Asia’s Emerging Cities: the Smart List

In January 2016, the Indian government announced a list of 20 cities to be developed as “smart cities”. Top of the list was Bhubaneswar, followed by Pune and Jaipur. This “smart city” project doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of a growing trend of emerging cities across the world. In India, the “smart cities” will be given good basic infrastructure, with efficient water and power supplies, internet and public transport. The cities were chosen based on aspects such as cost and citizen participation. The “smart city” plan will see the government investing Rs 50,802 crore in the 20 cities and towns. It is a reflection of the fact that in countries like India, people are no longer limited to huge cities like Delhi if they want to develop on a global scale.

Similar developments can be seen in other countries currently undergoing an economic boom. China is an excellent example. Experts say that Shanghai and Beijing are not the future of China, although they grab most headlines. In reality, rapid growth is happening in “Tier Three” cities, where over 300 million Chinese live. These emerging cities are  full of an enthusiastic work force. They are also far cheaper in terms of land and real estate. Therefore, it’s clear that companies wishing to save money can do better in these cities than in expensive Beijing. Credit Suisse commented that many companies are likely to move away from coastal regions. In emerging cities, wages are lower. Major areas of economic growth in China include:

  •  Sichuan province and Chongqing in southwest China.
  • the central provinces of Anhui, Jiangxi and Hunan.
  • Hebei and Henan provinces near the big northern market around Beijing.

The average home price outside Tier One cities is 75% lower. Of course more people live here. Developers like China Vanke are now moving into these emerging cities and creating more diverse products. So what is life like in these new cities? How are they changing their local economies?

Bhubaneswar, one of India's biggest emerging cities.

Ram Mandir


Bhubaneswar is a well-known and popular emerging city in India. The World Bank notes it as one of India’s best places to do business. It has a vibrant business and economic background, based on various industries. IT, education, engineering and tourism are all big here. A few decades ago Bhubaneswar was a rural place. But it has swiftly become a commercial hub of eastern India. The industries in Bhubaneswar support each other and have helped each other grow.

Growth in Bhubaneswar is based on thriving agricultural industry. Agriculture has developed to help banking, minerals and metal industries also increase in the city.  Ore mining a decade ago sparked rapid growth in many connected industries. As Bhubaneshwar grows, tourism has also increased. Now there are many hotels and restaurants here. Knowledge complexes and IT parks fill the city. Bhubaneshwar benefited hugely from the mining boom that began in the early 1990s. Since then it has emerged as a thriving business paradise.

Banks in Bhubaneshwar have been able to offer credit to help many major players set up shop here. Recent increases in economy and trade have helped. Soon, Bhubaneswar could be among the most important trade cities in India.

Aside from its business prospects, this is also a young and fun city. It has important handicrafts industries, retail and hospitality. Young people with start up companies are moving here to join the atmosphere. The youth culture of Bhubaneswar is also helped by the fact that weed is legal here.The city has authorised bhang shops and vibrant street food culture. Its location 40km from the coast has also helped its position as a tourist city.

Maybe the biggest draw of Bhubaneswar as an emerging city in 2016, is its position at the top of the Smart City list. The government has pledged to invest, invest, invest. Bhubaneswar residents can expect rapid growth around the railway station area of town, with better public transport links and services across the city.

Hyderabad is another of India's most vibrant emerging cities.



Hyderabad is one of the strongest emerging cities in Asia. The city suffered politically during the Telangana protests. But it has not affected their booming economic growth. Hyderabad’s income per capita grew by 5.2 % in 2009 – 14. This was in spite of the city’s political uncertainty. Many companies set up offices in the business district of Hyderabad, which allowed the city to grow throughout this period. Its IT industry is particularly strong. The services sector has also been booming. The cost of living in Hyderabad is appealingly low. This makes Hyderabad an attractive place for young business owners. They can set up a start-up in a low-cost environment that has decent services and support.

Hyderabad’s real estate boom came late compared to other big IT cities like Bangalore or Chennai. But this doesn’t mean developers aren’t taking notice. Prestige Group From Bangalore and Hiranandani of Mumbai have both announced planned developments in Hyderabad. IT growth in Hyderabad is contributing to both commercial and residential property booms. Prices have increased considerably. Property developers are building new residences around the IT regions. Good roads mean there is connectivity in the city, and places to live far from the noise and pollution. In the past it would have been hellish trying to travel 20 km beyond the city. Now there are developments all around the outskirts of Hyderabad. The city is a hub for Emerging pharma companies from India like Dr Reddy’s and Aurobindo.Moreover, there are talks of establishing a pharma city, not too far from the capital. The city is known for lavish bungalows and expensive villas are being built all over. Hotels, convention centres and big ring roads are being built around the airport. These are sure to make Hyderabad still more attractive for business people. This is an emerging city to look out for.

A beautiful seascape in Cebu, one of Asia's newest emerging cities.

Cebu. Courtesy of


India and China are not alone in their emerging cities. Cebu in the Philippines is becoming a huge e-commerce hot spot. The Philippines in general are a growing market for this industry. Discount online sites based here have increased the online retail market hugely. Cebu is the second largest city in the Philippines and is perfect for investors.

Cebu’s population is well educated and competent. Many universities and colleges here have given its workforce a good reputation. Businesses have moved away from Manila to invest in Cebu. This increases the cost of living but also the standard of living in Cebu. Young professionals love Cebu’s beaches, shopping and nightlife. They are online savvy and online shopping appeals to them. There couldn’t be a better place to invest in the e-commerce industry.

Most importantly in Cebu, the city is extremely liveable. The population is growing and getting more disposable income. They want the services and products people have in other countries. But Cebu is one of the most livable cities in all of Asia. It is beautiful and exciting and foreigners are moving here in droves. More than 200,000 foreigners currently live in Cebu, with more and more coming in. International corporations are riding the rise of the e-commerce trade right into Cebu.

An interesting riverscape in one of China's emerging cities, Hangzhou.



Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. It is relatively close to Shanghai, which has helped its status among the emerging cities. But its industries are what are really bringing it up. IT is a big one, common to all these cities. But pharmaceuticals and food processing are also growing here. Likewise electronics. The city has become more attractive with the recent high speed rail service to Shanghai. The internaional airport has been upgraded and free internet access is available in some parts of the city.

Hangzhou has always been a beautiful place. Many people come as tourists to the West Lake area. But there are also lots of famous local attractions nearby. You can watch dragon races on the lake and the restaurant industry is famous and growing. Businesses who once invested in Shanghai now consider Hangzhou. It is well connected, young and expanding. Cost of living here is cheaper than in nearby Shanghai. And it’s easier to start up a new IT business where the property is less expensive.


Xiamen is one of China’s most interesting emerging cities. It is a special economic zone of its own on the southeast coast of China. It was once located on an island but new urban districts have been emerging on nearby pieces of land. This makes this city particularly unusual.

Once upon a time Xiamen could only develop slowly because of political tension with nearby Taiwan. Now, the city is booming. Dell has regional headquarters here, making use of the deepwater port and great infrastructure. Machinery manufacturing and chemicals are also increasing the revenue of this town. Tourists also flock here for its quality of life and fabulous waterfront areas. The city has many pedestrian areas with buzzing shops and delicious street food. The nightlife is also compared to the West Coast of America. There are bars all along the water front, with live music and all-night energy.

Xiamen today is a city to watch.


The Emerging City in 2016

It’s no secret that the whole of Asia is in a huge economic boom period. But these cities were barely a blip on the world’s radar in 1990. Now the Smart City phenomenon looks set to spread. New companies and small businesses work alongside big ones. International corporations are investing here. These are cities to expect a lot from in the future.