Friday, May 05, 2017

China's urbanisation - endless cities

In April, the government announced plans to create Xiongan, an enormous new city 60 miles south of Beijing which sits within the Jing-Jin-Ji urban megaregion. While details are still emerging about the future of Xiongan, reports envisage a city that will grow to three times the size of New York. It will incorporate universities, institutions and residents from the capital, helping alleviate pressure on housing and public services – although not before prompting an initial land-buying frenzy in the area cited for development. The sprawling northern megaregion Jing-Jin-Ji is designed to hold 110 million people and merge outer parts of Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin.

The plan is moving almost 500 million rural Chinese people into cities over the last 35 years. China now has more than 600 cities, many of which were small towns just a few decades ago.

First announced in 2014, the Jing-Jin-Ji region is already said to account for 10% of China’s GDP, with many factories and manufacturing hubs being relocated to the new cluster. A new $36bn (£28bn) rail plan and 600 miles of new track for Jing-Jin-Ji was approved in December, with plans for high-speed trains to connect the outlying cities of the new megaregion to central Beijing on a 30-minute commute.

For the last four decades, urbanisation in China has been centred on export demand, cheap labour and low pricing. But now as more than half of the population lives in a city, and the country is moving to a consumption-driven economy, there is nervousness around how to manage runaway megacities.
“Urbanisation didn’t happen because the government wanted the country to urbanise – they even kept the hukou [household registration system] in order to slow it down,” says Bertrand. “The economy asked for it, and the people voted with their feet. The government have had to cope with urbanisation rather than it being a deliberate policy decision. In a way, they are paying the price of this rapid urbanisation now.”
The country already has at least 15 megacities (defined as cities with more than 10 million residents) and expects several more urban centres to reach megacity status, as it predicts the urbanisation rate to increase another 10% by 2020. The central government’s National Plan on New Urbanisation for 2014-2020 outlines 11 “urban clusters” (regions incorporating multiple cities and smaller towns) to receive additional investment. The largest will be Jing-Jin-Ji; the region around Chengdu and Chongqing (projected population of 60 million); the Yangtze Delta cluster around Shanghai (around 90 million); and the Yangtze River Middle Reaches cluster around Wuhan (projected population 29 million). The Paulson Institute estimates more than 200 million villagers have been reclassified as urban residents because their land was developed as urban land.

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