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Scholars explore higher-quality and more sustainable urban development

Author  :  Li Yongjie     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-08-20

The picture shows an employee of the Jinan vehicle administration department installing a plate on an electric car in Jinan, Shandong Province, Dec 2016. Easily obtainable green license plates are an incentive to purchase energy-efficient vehicles. Photo: CHINA DAILY

GUANGZHOU—Over the past four decades of reform and opening up, China’s urban development has met with great achievement, and also some problems. Scholars said that while it is normal to encounter a few problems in a rapid economic growth period, the key problem is how to transition from quantitative and speed-based urban expansion to high-quality development. This is an urgent task facing the current urban development process. This means that cities, when entering the new stage, need to enhance their competitiveness by facilitating high-quality development.

According to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s permanent urban population reached 813.47 million by the end of 2017, accounting for 58.52 percent of the total population.

While it is a tremendous increase compared with 17.92 percent in 1978, China’s current urbanization rate is still far from the 80 percent common in developed countries. However, considering the development of China’s urbanization rate over the past decade, some scholars say the next one to two decades will still witness rapid urbanization.

In 2017, 14 Chinese cities had a GDP over one trillion yuan, the total of which accounted for 28.6 percent of the national GDP. Among them, Shanghai ranked first, becoming the first city in China with a total GDP of over three trillion yuan. The top four also included Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. These important hub cities are as rich as some provinces.

At the same time, the urban ecological environment is increasingly strained. From the sulfur dioxide pollution in the 1990s to the smog and ozone pollution in recent years, urban environmental problems have followed close behind development. Ouyang Zhiyun, director of the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that protection and optimization of the urban environment was not made a priority in the urbanization process. “In the future, we should not only consider how to facilitate GDP growth and population concentration, but also prioritize urban environmental protection and improvement.

Some scholars have observed that despite the tremendous urban development, there is still an imbalance among cities. Even the three major urban agglomerations of the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, which are leading the Chinese economy, still lag behind the world’s most advanced urban agglomerations. Recognizing this gap should make it clear that closing it will be the driving force for the further development of China’s cities and economy.

There is still much room for infrastructure development in China’s cities, said Liu Tao, a research fellow at the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences at Peking University. For example, the Greater London area is smaller than the area within Beijing’s Sixth Ring Road or than all of Shenzhen City, and its population is tens of millions less, but it has 330 railway stations, most of which are commuter rail-based sites. This ensures the speed and convenience of commuting to London from its surrounding area. Approximately 60 percent of the employed population in Greater London lives uptown, significantly expanding its economic reach and promoting the formation of world-class urban agglomerations throughout the southeast of England, Liu said.

Other world-class urban agglomerations have fully developed similar intercity commuter rail networks, such as those around the northeastern United States and the Japanese Pacific coast. However, urban agglomerations in China’s coastal areas have yet to offer this, Liu said, concluding that it is necessary to further increase investment on and construction of such facilities to raise national-level urban agglomerations to world-class level.

“Urban planning, construction and management are the three paramount aspects of urban development. In the past, we have focused more on urban construction,” said Hao Shouyi, vice president of the Regional Science Association of China. Hao suggested that management should be the core of urban development, while urban construction and planning should serve urban management in the new era.

Urban planning itself is an important aspect of urban governance, and the application of urban governance strategies must be supported by corresponding urban construction, Liu said.

Ren Jidong, a research fellow at the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, said that the purpose of urban planning and construction is to provide urban residents with an agreeable environment. The essential problem is the healthy and orderly operation of urban society, which is to say urban governance. Urban governance is a necessary and sufficient condition for a city to achieve sustainable development, and it is also the ultimate goal of urban construction and planning, Ren concluded.

Editor: Li Yujie

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