WEAVING THE URBAN FABRIC
With a further 100 million rural migrants set to move to cities by 2020, China faces huge challenges in coping with urbanization. The previous strategy of building brand new metropolises has proved troublesome and the resulting “ghost” cities have failed to draw the investment required to provide jobs and justify construction costs.
The answer now appears to be the megalopolis. Although inter-city connectivity and cooperative economic planning is not new to China, a slew of recent announcements have signaled the government’s intention to push ahead with major integration projects. Perhaps the only city cluster to match the proposed Beijing megalopolis in scale, the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone is made up of 16 cities and accounts the region – including Nanjing, Suzhou and Ningbo – are being built up as hubs in to increase the physical infrastructure linking the region.
But this may only be the start. In April, Premier Li Keqiang outlined an even more expansive vision for the region – an economic “super zone” sweeping inland and covering an area of land home to 600 million people, almost half of China’s population. Although details remain scarce, the project is intended to connect the Yangtze Delta economies with the so-called Silk Road Economic Belt, China’s gateway to Central Asia and the West.
The Pearl River Delta meanwhile, is arguably China’s post-Mao success story. backing has seen cities in Guangdong Province (such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen) develop around manufacturing and electronics in a model known as “front shop, back factory.” While already far more integrated than other city clusters in China, there is now increased pressure to strengthen ties.
Rumors of a project called “Turn the Pearl River Delta Into One” emerged in 2011, with a reported 150 infrastructure projects being planned to connect transport, but there are signs that Guangdong’s smaller cities are being pulled into the orbit of larger ones. Last year, the leaders of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Huizhou signed an agreement to directly link their city’s metro systems by 2020.
The coming decades are likely to see many other megalopolises develop in China, with state media reporting there will be 32 completed by 2030. Among them, the Central Liaoning area is expected to transform into an eight-city, 28-million-person cluster centered around Shenyang and Dalian. The Shandong Peninsular, which includes the sizeable cities of Jinan and Qingdao, has a larger collective population than the Pearl River Delta.
Integration efforts in some of these areas remain at a comparatively embryonic stage. But while the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei megalopolis may be the most ambitious, and urgent, of the projects, the face of Chinese cities across the country is set to radically transform in the coming years and decades. necessarily have to be near Beijing, you could be someplace else in the country and still be connected.”
Nonetheless, after decades of indecision, the project now appears to be in full motion. With political observers suggesting that President Xi Jinping sees the megalopolis as a crucial part of his administration’s legacy, the northeast of China is set to transform radically over the next decade. Whether the cluster eases or worsens the burden on the capital remains to be seen. BT