By 2030, over 60% of the world’s population will live and work in urban environments.  While the spotlights are being cast mostly on megacities, the forecasts on urban growth to 2030 and beyond by the United Nations show that it is the intermediate and big cities, not megacities, that will account for the largest share of urban growth in developing countries.

In Southeast Asia, secondary cities are rapidly rising in number.  Affordable air travels, regional economic integration, widely connected roads and rail networks have all contributed to unprecedented connectivity and mobility in the region. From Maesot to Ipoh, secondary cities are blossoming not only economically, but also socially and culturally. Given their increasing aggregate demographic and economic significance, secondary cities will play a critical role in shaping the future of the region.

With dynamic growth, however, comes emerging challenges that deserve closer examination and dialogue. Capacities of local governments are overstretched, and many face the lack of human and financial resources to cope with the rapid changes. As the range and volume of stakeholders in these secondary cities have expanded from its original citizens to include the new actors such as migrant workers, tourists, and foreign investors into the picture, it brings to attention the critical governance issues, particularly on accountability, access to services, equality and participation. Despite their different geographical locations, the second-tier or secondary cities across the region will face a similar set of challenges and can benefit from cross-city learning and exchanges of solutions.

The Development Conversation Series III explores the challenges facing secondary cities in Southeast Asia, with a focus on Thailand. The dialogue centers on 4 key sectors: housing, health and sanitation, environment and transport (air and land). Twenty-five mayors, policymakers, practitioners, academia, civil society and the private sector from around the region are invited to debate, share their experience and together build better understanding on governance issues in secondary cities.

The dialogue on secondary cities will continue in the subsequent Development Solution Series in November 2013, which will feature concrete case studies of innovative public policies and practices around Asia that have been implemented to bridge the capability gaps in the secondary cities. The Regional Forum in March 2014 will facilitate cross-city learning and network building among secondary cities actors around the region.