Document 88822

Chapter 1
Urban development patterns in China:
The new, the renewed, and the ignored urban space
Tingwei Zhang
(In Urbanization in China: Critical Issues in an Era of Rapid growth, 2007, Edited by Song, Y. Lincoln
Institute of Land Use Policy, 3-27)
The world witnesses impressive changes in China since the reform of the1980s. Indeed,
China has compressed 100 years of changes into 20-plus years. One important part of
China’s changes in the last 25 years is the changing urban landscape. The reform opens
the door to the outside world and integrates China to the global economy, and it also
devolves decision power in economic affairs from the central to local government. The
positive outcomes of the reform include economic growth, improving urban life quality,
and the increasing importance of cities in China’s administrative system. These are also
main factors stimulating China’s urbanization. Rapid urban population growth and
expectation for more urban services from the demand side, and city government’s new
decision power and financial resources from the supply side alter urban development
patterns. While many researches have revealed China’s urbanization at the macro level,
there is still a need in study of urban changes at the city level, especially the relations
between changes at the national and local levels.
This research intends to review the changes at both national and city level, and to explore
underlying forces bringing about the changes, and exam relations between the national
and local changes. The study is based on interviews with Chinese planners and municipal
officials from 2000 to 2005, and on information and research findings published in
Chinese and English journals.
The article starts from a holistic picture of China’s urbanization: characteristics and
trajectory of the urbanization, and the evolution of the urbanization policy, followed by
an in-depth analysis of urban development patters of two main Chinese cities Shanghai
and Beijing: the new urban space as an expansion of exciting urban area into suburban
and exurban areas; the renewed urban space in cities; and the ignored urban space where
concentrate the low incomes and rural to urban migrants. The conclusion section
discusses the underlying forces contributing to the changes of the urban development
China’s urbanization: characteristics, trajectory and trends
Just after the communist revolution, only one tenth of Chinese people were in cities and
towns in 1951. When China started its economic reform in 1978, 17.9% of its population
was living in urban areas. In 2003, 40.3% of the population was officially recorded as
urban residents, plus about 150 million rural- urban migrants living in cities but not
recognized as “urban residents” under China’s resident registration system (the “hukou”
system). (Wen, 2006) The number of Chinese cities also increased from 223 in 1980 to
660 in 2002, an increase of 196% in 22 years. Total urbanized land reached 28,308
square km in 2003, and it was about 30,000 square km in 2004 as estimated by
researchers in the State Council. (Liu, 2006) (Table 1)
Table 1 Basic information about China’s urbanization (2003)
Urbanized area
Urban population
Urban residents
Total population
in urban area
28,308 sq. km
524 million
150 million
674 million
(0.30% of China’s
(40.3% of total
land territory)
Source: National Bureau of Statistic of China, 2005; and Liu. Y. 2006
Note: * Estimated
of cities
Characteristics of China’s urbanization
China’s urbanization is characterized by its scale and the uneven development pattern.
The size of China’s urban population and the speed of urban population growth are
unprecedented. With a total population of 1.29 billion (2003), China had about 674
million populations (524 million urban residents plus 150 million migrants) living in
urbanized area in 2003. (Wen, J. 2006. On new migrants in Shanghai urban laborer,
Journal of Shanghai Polytechnic College of Urban Management, Vol. 15 (1), p. 27-29)
China’s huge population base is obviously a crucial factor contributing to the urban
population size. But China remained as an agriculture economy with the predominant
majority living in rural area for hundreds of years before the reform. Rapid urban
population growth happened in 1980 when the reform started, and it speeded up from
1995 to 2003 when China experienced economic boom. In the period of 1995 to 2003
alone, urban population grew at a speed of 18.2 million per year or 1.41% annually.
(Table 2)
Table 2 China’s urbanization level* (%, in selected years)
1965 1975 1978
Urbanization 11.8
Source:, data based on 2004, as shown in 2006
*“Urban population refers to “officially registered urban population” excluding migrants
Although this research is about China’s urban development, we should start the
discussion from China’s rural area because it is the large scale rural- urban migration that
pushes rapid urban population growth and contributes to urban economy boom by
providing cheap labor. Rural- urban migrant is the main source of urban population
growth. Chinese researchers estimated that about 150 million peasants have migrated to
cities since the 1980s, and 20% to 25% of the migrants eventually become “permanent
urban residents” while the rest maintain a come-and-go “floating” pattern. Natural
population growth in cities has limited impacts on urban population change, and it even
shows negative figures in big cities. For instance, Shanghai’s natural growth rates have
remained negative since 1993, just like what happened in developed nations. The natural
growth rate was -0.8% in 1993, steadily increased to -3.2% in 2003, and the trend is to
even bigger negative figures. (Shanghai Statistics Bureau, 2004)
Rural- urban migration was under government’s strict control before the reform, but was
allowed in the 1980s when rural reform was carried out, and it was even encouraged to
certain extent since the 1990s when reform was introduced to urban areas. The
government’s new attitude to migration was based on both economic and social
considerations. The need for cheap labor in urban manufacturing industry and the
pressure of rural poverty reduction are main underlying forces to government’s policy
shift. From a positive perspective, in addition to rural reform, speedy urbanization helps
to reduce rural poverty by absorbing idle rural labor into urban economy and generating
rural revenue from migrants’ “sending money back” to their rural relatives. In the last 25
years, China’s rural population living in poverty reduced from 250 million in 1978 to 28
million in 2002, or from 31.6% of total rural population dropped to 3.5%, according to
Chinese government’s reports (Hu An-gong, 2004. China: New Development Strategy.
Zhejiang People’s Press) Taking into account that there are about 58 million additional
rural low income residents (not below the Chinese poverty line but poor), the number of
population living below the international poverty line (less than $1 per day) is about 88
million in 2002, a significant reduce from 490 million in 1981, or from 49% of China’s
total population in 1981 to 6.9% of the population in 2002, as reported by the World
Bank. (World Bank, August 18, 2003. Memo on China’s national economy: Sharing
opportunity in the global economy) This is a significant achievement to China, the largest
developing nation in the world.
At the same time, agriculture reduces its importance in China’s national economy,
although about one half of Chinese labor force is still working in farm field in 2003.
(Table 3) It is obvious that service jobs are increasing but farm jobs are reducing.
Table 3
Composition of China’s economy: by GDP and employment (in %)
Source: National Statistic Bureau of China, 2005
Both the large scale of migration and the reducing importance of the agriculture sector
have impacts on urban development patters. New migrants with limited skills are new
urban poor, and their housing need from the demand side is one of the main factors to
city’s spatial reorganization. From the land supply perspective, it is the declining
importance of agriculture activity that encourages city leaders to converting more farm
land to urban uses with fewer constraints.
The second character of China’s urbanization is the uneven distribution pattern. China
could be divided into four zones based on urbanization levels, and the distribution pattern
of the zones matches the distribution pattern of economic development level measured by
GDP per capita. (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) The East Coast Zone (ECZ) covers China’s most
developed areas including the “three engines to China’s economy”: the Pearl River Delta,
the Yangtze River Delta, and the Beijing-Tianjin- Tangshan Region, and three main
metropolitan areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong/ Guangzhou where the majority
of the population are in urbanized areas and the economy is in transition to a mixed of
manufacturing and service industries. Average per capita GDP in the Shanghai and
Beijing metropolitan regions was 30,000 to 50,000 Yuan ($3750 to $6250), and that of
the rest ECZ was 15,000 to 30,000 Yuan ($1875 to $3750) in 2004 (excluding Hong
Kong). The Mid-China Zone (MCZ) covers inner land where the economy relies more on
manufacturing, and the urbanization level is slightly lower. Average per capita GDP was
8,000 to 15,000 Yuan ($1000 to $1875) in the MCZ in 2004. The West- China Zone
(WCZ) includes China’s vast under-developed provinces where agriculture and
manufacturing are the main economic activities and urbanization level is the lowest.
Average per capita GDP in WCZ was less than 8000 Yuan ($1000) in most provinces in
2004. The Northeast Zone (NEZ) of “Dongbei”, used to be China’s manufacturing base
concentrated heavily with state-owned heavy industry and resource-based industry, is in
economic transition. The urbanization level is high in NEZ, but per capita GDP is lower
than that in ECZ although higher than in WCZ.
The uneven development pattern of urbanization has crucial impacts on urban spatial
patterns, especially on cities in the ECZ. Since most rural- urban migrants concentrate in
cities in ECZ, the “three growth engines” regions in particular, cities in these regions
confront pressure of migrant population growth since the 1990s, which in turn causes
growing demand in urban land and urban services, particularly housing. On the other
hand, the ability of absorbing migrants in China’s richest regions provides an opportunity
in solving the rural poverty problem; it is a “poverty decentralization” strategy and the
strategy has been proved working. The availability of cheap labor also helps China’s
continuous economy growth. In addition, the relatively lower urbanization level in MCZ
and WCZ regions means potential space for more rural-urban migration so further
reducing rural population, which may eventually solve the rural poverty problem.
Fig. 1 Chinas’ urban development pattern: the four zones
Source: Based on National Statistics Bureau of China, 2005
Fig. 2 Economic development level measured by per capita GDP in provinces (2004)
Source: Based on data from National Statistics Bureau of China, 2005
The trajectory and the policy of China’s urbanization
China’s urbanization experiences a fluctuant trajectory, although the main trend is
continuous urban population growth. (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4) From 1951 to 1965 under the
planned economy, urban population increased consistently with the process of
industrialization, except in a short period of time from 1960 to 1962 when the forced
urban-rural relocation as a policy to rescue the in- crisis economy caused urban
population loss. In 1965 the urbanization level reached to 18%, but the Culture
Revolution as a political movement again forced city residents moving to countryside,
which made the urbanization level dropped to 17.3% in 1975. The evolution pattern
suggests that urbanization under the planned economy was largely under the control of
the government, and it was heavily influenced by the government’s urban policy and
various political movements, especially the urban resident registration policy and antiurbanism movement such as the Culture Revolution. At that period, a very weak
marketplace had almost no impacts at all on population allocation. The ideological bias
against urban life as a legacy of China’s peasant rebel tradition (which is an important
root of the Communist Revolution), a distorted economic theory of “recovering from
economy recession through forced urban- rural relocation”, and the “one-child” family
plan all contributed to lower urbanization level. The “controlled urbanization” reduced
pressure to urban growth, which in turn limited the expansion of urbanized land.
In contrast, the steadily increase of urban population since the reform is a result of
combined driving forces of the marketplace and government’s new urban policy (which
is also largely influenced by economic considerations). Urbanization rates increased
significantly since 1995 when China was starting to become the “world’s manufacturing
plant” with more FDI moved into China. As mentioned above, urban population
increased by 18.2 million or 1.41% annually since 1995. To cross-national companies,
reducing production cost by hiring cheap labor is one of the motivations to invest in
China. The demand of cheap labor has been a main pulling force to migrants. Research
found that 68% of China’s manufacturing workers and 80% of construction workers are
migrants,. (Liu, Y. 2006. Some strategic issues of Chinese urbanization during the 11th
Five-Year Plan period. Journal) To the Chinese government, local government in
particular, attracting FDI is a common strategy to stimulate economic growth. It is
economic growth that provides legitimacy to the non-elected government, and GDP
growth rate may decide a mayor’s fate under the government’s promotion mechanism.
Therefore, providing sufficient cheap labor to manufacturing is also a common practice.
Reducing profits from agricultural activity and shrinking village and township owned
enterprises in rural area have pushed farmers quitting their rural jobs and seeking fortunes
in cities. The outcome of the pulling and pushing forces is more migrants appearing in
With both economic and social considerations, the used to be strict urban resident
registration system has been released, and will eventually be abolished in the near future.
(Interview with Zhang, S. Oct. 2004) Moreover, urbanization was officially recognized
and employed as a powerful means to promote economic growth till 2003 when the new
central government was formed. There was a national debate in the 1990s about the
“importance of urbanization to China’s economy”. Supporters argued that urbanization
fell behind to China’s industrialization and economic development. The then central
government adopted the policy of “speeding up urbanization to stimulate economy
growth” by promoting urbanization at a rate of 1.5% to 2% annually. The practice was to
allow the expansion of existing cities and create new urban districts to absorb migrants,
while reduce the amount of peasants by merging rural townships and villages (“che xiang
bing cun”).
Fig. 4 Evolution of China’s urbanization
Percent Urban
Percent Chinese Urban
Source: China Statistical Yearbook, 2004
* “Urban population refers to “registered urban population” excluding migrants
Fig. 5 Trajectory of China’s urbanization
One thing worth to mention is that the 1995-2002 urbanization movement was not only
facilitated by the government but also supported by the marketplace. Foreign and
domestic investment in real estate and manufacturing stimulates the demand of urban
land. Most urban expansion or the so-called “Chinese version of sprawl” is a result of the
establishment of suburban “Economic Development Zones” (EDZs) where local
government provides low-priced land and infrastructure to attract investments.
Researchers reported that 34% to 46% of urban land expansion was caused by the
government-led land acquisition movement of EDZ. (Jin. D. Some thoughts over land
control. City Planning Review, 2006. Vol.30(2) p. 34-38) The premature land and
housing market fueled irrational land acquisition. This government-led urban expansion
movement was viewed contributing to economic growth at the cost of severe cultivated
farmland loss. By the end of the 1990s when some western scholars predicted a huge
food shortage to China in the near future due to farmland loss, the central government
asked for a national land use survey, and issued a series of strict land conversion
The land use survey found that there had been serious farmland loss, but the loss is not
simply the consequence of urbanization or “urban sprawl”. According to the Ministry of
Land and Natural Resources, China lost about 100 million “Mu” or 16 million acres of
cultivated farmland from 1997 to 2003. (One Chinese “Mu” equals to 0.16 acre, Ministry
of Land and Natural Resources, 2005 Report) About 14% of land loss was attributed to
construction activity of all kinds, including the construction of highways, railroads, water
conservancy facilities, ports, and urban developments. (Table 4) Only10% of the lost
farmland was converted to urban development uses. A similar conversion pattern has
been found in 2004. (Chen, W. 2006. The healthy development of urbanization, Journal
of, p.9-11 ) The survey also found that in terms of urban expansion, the single main
contributor causing extremely rapid urban growth is the creation of Economic
Development Zones (EDZs). EDZs increased by 8.1% annually from 2000 to 2003, and
the total number of EDZs in cities of all sizes had been 6,741 with an area of 37,500
square km, which was even more than the amount of China’s total urbanized land in 2003.
Table 4
Causes of farmland conversion/ loss
Cause of farmland conversion/ loss
Recovered to ecologic uses (forest, wetland)
Agricultural products adjustment
Construction activities
Nature disasters
Source: Chen, W. 2006
However, the loss of farmland seems to have fewer impacts on China’s grain production.
Fig. 6 indicates grain production from 2001 to 2005. The lower grain production in 2003
(431 million tons) was caused by lower grain price in 2002, which discouraged grain
production in 2003. Both 2004 (469 million tons) and 2005 (484 million tons) have
experienced significant increase of grain output; although farmland loss took place in
both years.
Fig. 6 China’s grain production (2001-2005)
Source:, data is based on 2004 survey, shown in the 2006 report
The period of 1990 to 2003 should be viewed as the first phase of China’s economic
development, in which growth and efficiency as main goals were emphasized. The
achievement is impressive economic growth which lays the foundation for China’s future
modernization. The costs range from uneven development socially and geographically, to
environmental deterioration. The yawning gaps between the east and west region,
between the rich and the poor, and between the peasants and urban residents are so large
that the social and environmental tensions threat further economic growth.
China had a new central government in 2003. The establishment of the new
administration demonstrates the beginning of a new phase of China’s economic
development. The main theme of the new leadership is “a harmony society” meaning a
balanced development economically, socially, and environmentally. The new leadership
emphasizes equality over efficiently, at least theoretically. The urbanization policy was
reviewed and revised. On September 29, 2005, the central government organized the
“Seminar on urbanization policy” lectured by two planning professors. President Hu
Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao together with 300 top leaders attended the seminar. The
discussion had reached a concession that urban population growth rate should be about
0.8% annually in order to maintain a smooth transition and promote a balanced
development. The policy’s “slow-down” attitude reflects the new leadership’s concerns
on the overheated economy, and the effort to reduce imbalance and social unrest.
According to the policy, China’s urbanization level will reach 50% in 2010, that means
about 700 million population will live in Chinese cities. (Interview with Tang, Z. Oct.
2005) Government support will also be shifted to WCZ, NEZ and MCZ to promote a
balanced development and urbanization. It seems that urban population will grow
continuously at a relatively slow rate and a balanced pattern in the next decade.
In summary, China’s urban development pattern at the national level experiences ups and
downs. Government policy was the single most influential factor to changes of the
urbanization pace before the reform. Since the 1980s, rapid urbanization with an uneven
development character has been a product of the joint forces of the marketplace and
public policy. The emergence of the land and housing market plays a critical role in
defining urban development pattern at the national level. The national urban development
pattern in turn shapes the development pattern at the municipal level.
Urban development patter in cities: the cases of Shanghai and Beijing
Many scholars have contributed to the literature on urban spatial changes in Chinese
cities. (Friedmann, J. 2005; Laquain, 2005; Wu,F.; Yeh, J., Ding, C; Zhu, J.; Zhang, T. )
What I intend to demonstrate here is a comprehensive picture of main changes in a city:
the new, the renewed, and the ignored urban space. The new urban space refers to newly
created urban districts in previously suburban or exurban areas in the formats of EDZs,
housing developments for the new rich (villa) and for the relocated moderate and low
incomes (affordable housing) in suburbs, and other new developments (entertainment
uses such as theme parks; public park; and especially logistics bases and transportation
terminals) in suburban and exurban areas. The renewed urban space has been widely
reported and well documented; it refers to urban renewal efforts in existing urban districts
in the forms of the Chinese version of gentrification, the re-establishment of CBD, and
high-end housing and commercial developments in city’s central districts. The ignored
urban space includes areas where concentrate low incomes, migrants, and old
manufacturing factories struggling to get a share of the market that has been dominated
by joint venture or foreign products. I use Shanghai, China’s economic center and Beijing,
China’s political center as cases in the study.
The case of Shanghai
Located at the middle of China’s east coast and functioning as the nation’s gateway to the
outside world for one and half century, Shanghai has been the economic center of China
since the 1850’s when the city became an “open port” under the treaty between China
and the west forces. In 2003, the city has an administrative territory of 6341 square km
and a population of 17.11 million, in which 13.42 million are recognized “registered
permanent population” and 3.69 million are migrants living and working in Shanghai but
do not have a permanent resident status. (Table 5) The city consists of 18 urban districts
and one rural county (Chongming County).
Table 5
Land Area
(sq. km)
Shanghai: basic information (2003)
Urban Residents Migrants
Population (million)
(million) Urbanization Level (%)
Source: Shanghai Statistical Yearbook, 2004
Shanghai’s economy was largely based on manufacturing till 1990 when the Pudong New
District, China’s largest Special Economic Zone and Shanghai’s new growth engine was
established. After imposing an unfair tax allocation arrangement to Shanghai for 30 years,
the central government offered a better tax sharing mechanism to Shanghai in 1990 as
part of the decentralization reform. Since then, Shanghai enjoyed more freedom in local
financing and land management. Facing competition of other cities in China and around
the world, Shanghai shifts its development strategy from manufacturing to a mixed
economy emphasizing the service industry. The share of the tertiary industry increased
from 21.1% of total GDP in 1980 to 51.0% in 2002, an increase of 143%, while the share
of manufacturing dropped from 75.7% in 1980 to 47.4% in 2002, a decrease of 58.7% in
22 years. (Table 6)
Economic transition was reflected in changes of Shanghai’s building stock. From 1990 to
2003, factories increased by 86.7%, but commercial development increased by 470% and
office buildings increased by 487.5%. (Table 7) The changes of the building stock have
critical impacts on urban land use pattern. These impacts include the emergence of new
and the renewed urban space in central districts with some urban areas ignored.
Table 6
Composition of Shanghai’s GDP (in selected years)
1980 1995 1999 2002
Primary industry
3.2% 4.3% 1.8% 1.6%
Secondary industry 75.7% 63.8% 48% 47.4%
Tertiary industry 21.1% 31.9% 50.2% 51.0%
Source: Shanghai Statistical Yearbook 2003
Table 7
Shanghai’s building stock in selected years (million square meters)
Building Type
Source: SBS, 2003
Newly developed areas in Shanghai emerged first as new manufacturing districts in the
early reform days. Baoshan District at the north Shanghai was added to the urbanized
area in 1978 when a steel industry base was founded. In the south, petrochemical industry
base of Jingshan District was established in the 1980s when manufacturing was the key to
Shanghai’s economy. The then urban development axis was north- south to reflect the
importance of and guide the growth direction of the manufacturing industry. Starting in
1990, however, the development axis had been shifted to a west- east orientation. The
Hongqiao International Economic and Trading District around the Hongqiao Airport is
located at the city’s west side and Pudong District as the new CBD connected with
Podong Airport (the second largest international airport in China) is at the east end. The
redirection of development axis indicates a significant shift of economic development
strategy. (Fig. 7)
Fig. 7 Shanghai Comprehensive Plan (1999-2020)
The most visible new urban space is the Pudong New District, Shanghai’s showcase built
in the 1990s. With an area of 522.75 square km and a population of 1.77 million
(registered population, 2.2 million including migrants), the district is close to the size of
the city of Chicago. The development of Pudong opened Shanghai’s east-oriented urban
expansion. Along the east-west axis, the district displays four zones: Lujiazhui as the
trading and financing center, Zhangjiang with high-tech industries, Jinqiao as exportoriented manufacturing district, and Waigaoqiao specialized in manufacturing and port
facilities. The east bound of the District is Pudong International Airport with total
passengers about 27 million in 2004. It is obvious that the district has a comprehensive
function, but it focuses on high-tech industry and producer services as future directions.
Guided by Shanghai master plan, most new urban space is developed in the nine New
Towns in addition to the Pudong New District. From the planning perspective, the
establishment of New Towns demonstrates the efforts of altering structure from a monocenter to a multi-centers. New Towns are expansions of existing urban cores or county
towns in suburbs. The disproportional growth of the New Towns is viewed by some
researchers as “urban sprawl of the Chinese style”, because too much farmland has been
converted for urban uses, and some New Towns become isolated urban segments in rural
areas. Most New Towns become homes of moderate incomes and residents relocated
from central districts due to redevelopment projects. Some New Towns function as
manufacturing bases to FDIs (such as Jiading, the “Automobile Town”). Also in New
Towns are new university campus (such as Songjiang, the “University Town”), and
logistics bases and harbors (such as Luchao New Harbor Town). Several high-end
housing developments in the form of “villa” and “gated community” also appear in the
newly developed area, such as in Qingpu New Town.
Newly developed areas are the most crucial factor to urban expansion or “urban sprawl”.
For example, from 1985 to 1995, Shanghai’s urbanized land increased by 486%, it was
largely due to newly developed urban districts. (Zhang, T. 2000. Land market forces and
government’s role in sprawl, Cities, Vol. 17 (2) p.123-135)
The Renewed urban space in Shanghai has received mush attention from researchers,
and has also been compared to urban renewal projects in the US and property-led
developments in the UK. (for instance, Wu.F. 2005) Shanghai’s traditional CBD of the
“Bond” and commercial centers of Nanjing Road and Huihai Road are showing stunning
fashion no less impressive than new developments in Chicago or Tokyo. High-end
housing and office projects in the central area, such as Henlong Plaza and Cuihu Tiandi
near the entertainment center of Xintiandi (“New Heaven and Earth”) contribute to the
city’s achievement as an international economic, financing, trading, and port center, as
defined by the city government. This is evidenced by changes of building uses (measured
by floor areas) in Shanghai: new buildings for factory uses increased by 86.7%, but for
commercial/ retail uses increased by 470% and for office uses increased by 487.5% from
1990 to 2003. (See Table 7)
Most renewal activities concentrate in central districts. The renewed space reflects
Shanghai’s restructuring efforts to a service-oriented economy, also mirrors the gap
between the rich and the poor as the result of the “Chinese gentrification”. Average price
of new housing developments in renewed central districts is about 12,000 Yuan ($1500)
per square meter, comparing to that in New Towns of less than 4000 Yuan ($500) in
Since the reform, renewal projects have caused severe conflict between developers and
local authorities on one side and average residents to be relocated on the other. The
production of the luxury housing and commercial developments is driven by the
marketplace, but it also received support from local government. Researchers have found
a pro-growth coalition in the process of renewing urban space, which is similar to what
happened in American cities in the urban renewal period as theorized in the Regime
Theory. (Logan, J. 2004; Wu. F. 2001; Zhang, T. 2002)
Another negative impact brought by large scale renewal projects is threat to Shanghai’s
historic architecture. Although Shanghai is relatively a “young” city in China, it is
famous for rich architecture heritage, especially the “Lilong” house (a vernacular
townhouse style). A lot of historic architecture has been torn down in the urban renew
process; this is also similar to the cost paid to urban renewal in American cities.
The ignored urban space refers to areas where are homes of older manufacturing
factories struggling to survive facing competition of foreign and joint venture factories;
low income urban residents in high density areas in central districts where the cost of
relocation and redevelopment is too high to attract developers to step in; and a few
“villages in cities” where these “rural” villages are now surrounded by urban
developments in the rapid urban expansion; and fringe areas in old suburban cores not
annexed into New Towns. These are places reminding visitors that Shanghai is still a
developing city in a developing country.
In central districts, there are overcrowded old houses built by the public sector thirty or
forty years ago- legacy of the planned economy now occupied by migrants and low
incomes. In suburban area, there are old-fashioned factories owned by rural entrepreneurs
or migrants. New development may touch these places someday, but they may also
remain ignored for another decade. Studies on “villages in cities” and migrant
communities have widely reported. (Yan, 2005; Wu, W. 2000) But untouched old urban
communities due to high redevelopment cost have yet to be studied.
In summary, Shanghai’s dynamic spatial reorganizing is driven by the city’s dynamic
economic restructuring and population redistribution. We may demonstrate Shanghai’s
changing urban development pattern and population redistribution trends as shown in Fig.
8. (Fig. 8)
- Through intensively investing in infrastructure improvement projects and highend commercial and residential developments, central districts reinforce the
function as CBD and luxury homes for world class businesses. The economic role
of the central districts is “international service center with some preserved urban
industries” as defined in the 1999-2020 Master Plan. (See Fig. 7)
- In the process of gentrification, low incomes are driven out from renewed space in
central districts, and replaced by high and middle classes. The renewed space
plays important role in the city’s economic booming.
Urbanized areas in inner suburbs (between the inner and outer ring roads) provide
homes for the working class, the relocated urban residents and some migrants.
The economic function of the inner suburbs is “industry base of high-tech
manufacturing with high added value and low pollution” according to the Master
Some newly developed areas in exurban have become gated communities (villa)
for the new rich, especially in New Towns. Most rural area remains for peasants
and low income migrants. The Master Plan defines the economic function of the
rural space as “agriculture, traditional manufacturing, and advanced suburban
entertainment facilities for tourism”.
An important trend of Shanghai’s spatial reorganization is the increasing
emphasis on the relationship between Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze
River Delta region. There have been efforts to overcome barriers to cooperation
in order to build a regional economy. A mega-urban region emerges as the result
of the formation of development corridors along expressways and railroads
connecting Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hongzhou.
Shanghai’s expansion since the 1990s shifts the city’s traditional mono-center spatial
pattern to a multi-center one. A mega- urban region has already shown its existence. This
development pattern is to certain extant similar to that of large cities in developed nations,
although there is a crucial difference: Shanghai has a continuous booming central city.
Fig. 8 Spatial restructuring in Shanghai
The case of Beijing
Beijing, China’s traditional political and culture center, had a population of 14.9 million
(11.9 million registered urban residents plus 3.3 million migrants) in 2004. (Table 8) The
municipal government manages 16 districts and two rural counties. Different from
Shanghai, Beijing has been China’s capital since the 1200s. Beijing’s urban space is well
designed and defined based on Chinese culture and social norms (such as Fengshui), and
following rulers’ willing. To show the city space’s historic significance, the central part
of the city has been listed as the World Heritage. Therefore, urban development in
Beijing is always under the strict and direct control of the central government. The
municipal government has limited power over land use and even architectural style. Early
in 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong rejected a master plan of two highly respected Chinese
planners who suggested relocating the administration compound from the Forbidden City
to preserve the historic core. In part, Mao’s decision reflected his believe that “central
government should be located in the city center”, a traditional Chinese norm. This “be in
the center to show central power” attitude remains unchanged, resulting Beijing’s urban
pattern of several concentric circles around the Forbidden City, China’s traditional power
center. (Fig. 9)
Fig. 9 Beijing: the central city
Beijing has been in transition economically and spatially since the reform. The city is
expected to be an economic center in addition to the national administration and culture
center. Manufacturing was emphasized in early reform years, and then replaced by
service industry, as revealed in the composition of the city’s economy. (Table 9)
Table 8
Beijing: basic information (2004)
Land Area
Urban Residents Migrants
(sq. km) Population (million)
Level (%)
Source: Beijing Statistics Bureau, 2006
Table 9 Composition of Beijing’s economy
1990 1994 1997 2001
Primary industry
8.8% 6.9% 4.7% 3.3%
Secondary industry 52.4% 46.2% 41.0% 36.4%
Tertiary industry 38.8% 46.9% 54.3% 60.3%
Source: Dong, G. 2003. Discussion on forecasting population size of Beijing in 2020,
Beijing city planning and construction review, Vol.91, No.4. p.39-42
The share of the service industry has shown a steady increasing; financing industry alone
contributed 15% of the total GDP in 2004. (Interview with Zhu, J, Oct. 2004) The
economic transition stimulates spatial reorganization, including the production of new
urban space, the renewal of existing urban central districts, and the ignorance of some old
neighborhoods and villages.
The newly developed urban space in Beijing spreads over to all directions, but new
developments are less in the south, an area traditionally concentrates the poor. New urban
space takes the form of expansion of the central district. Along the east axis, the new
CBD has been designated. North to the CBD is Shunyi Manufacturing center for
In 2005, the city issued its 2004- 2020 Master Plan (Fig. 9) The main theme of the spatial
structure is “Two axis, two belts, and multi-centers”.
Source: Zhang, G. 2006. conglomeration of urban poor population and its
countermeasures: a case study of Beijing. City Planning Review 2006 Vol. 30(1) p.40-46
Factors for urban expansion
- GDP oriented policy (promotion)
- Local- central conflict
Constraints to uncontrolled urban growth: land availability, social issue, urban capacity,
Policy recommended
Soliner, D.J. 1999. Contesting citizenship in urban China: Peasant migrants, the state, and
the logic of the market. Berkeley: University of California Press