Suburbanisation and land-use within metropolitan areas

In the past 15 years the population in the periphery of metropolitan areas has grown faster than in urban cores, while land consumption per capita in metropolitan areas has increased.

In the OECD, annual population growth between 2000 and 2015 was around 60% higher in commuting zones than in the core of metropolitan areas (Figure 4.3). This process of suburbanisation was most marked in Korea, Estonia, Mexico, Chile, and the United States, where the population growth in commuting zones was more than twice that of urban cores.

4.3. Annual population growth in the core and commuting zones of metropolitan areas, 2000-15


During this period, land consumption (built-up area per capita) increased on average by 1.8% but changes in land consumption were quite heterogeneous across metropolitan areas (Figure 4.4). In Mexico, Spain, and the United States some areas (Ensenada, Palma de Mallorca, Washoe) experienced a reduction in built-up area per capita of around 20% while other areas in the same countries (Juárez, Bilbao, Providence) recorded an increase of built-up area per capita of the same magnitude. The highest and lowest changes in land consumption occurred in the areas of Erfurt, Germany and Clark (Nevada), USA, respectively.

4.4. Annual change in built-up areas per capita in metropolitan areas, 2000-14



329 Metropolitan areas have been identified in 31 OECD countries (functional urban areas with population above 500 000), according to the OECD EU methodology that identifies metropolitan areas on the basis of densely populated cities and their commuting zones (travel to work journeys) to reflect the economic geography of the population’s daily commuting patterns (see Annex A for details).

Across OECD countries, smaller cities have, on average, greater land consumption per capita than larger cities (Figure 4.5). In metropolitan areas, the built-up area in the commuting zones is, on average, almost 80% higher than in the city core. Land consumption differs considerably between countries. For example, in the United States and Australia, built-up area per capita is more than five times higher than in Korea or Mexico.

4.5. Average built-up area (square metres) per capita, 2014



OECD (2018), “Metropolitan areas”, OECD Regional Statistics (database). Data were created using the Global Human Settlement Dataset.

Reference years and territorial level

Years 2000-2015, functional urban areas.

Further information

OECD (2012), Redefining “Urban”: A New Way to Measure Metropolitan Areas, OECD Publishing, Paris,

European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC); Columbia University, Center for International Earth Science Information Network - CIESIN (2015): GHS population grid, derived from GPW4, multitemporal (1975, 1990, 2000, 2015). European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) [Dataset] PID:

Figure notes

4.3: Only metropolitan areas with both a core and a commuting zone are included.

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