Malaysia among Most Urbanized Countries in East Asia

January 26, 2015

New World Bank data compiled through satellite imagery and geospatial mapping provides new understanding of East Asia’s accelerating urbanization. The new analysis provides vital data at a time when much of the region’s infrastructure is getting built as part of a physical and social transformation in East Asia.

According to the report titled East Asia’s Changing Urban Landscape: Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth, Malaysia is among the more urbanized countries of East Asia, and its urban population continues to increase rapidly. However, urban areas in the country are among the least dense in East Asia. The Kuala Lumpur urban area is one of the largest in the region as measured by area, but not as measured by population.

Key findings

  • Malaysia has the fourth-largest amount of built-up land in East Asia as of 2010. Its urban land grew from about 3,900 square kilometers to 4,600 between 2000 and 2010, an average annual growth rate of 1.5%, which was lower than the 2.4% average for the region.
  • Its urban population increased during this period from 10.2 million (43% of the total population) to 15 million (53%), making it among the more urbanized countries and economies in the region in demographic terms, after Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore (and Taiwan, China).
  • The rate of urban population growth, 4.0% a year, on average, was among the fastest in the region, surpassed only by Lao PDR, Cambodia (both of which have much smaller urban populations), and Vietnam.
  • Urban areas were, on average, among the least dense in East Asia, with an overall urban population density of 3,300 people per square kilometer in 2010, up from 2,600 in 2000, and lower than the regional average of almost 5,800 people per square kilometer.
  • Malaysia has 19 urban areas with more than 100,000 people: one urban area of more than 5 million people (Kuala Lumpur), two between 1 million and 5 million people (George Town and Johor Bahru), five of 500,000 to 1 million people, and 11 urban areas of between 100,000 and 500,000 people.
  • As of 2010, the Kuala Lumpur urban area was the eighth largest in the region, larger than some megacity urban areas like Jakarta, Manila, and Seoul despite its smaller population.
  • Despite being the eighth-largest urban area in size, because of its low density, the Kuala Lumpur urban area was only the 22nd largest in population. The overall urban area grew from about 4 million inhabitants in 2000 to 5.8 million in 2010, a relatively high average annual growth rate of 3.8%.
  • Johor Bahru saw rapid growth during this period, taking advantage of its location immediately across a narrow strait from Singapore. Growing from 270 square kilometers to 420 between 2000 and 2010 (4.4% a year), it surpassed George Town and Ipoh to become the second-largest urban area in the country.