Right ur­ban­iza­tion path

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

WHAT KIND OF UR­BAN­IZA­TION IS NEEDED TO make the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth sus­tain­able and its so­cial progress healthy? There may be dif­fer­ent ways of in­ter­pret­ing the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties’ ur­ban­iza­tion strat­egy, but it is def­i­nitely wrong to in­ter­pret it as sheer ex­pan­sion of the size of a city or the cre­ation of new cities.

Yet it is ob­vi­ous that is how a num­ber of lo­cal de­part­ments have cho­sen to in­ter­pret the cen­tral govern­ment’s ur­ban­iza­tion drive. A sur­vey of 12 prov­inces con­ducted by a depart­ment of the National De­vel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion shows that the 12 provin­cial cap­i­tals will each cre­ate 4.6 new ur­ban dis­tricts on aver­age. The 144 pre­fec­ture level cities sur­veyed will each build 1.5 new ur­ban dis­tricts on aver­age.

A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is the city of Yan’an in North­west China’s Shaanxi prov­ince, which plans to open up an area of 78.5 square kilo­me­ters in the moun­tains to cre­ate a new city.

While it may be nec­es­sary for some cities to ex­pand to ac­com­mo­date their grow­ing pop­u­la­tions, the re­al­ity is that some lo­cal gov­ern­ments ex­pand the size of their cities sim­ply so they can sell land to boost their rev­enues. Their men­tal­ity is that once roads and other in­fra­struc­ture are con­structed, the land prices will go up and in­vestors will come.

Yet, such a de­vel­op­ment ap­proach is risky for both lo­cal and national de­vel­op­ment.

Ur­ban area ex­pan­sion will cer­tainly oc­cupy arable land, which poses a threat to agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion in the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion. The to­tal area of arable land has al­ready shrunk from 130 mil­lion hectares in 1997 to 120 mil­lion hectares in 2011. If the rapid de­crease of arable land con­tin­ues unchecked, it will be detri­men­tal to the coun­try’s food se­cu­rity in the long run.

An­other fac­tor to con­sider is the ac­qui­si­tion of farm­land may cause con­flicts be­tween lo­cal gov­ern­ments and ru­ral vil­lagers, which could pose a threat to so­cial sta­bil­ity.

The ex­pan­sion of ur­ban ar­eas will also cause dam­age to lo­cal ecolo­gies, which might threaten peo­ple’s liveli­hoods.

Ur­ban­iza­tion needs to be a well-thought-out process, which re­quires re­search and plan­ning. Any de­vi­a­tion from the right path will likely com­pro­mise the qual­ity of ur­ban­iza­tion and even lead it astray.

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