China Becomes an Urban Nation at Breakneck Speed
The Guardian reports from Guiyang on the rapid pace of China’s urbanization process, the results of which are, according to the article, “often messy, chaotic and unanticipated”:
The city is eating hungrily into the hillsides, swallowing up maize fields and rice terraces in loops of tarmac and towers of concrete and glass. But the pace of change is so rapid, the transition so sharp, that its citizens are increasingly bewildered by their surroundings. Some, like the migrant workers building the roads, are new to city life. Others no longer recognise their hometown as it sprawls across the land.
This is the year China finally became an urban nation. In April the census revealed that 49.7% of its 1.34bn population was living in cities, compared with around a fifth as economic reforms got off the ground in 1982. By now, China’s urbanites outnumber their country cousins. “The process they have been going through over three decades took four or five decades in Japan and [South] Korea and 100 years in the west,” says Edward Leman, whose Chreon consultancy has advised numerous Chinese cities on development.
It is not only the extraordinary speed that is “unprecedented and unparalleled”, says Prof Paul James of the Global Cities Institute at RMIT University in Melbourne. “It represents the most managed process of urbanisation in human history. The state is involved in every way. It manages the building of new cities. It regulates the housing of internally displaced people. It responds actively and sometimes oppressively to new waves of squatters.”
The new five-year plan pushes urbanisation even further, as the government seeks to raise living standards and promote development in the poorer central and western regions. A hard landing for the economy could slow this process – local government debt is a particular worry – but will not stop it.