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Chapter 10: Cities of Southeast Asia
•Total Pop: 556 million
•% urban pop: 43,6 million
•Total urban pop: 244 million
•Most urbanized: Singapore (100%), Brunei, Malaysia
•Least urbanized: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
•Annual urban growth rate: 3.0%
•Cities more than 1 million: 16
•Largest cities: Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok
•World cities: Singapore
•All of the world’s major religions present in this region, along with a great variety of cultures and hundreds of
different languages. India and China remain the 2 dominant cultural hearths.
•Primate cities – Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok – dominate the region; but the key urban center is Singapore.
•Many cities are restructuring their economies to become information technology (IT) cities.
•Some of the world’s largest cargo ports are located in this region – Singapore.
•Flying over cities like Bangkok, Manila or Ho Chi Minh is like flying over Los Angeles, New York or Tokyo.
•S.E Asia’s cities provide focal points; they serve as centers of political and cultural activity and centers of
commercial circulation and exchange. For example Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Phnom Penh; “post-socialist”
cities are undergoing phenomenal political and economic changes.
•Vast inequality between rich and poor as well as the healthy and malnourished. In the big cities, designer stores
as well as shanty towns & raw sewage are part of their urban landscapes.
•Medium, or intermediate, cities of the region are also becoming important regional urban centers. But still,
rural areas are site of contestation and conflict resulting from indigenous land-use practices and national urban
Urban Pattern at the Regional Scale
•Cambodia – Phnom Penh, the capital city is dominated by its central market built in the Art Deco style of
•The markets in the region seem to embody much of the region’s urban geography.
•S.E Asia remains one of the world’s least urbanized regions of the world. Only 4 countries – Singapore,
Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines – are more than 50% urbanized. Other states like Cambodia and
Vietnam are less than 30% urbanized.
•Many countries have experienced an urban population growth of 3% per year, with some countries like
Cambodia and Laos experiencing more than 6% growth a year.
•Historically, one or two urban areas would dominate the region. The Kingdom of Angkor in Cambodia
exerted its influence between the 9th and 14th centuries over much of present-day Cambodia, Laos, and
Thailand. Centered in the city-state of Malacca, the Srivijayan Empire ruled much of insular S.E Asia from
the late 14th century to the early 16th century.
•Cities of S.E Asia are densely populated and sprawling.
•The urban growth of some cities led to conflicts over land-use which has threatened once prime agricultural
lands and has spurred attendant economic problems of land-speculation and landlessness.
•Problems of over-urbanization – traffic congestion, pollution, unemployment. Local government officials
have initiated regional economic development projects – promoting economic growth and development in
more peripheral regions and lessening the burdens of primate cities.
•Many urban areas are becoming transitional – Singapore is at the heart of a major economic growth triangle
that also includes Malaysia and Indonesia. Similar urban-economic megalopolises include parts of
Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. Other developments include the transnational linkage of
countries via transportation routes, that when completed, will integrate north-eastern Thailand, Laos, and
Historical Perspectives on Urban Development
Pre-Colonial Patterns of Urbanization
•S.E Asia characterized by more coastline than perhaps any other major world region, and much of its coast
is accessible to sea traffic. 4 times the combined land area of the 11 countries that compose the region.
•Contain many fertile river valleys. Densely populated settlements emerged in these areas.
•Crucial crossroads of commerce between china, India and beyond – a factor that precipitated the
urbanization process of S.E Asia.
•International trade existed long before European States like England and Spain began colonizing the
Americas, Africa and Asia.
•Prior to the era of European colonialism (from the early 16th to the mid-20th century) S.E Asia was one of
the world’s most urbanized regions.
•Natural crossroads and meeting point for world trade, migration, and cultural exchange.
•Most S.E Asian societies (with the exception of Vietnam and the Philippines) were influenced primarily by
India, and this is most pronounced in religious and administrative systems – process of Indianization.
•2 principal urban forms emerged in pre-colonial S.E Asia: the Sacred City and the Market City. Both
performed religious as well as economic functions. But there are many differences between them. Sacred
cities: more populous, wealth was gained from appropriating agricultural surpluses and labour from the
rural hinterland. Sprawling administrative, military, and cultural centers. They were planned and developed
to mirror symbolic links between human societies on earth and the forces of heaven. Often occupied inland
locations. By the 16th century, many of the once-prosperous inland sacred cities were in decline. One of the
earliest sacred cities was Borobudur in Java, where the world’s largest Buddhist temple is located. The best
known and most famous of all inland sacred cities is Angkor. Market Cities: supported through long
distance maritime trade. They were mostly centers of economic activities. They tended to occupy more
restricted coastal locations and thus had more limited hinterland. Ethnically diverse, populated by traders,
merchants, and other travellers from all parts of the earth. The earliest market city was Oc Eo, located in
present-day Vietnam; it was an important exchange center of cargo, ideas and innovations; and also served
as an important city for both Chinese and Indian traders as well as for other seafarers as far away as Africa,
the Middle East, etc. After the decline of Oc Eo, Srivijaya emerged as an important maritime empire.
Another example of a market city is Malacca which is located on the western side of the Malay Peninsula.
Urbanization in Colonial S.E Asia
•S.E Asia was relatively urbanized by the time of European colonization. By the 16th century, there were at
least 6 trade-dependent cities that had populations of more than 100,000.
•Urban system of S.E Asia was characterized by a pre-dominance of strategic coastal locations that served
an extensive international maritime trading system – only the Philippines lacked an urban tradition.
•Cities suffered tremendous population declines after being colonized.
•During the first 3 centuries of colonialism, European influence was most pronounced in 2 regions: Manila
under the Spanish and Jakarta under the Dutch. 1st permanent Spanish settlement – Nombre de Jesus. The
Dutch East India Company during the 17th century established a few permanent settlements, one of which is
Batavia, now Jakarta; it was modeled after the cities of Holland.
•Singapore started off as a small trading post on an island south of the Malay Peninsula – the town was
•Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) which became the capital of French Indochina was one of the world’s great rice
granaries was an important agricultural collection, processing and distribution center.1880, Notre Dame
Cathedral was constructed.
•Bangkok was never colonized by the European power yet it still reflects considerable Western influence.
Relatively new city, not founded until 1782.