policies are supported by cogent national agendas to reduce inequality.

Keywords: Urban poverty, inequality, armed conflict, human security, Asia-Pacific

JEL Classification: H7, O1, O2, R5, Z8

Suggested Citation

Esser, Daniel E., Metropolitan Growth and Security in Asia-Pacific: Correcting the Dislocation of Public Policy (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Daniel E. Esser (Contact Author)

American University - School of International Service ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
+1 (202) 885-1892 (Phone)


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics