This term does not have one strict technical or legal definition. However, the many definitions and explanations of megaprojects concur that a megaproject is a large-scale, high-cost project involving transportation infrastructure (roads, highways, rail systems, etc.), consumption (hotels, shopping centers, resorts, real estate development), industries (minerals, petroleum/oil, etc.), mechanized agricultural and monoculture projects, energy and water projects (power plants, dams, etc.), and/or production, among others.
“Mega,” derived from the Greek (μέγας), meaning great,is a unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one million. The “mega” in megaproject can connote the high cost of the undertaking, with many sources stating that a megaproject is an endeavor with a minimum cost of USD 1 billion. The “mega” also can indicate the high skill level and attention required to undertake, maintain and manage such a project. However, the “mega” dimension of these projects also reflects the social and environmental impact, as such projects are never built without a significant human effect. Due to the size of a megaproject, it typically results in displacement of persons and communities and the interruption of, and/or separation from their sources of livelihood.
Gellert and Lynch provide a working definition of a megaproject that both include what it is and its inherent socioeconomic and political effects of such a project. Their definition states that megaprojects are “projects [that] transform landscapes rapidly, intentionally, and profoundly in very visible ways, and require coordinated applications of capital and state power. They use heavy equipment and sophisticated technologies usually imported from the global North, and require coordinated flows of international finance capital.” Gellert and Lynch also state that “megaprojects entail ‘creative destruction’ in a material sense: they transform landscapes rapidly and radically, displacing mountaintops, rivers, flora and fauna, as well as humans and their communities.”
More information can be found at:
Paul K. Gellert and Barbara Lynch, “Mega-projects as Displacements,” UNESCO, 2003;
Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2003);
“Megaprojects,” Northmann Research website, at: http://www.nothmann.com/project-management/megaprojects/;
“What are Megaprojects?” WiseGeek website, at: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-megaprojects.htm;
Virginia Greiman, Megaproject Management: Lessons on Risk and Project Management from the Big Dig (New York, London, Hoboken: John A. Wiley, 2013).