China | more thought needed about urbanisation

23. June 2013 Business, China, Cities 0

Rapid urbanisation of millions of Chinese has occurred and will continue to occur over the next 25-30 years. There is a change in focus from mega-cities to smaller cities and towns as the country transitions from exports to consumerism based economy. What has changed in a urban design focus have to do with economy? In short, everything. China for the last 30 years has been focused on developing big cities and as we can see from the 10 mega cities developing in China that the increased density and hyper density are two different things. There is a limit to the a liveable population density and city size that can support without major environmental impact. Hyper-density is where we start to reaching over 5,000-10,000 people per square kilometre, once you get beyond this there is an environmental and sociological impact on the city. How do we change this?

The rural areas of China are being transformed into new cities, fast trains, inter-city roads and the push for urbanisation as a form of efficient way of providing work, housing, and food. But the question is the current model going to work – that is creating mega-cities (10+ million) and regional cities (5+ million) really the solution. They may be successful in terms of financial growth and GDP but fail in terms environment and liveability. Thankfully, it was announced recently that local officials will also have their success measured by level of pollution in their city. This is a step in the right-direction, however more could be undertaken for officials to be accountable for the liveability of the city.

Liveability includes not only GDP and housing, it includes access to services(health, education, transport), the amount and quality of green open space, pollution levels(air, water, soil). Green open space is on the increase but the quality of the space is often poor. With the spaces often large ‘beautiful green’ areas with little programming. They maybe successful from a environmental

I think China would benefit from allowing for more townisation rather than large urbanisation of rural areas. Building mega and smaller cities will in the long run create a shortfall in rural workers and continue the inefficient use of land with plot farming. Building towns with technical skill training centres in towns will allow for a smooth transition from small family plot farming to more efficient farming with higher quality, higher yield and high-revenue crops. More efficient land use is key to providing the fast growing middle class with the amount of food they will demand. Also changing land use and farming practices is one of the quickest ways to reduce pollution (air, water and soil).

Also hukou reform will occur over time and I see that the changes may occur in bigger cities first and then trickle down to 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier cities. I think that the biggest need is for a re-evaluation of how cities are created in China and whether mega-cities are the answer for the remaining 750 million chinese or is there hybrid model that can occur. I think the planning system would benefit from more flexibility and also more research and analysis of recent new cities.

Interesting things I read this week
China’s next chapter: The infrastructure and environmental challenge | McKinsey & Co
Urban planners eye China’s cities | People’s Daily
China to hold local leaders responsible for air quality | Channel News Asia
Hutong Vs. Highrise: A Photo Essay On China’s Radical Urban Changes | Gizmodo
Techno-utopias are wrapped up in their own visions of nature” | Dezeen

I have started reading China Greentech Report 2013: China at a Crossroads 中国绿色科技报告 2013:站在十字路口的中国 and will make a blog post later.