China Plans to Move 250 Million into Cities by 2025

  • 19 Jun 2013
  • by
  • Architecture News
The old buildings under these high-rises in Chongqing have been marked for demolition. © Justin Jin for The New York Times

The Chinese government is pushing forward with a plan that will move 250 million Chinese people from rural communities into newly constructed towns and cities over the next 12 years. The government has been bulldozing ancient villages, temples and open-air theaters as well as paving over farmland to make way for mega- that will raise the number of city-dwellers in China to nearly the total urban population of the US.

To find out how and why this is happening, keep reading. 

For decades, the Chinese Communist Party insisted that peasants, even those working in cities, be tied to plots of land in order to ensure political and economic stability. Today, however, with the threat of a slowing economy, the party has reversed its stance, hoping to find new sources of national growth. China is looking for a way to restructure its economy, to become more independent, and rely less of exportation.

Their solution: domestic consumerism.

Urbanization and Level of Income. Courtesy of The New York Times

Those who live in rural communities in China are largely self-sufficient, living off of the land and requiring very little in terms of infrastructure and transportation. By pushing for rapid urbanization and a radical shift from production to consumption, the government believes that there will be countless new opportunities for construction companies, transportation, utilities and appliance makers. “If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,” said Li Xiangyang, vice director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, part of a government research institute. “Right now they are living in rural areas where they do not consume.”

Projected Spending on Urban Public Services. China issues different permits to urban and rural residents. Rural residents who move to cities without city permits do not have access to public services. If the Chinese government starts to provide services to migrants, spending is projected to go up by 1.5 trillion renminbi per year, or 2.5 percent of urban G.D.P. by 2025. Courtesy of The New York Times

But this extreme approach to urbanization and modernization can be a dangerous one. In countries such as Brazil and Mexico, where urbanization was also seen as the vehicle for economic growth, slums expanded and unemployment clung to the newly relocated underclass. If China wants to succeed in its endeavor, it will need funds sufficient for the construction of new roads, hospitals, schools and community centers – which alone could cost more than $600 billion a year – as well as provide for education, health care and the pensions of ex-farmers. They will have to coordinate intensely among various ministries and somehow balance the rights of those dislocated by their policies.

Some of the people moved from their farmland to a housing project in Chongqing dance outdoors, the sort of recreation they never had time for as farmers. © Justin Jin for The New York Times

At his inaugural news conference, the country’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, cautioned that it would require quite a few legal changes “to overcome various problems in the course of urbanization.” These could include chronic urban unemployment if jobs are unavailable, more protests from uncooperative farmers, a permanent underclass in big Chinese cities and the destruction of rural culture and religion – not to mention the obliteration (already taking place) of the traditional, organic Chinese city.

Li Rui, 60, scavenging his former village for building materials in Liaocheng. © Justin Jin for The New York Times

The day after Chinese architect Wang Shu received the Pritzker Prize in May of 2012, he returned to the old Beijing neighborhood where he had grown up only to find it in the process of being demolished. This neighborhood – called a “hutong” – was a maze of narrow streets and traditional courtyard houses that once characterized the urban fabric of a Chinese city; now, however, they are rapidly transforming into sprawling, gridded mega-cities of identical skyscraperscopy-cats of many modern cities in the West.

“Cities today have become far too large,” Wang said in an interview in April. “I’m really worried, because it’s happening too fast and we have already lost so much.”

While China’s intense urbanization has caused irreversible destruction to much of the country’s rich architectural and urban past, it has also created and continues to create countless opportunities for innovative design. With so many plans and projects waiting to be developed, it’s only natural that China is becoming more and more fascinating to the architecture world. But what price must be paid, what sacrifices made by 250 million lives for the China of the future?

Tell us your thoughts below, and for the original story, check out this excellent New York Times article.

References: NYTimesBloomberg

Cite: Porada, Barbara. "China Plans to Move 250 Million into Cities by 2025" 19 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=390959>

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