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Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy



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Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy

If you’ve ever flown cross-country in a window seat, chances are, the bright lights at night have caught your eye. From above, the world tells its own story—as concentrated pockets of bright light keep the world’s economy thriving.

Today’s visualization relies on data compiled by CityLab researchers to identify the world’s largest megaregions. The team defines megaregions as:

  • Areas of continuous light, based on the latest night satellite imagery
  • Capturing metro areas or networks of metro areas, with a combined population of 5 million or higher
  • Generating economic output (GDP) of over $300 billion, on a PPP basis

The satellite imagery comes from the NOAA, while the base data for economic output is calculated from Oxford Economics via Brookings’ Global Metro Monitor 2018.

It’s worth pointing out that each megaregion may not be connected by specific trade relationships. Rather, satellite data highlights the proximity between these rough but useful regional estimates contributing to the global economy—and supercities are at the heart of it.

From Megalopolis to Megaregion

Throughout history, academics have described vast, interlinked urban regions as a ‘megalopolis’, or ‘megapolis’. Economic geographer Jean Gottman popularized the Greek term, referring to the booming and unprecedented urbanization in Bos-Wash—the northeast stretch from Boston and New York down to Washington, D.C.:

This region has indeed a “personality” of its own […] Every city in this region spreads out far and wide around its original nucleus.

Gottmann, Megalopolis (1961)

By looking at adjacent metropolitan areas rather than country-level data, it can help provide an entirely new perspective on the global distribution of economic activity.

Where in the world are the most powerful urban economic clusters today?

The Largest Megaregions Today

The world’s economy is a sum of its parts. Each megaregion contributes significantly to the global growth engine, but arguably, certain areas pull more weight than others.

MegaregionCitiesRegionPopulationEconomic Output (EO)EO per Capita
1. Bos-WashNew York, Washington, D.C., BostonNorth America 47.6M$3,650B$76,681
2. Par-Am-MunParis, Amsterdam, Brussels, MunichEurope43.5M$2,505B$57,586
3. Chi-PittsChicago, Detroit, Cleveland, PittsburghNorth America32.9M$2,130B$64,742
4. Greater TokyoTokyoAsia39.1M$1,800B$46,036
5. SoCalLos Angeles, San DiegoNorth America22M$1,424B$64,727
6. Seoul-SanSeoul, BusanAsia35.5M$1,325B$37,324
7. Texas TriangleDallas, Houston, San Antonio, AustinNorth America18.4M$1,227B$66,685
8. BeijingBeijing, TianjinAsia37.4M$1,226B$32,781
9. Lon-Leed-ChesterLondon, Leeds, ManchesterEurope22.6M$1,177B$52,080
10. Hong-ShenHong Kong, ShenzhenAsia19.5M$1,043B$53,487
11. NorCalSan Francisco, San JoseNorth America 10.8M$925B$85,648
12. ShanghaiShanghai, HangzhouAsia 24.2M$892B$36,860
13. TaipeiTaipeiAsia16.7M$827B$49,521
14. São PaoloSão PaoloSouth America33.5M$780B$23,284
15. Char-LantaCharlotte, AtlantaNorth America 10.5M$656B$62,476
16. CascadiaSeattle, PortlandNorth America8.8M$627B$71,250
17. Ista-BursIstanbul, BursaMENA14.8M$626B$42,297
18. Vienna-BudapestVienna, BudapestEurope12.8M$555B$43,359
19. Mexico CityMexico CityNorth America24.5M$524B$21,388
20. Rome-Mil-TurRome, Milan, TurinEurope13.8M$513B$37,174
21. Singa-LumpurSingapore, Kuala LumpurAsia12.7M$493B$38,819
22. Cairo-AvivCairo, Tel AvivMENA19.8M$472B$23,838
23. So-FloMiami, TampaNorth America 9.1M$470B$51,648
24. Abu-DubaiAbu Dhabi, DubaiMENA5M$431B$86,200
25. Osaka-Nagoya (tied)Osaka, NagoyaAsia9.1M$424B$46,593
25. Tor-Buff-Chester (tied)Toronto, Buffalo, RochesterNorth America8.5M$424B$49,882
27. Delhi-LahoreNew Delhi, LahoreAsia27.9M$417B$14,946
28. Barcelona-LyonBarcelona, LyonEurope7M$323B$46,143
29. ShandongJinan, Zibo, DongyingAsia14.2M$249B$17,535

Altogether, these powerhouses bring in over $28 trillion in economic output.

Unsurprisingly, Bos-Wash reigns supreme even today, with $3.6 trillion in economic output, over 13% of the total. The corridor hosts some of the highest-paying sectors: information technology, finance, and professional services.

The largest city in Brazil, São Paulo, is the only city in the Southern Hemisphere to make the list. The city was once heavily reliant on manufacturing and trade, but the $780 billion city economy is now embracing its role as a nascent financial hub.

On the other side of the world, the cluster of Asian megaregions combines for $8.7 trillion in total economic output. Of these, Greater Tokyo in Japan is the largest, while Shandong might be a name that fewer people are familiar with. Sandwiched between Beijing and Shanghai, the coastal province houses multiple high-tech industrial and export processing zones.

The data is even more interesting when broken down into economic output per capita—Abu-Dubai churns out an impressive $86,200 per person. Meanwhile, Delhi-Lahore is lowest on the per-capita list, at $14,946 per person across nearly 28 million people.

Where To Next?

This trend shows no sign of slowing down, as megacities are on the rise in the coming decade. Eventually, more Indian and African megaregions will make its way onto this list, led by cities like Lagos and Chennai.

Stay tuned to Visual Capitalist for a North America-specific outlook coming soon, and a deep dive into the biggest factors contributing to the growth of these megaregions.

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Top U.S. Food Imports by Origin Country

This infographic shows the top exporting countries for U.S. food imports, ranging from exotic fruits to meat, oils, spices, and more.



Top U.S. food imports from countries

Top U.S. Food Imports by Origin Country

The U.S. is a major producer and exporter of food products, but did you know that it’s also one of the world’s largest food importers?

Due to seasonality and climate, some foods can’t be grown on home soil, at least enough to fulfill consumption demands. Indeed, many familiar grocery items come from other countries.

This infographic from Julie Peasley uses data from the Chatham House Resource Trade Database (CHRTD) to show where the U.S. gets its food from, highlighting the top exporting countries of various imported food items.

The Types of Imported Foods

The U.S. imported around $148 billion worth of agricultural products in 2020, and according to the USDA, this has since risen to $194 billion in 2022.

Around 50% of all U.S. agricultural imports are horticultural products like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and more. Other large import categories include sugar and tropical products, meat, grains, and oilseeds.

With that context in mind, we break down each category and highlight the five foods with the largest single-origin import value.

Farm Fresh: Fruit and Vegetable Imports

U.S. fruit and vegetable imports have been on a steady rise since 2000. In fact, between 2011 and 2021, fruits and nuts imports made up 44% of domestic consumption, while 35% of vegetables consumed in the U.S. came from outside the country.

Mexico is by far the largest exporter of fruits and vegetables to the United States.

Fruit or VegetableLargest Exporting CountryU.S. Import Value (2020)
Tomatoes🇲🇽 Mexico$2.5B
Avocados🇲🇽 Mexico$2.1B
Peppers🇲🇽 Mexico$1.4B
Bananas🇬🇹 Guatemala$1.0B
Strawberries🇲🇽 Mexico$897M

The U.S. imported $2.5 billion worth of tomatoes from Mexico in 2020, representing 31% of international tomato trade. Avocados, native to central Mexico, were nearly as popular with $2.1 billion worth of imports.

Generally, the largest exporters of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. are North and South American countries, with products often coming from Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and Brazil.

Beefed Up: Meat Imports

The U.S. is the world’s largest overall consumer of beef (or bovine meat), and the third-largest per capita consumer at nearly 37.9 kg (84 lbs) per person per year.

Therefore, despite being one of the top producers of beef, the country still imports a lot of it.

MeatLargest Exporting CountryU.S. Import Value (2020)
Bovine Cuts🇨🇦 Canada$1.4B
Bovine Cuts, Frozen🇳🇿 New Zealand$839M
Sheep Meat🇦🇺 Australia$643M
Swine Hams, Shoulders, and Cuts🇨🇦 Canada$559M
Bovine Cuts, Bone In🇲🇽 Mexico$449M

Precisely, The U.S. imported $8.7 billion worth of meat in 2020. Canada was the largest source of imported beef, with the U.S. accounting for more than 70% of all Canadian beef exports.

The sources of meat imports are more geographically diverse than fruits and vegetables, with billions of dollars of imports coming from New Zealand and Australia.

Making Waves: Seafood Imports

Despite plenty of coastlines, the U.S. imports 70–85% of all its seafood and accounted for 15% of global seafood imports in 2020 at $21.8 billion.

Frozen shrimp and prawns were the top seafood import, with $1.9 billion worth from India.

Fish and SeafoodLargest Exporting CountryU.S. Import Value (2020)
Shrimp and Prawns, Frozen🇮🇳 India$1.9B
Fish Fillet or Meat🇨🇱 Chile$1.4B
Fish Fillet or Meat, Frozen🇨🇳 China$884M
Lobsters🇨🇦 Canada$764M
Crabs, Frozen🇨🇦 Canada$719M

The largest source of U.S. seafood imports overall with $3.1 billion total was Canada, which leads in lobster, crab, and whole fish imports. It was followed by Chile at $2.1 billion, primarily for parts of fish (fillet or meat, fresh or chilled).

Other Foods: Oils, Grains, Coffee, and More

There are plenty of other types of foods and agricultural products that the U.S. relies on other countries for. Here are the largest single-origin U.S. food imports for the remaining categories:

FoodCategoryLargest Exporting CountryU.S. Import Value (2020)
Canola Oil, RefinedOils🇨🇦 Canada$1.4B
Coffee, Not RoastedStimulants/Spices🇨🇴 Colombia$1.0B
Cashews, ShelledNuts/Seeds/Beans🇻🇳 Vietnam$960M
Raw Sugar, RefinedSweetners🇲🇽 Mexico$723M
RiceCereals🇹🇭 Thailand$713M
CheeseDairy🇮🇹 Italy$310M

Some of the highest and potentially surprising exports? Imports of refined Canadian canola oil totaled $1.4 billion in 2020, while Vietnam exported a whopping $960 million worth of cashews to America.

A Global Plate: The Diversity of U.S. Food Imports

The amount and value of food imported to the U.S. highlights the diversity of consumer preferences and the importance of global food stocks, considering America is one of the world’s leading food producers.

With countries having to rely on others to satisfy demand for limited production supply or exotic foods, the interconnectedness of the global food system is both vital and delicate.

What’s clear is that the U.S. food plate is indeed a global one, with many foods taking remarkable journeys from farm to fork.

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