A night scene in the western metropolis of Chongqing in October 2018. It is part of the Chengdu-Chongqing city cluster (WEI YAO)
As China's urbanization process enters a new stage, more and more people will come to work and live in cities, thereby triggering a new challenge—how should cities develop and how should different cities relate to one another?
There is a change in China's urbanization process with cities developing in an increasingly coordinated way. For instance, under the coordinated development strategy initiated by the Central Government, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in north China has changed the model of fragmented development.
In his government work report delivered on March 5, Premier Li Keqiang said the government will promote coordinated development across regions and improve the quality of new urbanization. City clusters will be nurtured through the development of leading cities.
According to Yang Kaizhong, Vice President of the Beijing-based Capital University of Economics and Business and Chairman of the Regional Science Association of China, leading cities mean megacities and some large cities that can play a leading role within a region. With their advantages, leading cities can highly integrate with adjacent areas and form a metropolitan area.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) defines a metropolitan area as an urban spatial form within one hour's commuting circle centered on a certain metropolis within a city cluster. To develop metropolitan areas, the government must establish uniform markets and realize the integration of infrastructure and public services across different administrative regions.
City clusters are regional agglomerates of two or more metropolitan areas.
A high-speed train travels from Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, a major city in the Yangtze River Delta, to Huangshan in the neighboring Anhui Province on December 25, 2018 (XINHUA)
City cluster plans
In the four decades since the policy of reform and opening up was adopted, China has been urbanizing at an average annual rate of over 1 percent. According to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, by the end of 2018, the permanent urban population in China had reached 831.37 million. The urbanization rate based on permanent population was 59.98 percent, and the urbanization rate based on registered population touched 43.37 percent.
Han Yun, an urbanization planning official at the NDRC, said with the country entering a stage of rapid urbanization, the focus should be to improve the quality of the process and make full use of the ensuing bonus.
The benefits of urbanization include greater convenience for residents, greater food production and cities becoming more efficient.
In 2017, the report of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposed a coordinated regional development strategy. City clusters are deemed as the basis of coordinated development of cities of different sizes and small towns.
The NDRC has approved plans for several city clusters. Some of the prominent ones are the Harbin-Changchun city cluster, the Chengdu-Chongqing city cluster and the Yangtze River Delta city cluster.
"City clusters are an inexorable trend in the urbanization process," Mo Tianquan, Chairman of Fang Holdings Ltd., a real estate portal, and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said. "If about 20 city clusters can be formed, China will be able to not only solve the real estate problems, but also boost economic growth in the future decade."
Mo thinks building city clusters and metropolitan areas can address the problems these cities face during their development. The advantages of leading cities in industries and public services will drive their surrounding areas' development. In addition, city clusters will better utilize the advantages of leading cities in urban management and improve management efficiency, fully utilize resources and avoid ineffective competition.
Yang said the development of city clusters should mainly be based on the market. The government plans are a signal to guide market players. In addition, institutional innovation for future development of urbanization must include intensified reforms of land, healthcare, household registration, social security, education and transportation systems.
The already launched city cluster plans have provisions for the connection and sharing of education, healthcare and other basic public services. The plans approved by the Central Government include development orientation of industries and functions inside the clusters, which will help local governments formulate industrial policies and improve function divisions inside the clusters.
Visitors participate in snow sports in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on January 20 (XINHUA)
Integration is key
While this year's government work report only says the development of city clusters will be stimulated through the development of leading cities, in China's urbanization layout, metropolitan areas are also very important. On February 21, the NDRC issued a guideline on cultivating and developing modern metropolitan areas.
Yin Zhi, Executive Deputy Director of the Institute for China Sustainable Urbanization under Tsinghua University, said in a recent article that not a single local government at any level had been able to well address the challenges of spatial expansion of metropolitan areas.
Therefore the latest round of modern metropolitan area plans must focus not on expansion of spatial resources or overlay of policies by different governments, but on realizing regional coordination through production readjustments and establishing more open trading platforms.
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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