How big is Busan really?

Giacomo Ponzetto emails me:

I’m glad you found our recent working paper on urban networks interesting and cited it on Marginal Revolution. I’m also glad that your readers pointed out our lack of clarity concerning Busan.

As they have already noted, what we meant is that the metropolitan city of Busan would be the second largest city in the European Union by population within administrative city limits, after Greater London (8.5 million) and pretty much tied with the city-state of Berlin at 3.5 million (the latest official figures we could find are 3,563,578 for Busan in 2013 and 3,562,166 for Berlin on 31 December 2014). We find this an interesting fact. It reflects political and administrative decisions to facilitate urban integration in Asia and conversely to preserve local identities in Europe. On the other hand, we agree that administrative boundaries often don’t provide the most useful definition of a city. The problem is that no other definition is unambiguous and plainly comparable across countries.

In its 2006 Territorial Review Competitive Cities in the Global Economy, the OECD defined the Busan metro area to include the administrative units of Busan, Ulsan, and Gyeonsangnam-do. By this definition, greater Busan has around 8 million residents, which is also the figure reported by Wikipedia, without defining the metro area. As the OECD noted, this is probably an overstatement because Gyeongsangnam-do is a large province including non-urban districts. Yet, a much smaller Busan-Ulsan-Changwon metro area (including Gimhae, Yangsan, Miryang and Geoje) has around 7 million residents. It would be the third largest in the European Union, behind London and Paris (12 million residents in the functional urban area as defined by Eurostat) but ahead of Madrid (6.5 million).

However, if instead one takes the view that Busan, Ulsan and Changwon are three continguous metro areas instead of a single one, then Busan-Gimhae-Yangan would have only around 4.5 million residents. It would be smaller than Madrid, the Ruhr, Berlin and Barcelona, but at the top of the pack that includes Rome, Milan and Athens. We chose to rely on the administrative-city figures to avoid having to adjudicate which is the most accurate functional definition of Busan’s metro area. Either way, you’re right it’s all too easy to underestimate Busan.


Zero Comments? Why?

In short, one can only know the maximum population of cities, never the minimum. What is the population of Los Angeles? Who knows.

So... pretty big.

That's why cities are tricky to measure, their boundaries are set by arbitrary administrative fiat.

A better estimate is to see where the density starts and stops. If you do this, you'll find a power law relationship: all 'capital cities' (usually, except in the USA, Germany, Australia and a few other places) are about 33% of the population. That's true in Japan, Philippines, China, Greece, Korea. It's amazing how many people you can pack in a small area (for the Greater Manila region, it's about 33M people in an area roughly the size of greater Washington, DC).

Comparing on density with a city in Korea is apt to be a bit weird. I live on the (former) edge of Busan: this side of the river, 25 story apartment buildings. Other side of the river, nothing. Korea seems to be either very high density (my small neighborhood would be considered much less dense: we only have five story buildings, with no space between them, separated by single lane roads. Practically open space....) or very very low density farmland. The is very little 'suburban' space around Busan: most of the low density areas are being redeveloped, with single family houses being replaced by five or six floor apartment buildings.


Its interesting to note that Ulsan, Geoje island, and Chinhae are where Hyundai, Daewoo, Samsung and STX's shipyards are. At the time I worked for one of them, they were in the top five worldwide, and were about a $50 billion dollar industry. Notice that Ulsan, where Hyundai Heavy industries is located has an equivalent per capita GDP to that of Luxembourg ($79,000), and while I don't see figures for Goeje island, I would imagine it to be the same.


Years ago I had the opportunity to visit some of the Korean shipyards. Very impressive indeed. I vividly remember giving a technical presentation in a nondescript office building, while a huge LNG tanker was being built next door. The office facilities were second rate at best. The shipyard itself was either the best in the world or close.

Ah, the unit of comparison is with the European Union. Looks like the original author has agreed that once one moves to broader metro area measures, the claim falls apart. I would note that the matter of what is the proper measurement even of the central city is not unequivocal, as given by their use of "Greater London." After all, the "City of London" proper is a much smaller unit. Metro areas may be vague, as the distinction between the units MSA and CMSA (now officially defunct) within the US shows. After all, does metro SF include all of the Bay area or not? Does metro Washington include Baltimore or not?

I was at dinner about a decade ago in Tokyo and sat next to the Housing Minister of Tokyo, who told me that the true population of metropolitan Tokyo was 45 million, a figure one will not find in any official source. The most expanded definition that I have seen has its population at 37 million. But then, geographers generally support the largest and broadest measures of urban metro areas as being the most meaningful ones, even if there is debate about what the boundaries of those are.

London in particular is a complicated case. Greater London is a formal administrative designation and is, as an entity, governed by the London Assembly and Mayor of London (not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of London who is only responsible for the City of London).

The Washington metro area is another that really illustrates the problem amply. So, even if one stays away from the broader CMSA designation that includes Baltimore (which is larger in population than DC), and which I think is indeed debatable, one still has a full three jurisdictions within the Washington MSA that are larger in population than its central city, the District of Columbia (official name), aka "Washingtion." The largest of these is Fairfax County, VA, which is nearly twice as large as DC in population, with two counties in Maryland also substantially larger than DC, Montgomery and Prince George's. It is essentially ridiculous to assert that what matters is the population of the main central city within its official juridical boundaries when comparing the populations sizes of "cities."

how old are the stars, really?

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