WSJ: “China watchers are all abuzz about urbanization, which is supposed to be a focus of reform. But what does the term mean? After all, China has been urbanizing for 30 years, which has meant building roads, subways, ports — and relying more and more on infrastructure spending, which seems to have less and less payoff these days.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s state planning agency, is due to produce a report later this year laying out a path for a new kind of urbanization.
First, there would be a focus on “low carbon” development — meaning trying to assure Chinese cities ease their horrendous pollution.
Second, would be reform of the household registration, or hukou, system. For smaller cities the system would be “totally liberalized,” Mr. Li said. He didn’t lay out his thoughts fully, but seemed to suggest that all residents would enjoy the same rights and benefits regardless of where they were born. For larger cities, migrants would get “resident cards” which assured them “improved treatment” and access to social services.
Third, China would look to increase “clustering” in big cities. Mr. Li didn’t explain what he meant by that, but in urban planning speak, clustering usually means trying to develop industries or specialties in a city or group of cities. That’s a way to build on the intellectual frisson of urban life, where new ideas can spawn new industries.
Those proposals address some of the most vexing problems with life in China’s cities: pollution, widening social inequality and lack of innovation. They also suggest that China’s leaders are committed to making urbanization into something more than another building spree. But changes would be costly and could require China’s central government to take a much more active role in overseeing—and paying for—urban growth than it has in the past. Whether China’s new leaders are ready to take such steps will become clear over the next year or two.”