Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Out of the Party's control?

Has centralized planning gone awry or is this what the Party leaders want?

The great sprawl of China
IN ANCIENT times, Beijing built towering city walls that helped to prevent undefendable sprawl. These days it builds ring roads, stretching built-up areas ever outwards…

Breakneck urban growth has propelled China’s rise in the past three decades. Migration from the countryside has helped expand the urban population by 500m—the biggest movement of humanity the planet has seen in such a short time. Over half the population is now urban…

China depends on its cities for economic growth and innovation. But it is failing to make the most of its largest conurbations… Residents are beginning to question whether their quality of life, which for many has improved by leaps and bounds, will continue to do so. The giant cities are polluted, pricey and congested…

Most of China’s cities share the legacy of a central-planning mindset in which all life and work was centred on a single “work unit”. Cities were “built as producer centres rather than consumer ones”, says Tom Miller, author of “China’s Urban Billion”. Their planning focus was on industry; not commerce, services or even community. The work units are gone but the tradition of dehumanising architecture persists…

China has swapped its socialist dream for an American-style one of cars and sprawling suburbs…

The ill-defined ownership rights of farmers have encouraged the sprawl. Officials can expropriate rural land easily and at little cost. Doing so is far cheaper than redeveloping existing urban areas. Industrial land is heavily subsidised, so factories have remained in urban areas rather than move to cheaper sites on city outskirts…

Massive spending on infrastructure has hugely improved connections within and between cities. Since 1992 China has spent 8.5% of its national income on infrastructure each year…

Planners often ignore the needs of 200m or more residents who have no urban hukou, the household registration certificate that is needed for access to public services. Cities therefore have inadequate hospitals, schools and affordable housing…

The World Bank says that, at 54%, China’s degree of urbanisation is still well below the 70% expected of a country with its current income level per person. The flood of migrants will continue; by 2030 Chinese cities will contain more than 1 billion people. A change of thinking will be needed to make them better places to live in.

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