Archive for ‘urban development’


Urbanisation: The great sprawl of China | The Economist

IN ANCIENT times, Beijing built towering city walls that helped to prevent undefendable sprawl. These days it builds ring roads, stretching built-up areas ever outwards. Near Langfang, a city halfway between the capital and its giant neighbour Tianjin, diggers dip their heads and cement mixers churn, paving the next circular expressway. When complete, the 900km (560-mile) Seventh Ring Road will surround Beijing at such a distance that most of it will run through the neighbouring province of Hebei, to which Langfang belongs, rather than the capital itself. Parts of it are 175km from Beijing’s centre (see map).

The Seventh Ring Road (really the sixth, but for obscure reasons there is no First Ring Road) is emblematic of modern Chinese cities: giant, sprawling and dominated by cars. Even before it is completed in a year or two (and its use assessed), another, even longer, orbital is being plotted. Like many of China’s infrastructure projects, the new road displays engineering prowess. The country’s successes in urban planning are less evident.

Breakneck urban growth has propelled China’s rise in the past three decades. Migration from the countryside has helped expand the urban population by 500m—the biggest movement of humanity the planet has seen in such a short time. Over half the population is now urban. Some live in the basements of apartment blocks, or in shacks built in courtyards. But Chinese cities have mostly avoided the squalor of many developing-world ones.

The result of this urban growth is not just that China has many large cities—more than 100 of them have more than a million people—but that some are supersized. At the end of last year the government at last acknowledged the special nature of these, introducing the term “megacity” to describe those whose populations, including that of their satellite towns, exceed 10m. Of the 30 cities worldwide that match this definition, six are in China: Shanghai (23m), Beijing (19.5m), Chongqing (13m), Guangzhou (12m), Shenzhen (11m) and Tianjin (11m). A further ten Chinese cities contain 5m-10m people. At least one of these, Wuhan, will pass 10m within a decade.

China depends on its cities for economic growth and innovation. But it is failing to make the most of its largest conurbations. Medium-sized agglomerations of 1.5m-6.5m are outperforming bigger ones in terms of environmental protection, economic development, efficient use of resources and the provision of welfare, says McKinsey, a consultancy. Residents are beginning to question whether their quality of life, which for many has improved by leaps and bounds, will continue to do so. The giant cities are polluted, pricey and congested. Average travel speed in Beijing is half that in New York or Singapore.

Most of China’s cities share the legacy of a central-planning mindset in which all life and work was centred on a single “work unit”. Cities were “built as producer centres rather than consumer ones”, says Tom Miller, author of “China’s Urban Billion”. Their planning focus was on industry; not commerce, services or even community. The work units are gone but the tradition of dehumanising architecture persists. Most new developments are built on giant blocks 400-800 metres long.

China has swapped its socialist dream for an American-style one of cars and sprawling suburbs. The number of cars has increased more than tenfold in the past decade, to 64m. The combination of superblocks and car-lust often adds up to a giant jam. Large blocks mean fewer roads to disperse traffic. Guidelines require a main urban road every 500 metres and an eight-lane road every kilometre. In the case of Beijing, a ring and radial system was also created, with the aim of providing speedy road access in and out of town, bypassing city traffic and linking satellite towns. Not a bad idea, except that workplaces have remained concentrated in the centre. The expressways funnel traffic into gridlock.

The ill-defined ownership rights of farmers have encouraged the sprawl. Officials can expropriate rural land easily and at little cost. Doing so is far cheaper than redeveloping existing urban areas. Industrial land is heavily subsidised, so factories have remained in urban areas rather than move to cheaper sites on city outskirts. The amount of land classified as urban has more than doubled since 2000—40% of new urbanites became so when cities engulfed their villages.

Sprawl has resulted in populations becoming more thinly spread. China’s megacities are less dense than equivalents elsewhere in the world (see chart). Guangzhou could contain another 4m people if it was as packed as Seoul in South Korea; Shenzhen could be larger by 5m. Extending outward takes a toll: slow commutes from far-flung suburbs increase fuel consumption and cut productivity.

Massive spending on infrastructure has hugely improved connections within and between cities. Since 1992 China has spent 8.5% of its national income on infrastructure each year, far more than Europe and America (2.6%) or India (3.9%). Yet city residents still complain. Subways are often built as engineering projects, with stops at set distances, rather than where people want them to be, says Sean Chiao of Aecom, an infrastructure firm. Buses, metros and rail networks are poorly integrated because separate agencies manage them.

via Urbanisation: The great sprawl of China | The Economist.


As China Urbanizes, Fears Grow That Cropland Is Vanishing – Businessweek

As China’s leaders continue to pursue sweeping urbanization plans, concerns are growing about the fate of the country’s cropland. The latest sign: a joint ministerial announcement that officials must protect agricultural plots on city outskirts from runaway development.

Farming in Gangzhong, China

Prime arable land bordering municipalities and towns and located near traffic routes will be formally categorized as “permanent basic farmland” and preserved for cultivation, announced the Ministry of Land and Resources and Ministry of Agriculture in a notice issued on Monday. Fourteen cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, will be first to carry out the policy, which is to be rolled out nationwide by the end of 2016.

“During rapid urbanization, high-yield farmland has been gradually ‘eaten’ by steel and cement,” said Land and Resources Minister Jiang Daming, reported the official Xinhua News Agency on Nov. 3. “It is a pressing problem that the expansion of cities is encroaching on prime farmland,” said the notice.

via As China Urbanizes, Fears Grow That Cropland Is Vanishing – Businessweek.


China’s Environmental Problems Deepen With Mountaintop Removals – Businessweek

To create more flat land for the fast-growing cities in western China, local planners are increasingly turning to the drastic measure of bulldozing mountaintops and filling in valleys with dump trucks full of dirt.

Earth moving vehicles in northwest China's Gansu province

The impact of such massive earthmoving projects will have on soil conditions, erosion, groundwater, and other environmental factors remains largely unknown. Nor is it clear whether the filled-in land will provide adequate structural support for tall buildings; construction on unstable foundation has led to new high-rises tumbling elsewhere in China.

Three scientists from the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Chang’an University in Xi’an last week published a forceful commentary in the journal Nature warning that “earthmoving on this scale without scientific support is folly.” As an example, they highlighted the city of Yan’an, in China’s central Shaanxi province, where planners aim to “double the city’s current area by creating 78.5 square kilometers of flat ground.” While the potential revenue from land sales is high, the scientists argue the risks are higher:

via China’s Environmental Problems Deepen With Mountaintop Removals – Businessweek.

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As Growth Slows in India, Rural Workers Have Fewer Incentives to Move to Cities –

As a teenager, Ram Singh left this remote rural village and moved to fast-growing New Delhi to chase the spoils of his country’s economic boom.

For 14 years, he toiled in tiny, primitive factories making everything from auto parts to components for light switches. His wages barely kept pace with the cost of living and eventually he gave up on city life.

Today, he is back on the farm, scratching out a living from a small plot of land near his birthplace where he grows corn, wheat, potatoes and mustard.

“Whenever someone leaves his village for the city, he thinks, ‘I will earn money,'” says Mr. Singh, who isn’t certain of his age but says he is around 30 years old. “Everyone has dreams, but it’s not always in their power to turn them into reality.”

Just a few years after India was hailed as a rising economic titan poised to rival China—even surpass it—growth in gross domestic product has slowed to a pace not seen in a decade. The Indian economy expanded at an annual rate of 4.7% in the last quarter of 2013. That may be sizzling by Western standards, but it is a serious comedown for a country whose GDP growth peaked at 11.4% in 2010. Inflation is high, workers aren’t finding jobs, and industrialization and urbanization are stalling.

via As Growth Slows in India, Rural Workers Have Fewer Incentives to Move to Cities –

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All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company

A lot of people view China business as mysterious. Relax. Consumers behave pretty much the same everywhere. Competition is pretty much the same everywhere. You just need to ignore the hype and focus on the basic fact that in China today, there are six big trends (exhibit). That’s it. Six trends shape most of the country’s industries and drive much of China’s impact on the Western world. They are like tectonic plates moving underneath the surface. If you can understand them, the chaotic flurry of activity on the surface becomes a lot more understandable—and even predictable.

Coauthors Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel discuss China’s six megatrends with Nick Leung, the managing partner of McKinsey’s Greater China office.

These trends move businesses on a daily basis. They’re revenue or cost drivers that show up in income statements. Deals, newspaper headlines, political statements, and the rising and falling wealth of companies are mostly manifestations of these six trends, which aren’t typically studied by economists and political analysts. In fact, we happen to think that Chinese politics or political economics are wildly overemphasized by some Westerners in China. So let’s tell a story about each of these megatrends, with some important caveats. They’re not necessarily good things. They’re not necessarily sustainable. For every one of them, we can argue a bull and a bear case. Most lead to profits or at least revenue. Some may be stable. Some lead to bubbles that may or may not collapse. We are only arguing that they are big, they are driving economic activity on a very large scale, and understanding them is critical to understanding China and where it’s headed.

via All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company.

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A $6.8 Trillion Price Tag for China’s Urbanization – Businessweek

China has finally put a price tag on its massive plan for urbanization, and it’s a big one. The cost of bringing an additional couple of hundred million people to cities over the next seven years? Some 42 trillion yuan ($6.8 trillion), announced an official from China’s Ministry of Finance last week.

Shanghai's potential future development modeled at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

“The flaws in the previous model, in which urban construction mostly relied on land sales and fiscal revenue, have emerged in recent years, and the model is unsustainable,” warned Wang Bao’an, vice minister of finance, on March 17. His comments came one day after China’s State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party released the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020),” which aims to lift the proportion of Chinese living in cities to 60 percent by 2020, from 53.7 percent now.

A timely report issued by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council provides suggestions as to how to pay the big bill. Released today, Urban China: Toward Efficient, Inclusive and Sustainable Urbanization, is the second joint effort by the two organizations, coming just over two years after the publication of an earlier report on economic reform called China 2030.

via A $6.8 Trillion Price Tag for China’s Urbanization – Businessweek.

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China Wants Its People in the Cities – Reuters


Thirty-five years ago, when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched gaige kaifang, or “reform and opening,” China was a much more agricultural country, with less than a fifth of its people living in cities. Since then hundreds of millions of rural residents have left the countryside, many seeking jobs in the export-oriented factories and construction sites that Deng’s policy promoted.

Commercial and residential buildings stand in the Luohu district of Shenzhen, China, on Dec. 18, 2013 In 1978 there were no Chinese cities with more than 10 million people and only two with 5 million to 10 million; by 2010, six cities had more than 10 million and 10 had from 5 million to 10 million. By the following year, a majority of Chinese were living in urban areas for the first time in the country’s history.

Now urbanization has been designated a national priority and is expected to occur even more rapidly. On March 16, Premier Li Keqiang’s State Council and the central committee of the Communist Party released the “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020),” which sets clear targets: By 2020 the country will have 60 percent of its people living in cities, up from 53.7 percent now.

What’s the ultimate aim of creating a much more urban country? Simply put, all those new, more free-spending urbanites are expected to help drive a more vibrant economy, helping wean China off its present reliance on unsustainable investment-heavy growth. “Domestic demand is the fundamental impetus for China’s development, and the greatest potential for expanding domestic demand lies in urbanization,” the plan says.

To get there, China’s policymakers know they have to loosen the restrictive hukou, the household registration policy that today keeps many Chinese migrants second-class urban residents. China will ensure that the proportion of those who live in the cities with full urban hukou, which provides better access to education, health care, and pensions, will rise from last year’s level of 35.7 percent of city dwellers to 45 percent by 2020. That means 100 million rural migrant workers, out of a total 270 million today, will have to be given urban household registration.

To prepare for the new masses, China knows it must vastly expand urban infrastructure. The plan calls for ensuring that expressways and railways link all cities with more than 200,000 people by 2020; high-speed rail is expected to link cities with more than a half million by then. Civil aviation will expand to be available to 90 percent of the population.

Access to affordable housing projects funded by the government is also expected to rise substantially. The target is to provide social housing (roughly analogous to public housing in the U.S.) to 23 percent of the urban populace by 2020; that’s up from an estimated 14.3 percent last year, according to Tao Wang, China economist at UBS Securities (UBS) in Hong Kong. That means providing social housing for an additional 90 million people, amounting to about 30 million units, over the next seven years, Wang writes in a March 18 report.

The urbanization plan appears to face several big challenges. First, the government wants to maintain restrictions on migration to China’s biggest cities, which also happen to be its most popular. Instead, the plan calls for liberalizing migration to small and midsize cities, or those with less than 5 million. Whether migrants will willingly flock to designated smaller cities, rather than the megacities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, is an unanswered question.

Another obstacle to faster urbanization is that the plan doesn’t propose how to reform China’s decades-old land tenure system. Changing the system could allow farmers more freedom to mortgage, rent, or sell their land.

Finally, one of the most daunting problems is figuring out how to pay for implementing the ambitious urbanization targets. The cost of rolling out a much more extensive social welfare network will be substantial (today, most Chinese in the countryside have far lower levels of medical and pension coverage, as well as far inferior schools); building the new urban infrastructure will also be expensive.


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China pushes forward urbanizing migrant workers – Xinhua |

China pledged increasing efforts to help migrant workers win urbanite status, removing restrictions in towns and lowering threshold in big cities, said a national plan unveiled on Sunday.

The country promised to help migrant workers from countryside to settle down in cities, by fully eliminating restriction of household registration in towns and small cities and gradually easing restrictions in medium-sized cities, according to the 2014-2020 urbanization plan released by the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

Reasonable conditions for settling in big cities will be set, while population in mega cities will remain to be strictly controlled, the plan said.

The plan also granted city services and public welfare to the migrants.

In China, cities with population between three million and five million are defined as big cities, while those above five million are mega cities.

via China pushes forward urbanizing migrant workers – Xinhua |

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Li drops in to help realize home dream|Politics|

For Li Zongyi, 77, an unexpected visitor to her home has realized her decades-long dream.

The guest was Premier Li Keqiang. During a one-day trip to Tianjin on Friday, he paid a surprising visit to Li Zongyi\’s home in the Xiyuzhuang community, one of the oldest shantytowns in the city, and promised residents that they will be able to move into new apartments in the next year.

Han Huixia, Li Zongyi\’s daughter, said: \”I have been waiting for this moment for so long. I dare not burn coal to keep warm in winter, in case there is a gas leak or a fire.\”

Like families in the Xiyuzhuang community, hundreds of millions of residents in shantytowns nationwide are expected to move into new apartments, analysts said, as the country pushes ahead with renovation projects for these areas.

Huang Xiaohu, a researcher at a consultancy center affiliated to the Ministry of Land and Resources, said the renovation of some shanty areas can be very difficult, due to the complexity of the local population, a lack of financial support, and disagreements among residents on the relocation plan.

The Xiyuzhuang community, covering 64 hectares and with low-income residents comprising 20 percent of its households, is a typical case, Huang said, as the cost of compensation is too high.

\”The only way out in this case is to let the government play the dominant role and provide residents with low-cost houses, instead of costly commercial apartments,\” he said.

A State Council meeting in June pledged to improve housing conditions for the underprivileged and to promote urbanization by accelerating shantytown reform.

Urbanization will also be pushed for another 100 million people living in the country\’s less developed western areas.

To achieve the target, the government will encourage private capital and enterprises to invest in the shantytown transformation, and will allow local authorities to use corporate bonds to solve the financing problem.

As of 2013, China has solved the housing problems of 2.18 million households living in shantytown areas and embarked on projects that could solve such problems for another 3.23 million households, 6 percent higher than planned.

Tao Ran, a professor at Renmin University of China, said the government has looked to the resettlement of residents in shanty areas to be one of its key economic drives in coming years.

But some fundamental work should be addressed before any steps are taken, he said.

Tao suggested that a universal guideline be introduced for local governments to follow during demolition of homes to avoid misconduct and conflicts.

via Li drops in to help realize home dream|Politics|


Toward a uniquely Indian growth model – excerpted from Reimagining India: McKinsey & Company


India can’t afford to emulate China. Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra says the country’s states must compete, not march in lockstep, if India is to develop its own path to sustainable prosperity.

November 2013 | byAnand Mahindra

According to this way of thinking, India is an underachiever, perversely holding itself back—and needs only to fire some particular afterburner in order to get its rocket to full speed. The government needs to go on an infrastructure building spree, or open the door to big-box retailers. Political parties need to crack down on corruption and nepotism. Farmers need to adopt smartphones. Something will trigger the long-awaited boom, and the billions in foreign direct investment (FDI) that have flowed to China over the last two decades will at last head south.

If we continue to judge India’s progress by China’s, using metrics like FDI and GDP growth, or statistics like the kilometers of highway and millions of apartments built, we will continue to be branded a laggard. India’s messy coalition governments are not suddenly about to become as efficient and decisive as China’s technocrat-led Politburo. Nor should that be the goal.

Moreover, India simply cannot afford to grow like China has over the last two decades. In authoritarian, tightly controlled China, the costs of that headlong economic expansion are obvious. Unbreathable air and undrinkable milk, slick-palmed officials and oppressive factory bosses provoke tens of thousands of protests each year. In a society as diverse as India’s—riven by religious, community, and caste divides—those kinds of tensions can easily erupt in violence and disorder. Already the battle between haves and have-nots is driving a powerful rural insurgency across nearly a third of the country. Labor riots can turn into religious pogroms. Farmer protests can turn into class wars.

For India’s economy to expand as rapidly and yet more sustainably than China’s, we need to make our differences into virtues rather than vulnerabilities. For too long we have clung to a mind-set shaped by the early independence years, when the areas in the northwest and northeast had become Pakistan, and India’s first government was struggling to weave a patchwork of provinces and maharaja-run kingdoms into a nation. In those days, the risk that India might break apart was very real. One of India’s great accomplishments is that no one worries about that anymore. Indeed, the idea of a united India runs so broad and deep that it allows us to consider a counterintuitive way of thinking about growth—that the best way to propel the economy may be to encourage different parts of the country to go their own way.

I’m not suggesting secession, of course. But there’s no sense in pretending that “India” is a single investment destination or even a coherent, unified economic entity. India’s 28 states and seven territories are as different from one another—as varied in language, food, culture, and level of development—as the nations of Europe. In some ways, Gujarat has more in common with Germany than with Bihar. Companies understand this. When they make decisions about where to locate factories or R&D hubs, they’re looking at the tax policies, physical and legal infrastructure, or labor costs in the particular state they’re considering—not at some mythical “India” visible only at Davos. We should be celebrating and encouraging these differences.

India needs to find a way to distribute growth—to create new urban hubs all over the country that can attract talent and money. Even if government had the power to bulldoze neighborhoods and erect forests of skyscrapers, as some seem to wish, it would struggle to surmount the challenges currently facing big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. At double or triple the population, those megacities would become ungovernable. We need to break these problems into manageable pieces, developing hundreds, even thousands of smaller cities around the country where the problems of water, transit, power, and governance can be negotiated at the local level. India’s sprawling subcontinent can never become a plus-size Singapore. But perhaps we can weave together an urban web that is the equivalent of a thousand Singapores.

Technology is making this more than a fantasy. Given how much India has benefited from the way fiber-optic cables have already shrunk the world, we should be quick to see the opportunities in shrinking the subcontinent, too. With widespread 4G connectivity, many businesses will be able to operate from anywhere. That will create an advantage for locations emphasizing efficiency and livability. Workers will be able to perform their tasks closer to home, if not actually at home, thus relieving pressure on India’s roads and bridges. Even manufacturing can be distributed, once technologies like 3-D printing become more widespread. Populations of laborers will no longer need to cluster around big factories. Indeed, once every home can become a manufacturing hub, the kind of small enterprises that have been the backbone of the traditional Indian economy could find ways to thrive in the modern world.

Forced to compete for talent and for business, cities will have to experiment and innovate. Several corporations, including Mahindra, have begun exploring new ways to live, work, and play in planned enclaves like Mahindra World City outside Chennai. While these efforts are continuing, the government, too, should foster and support such experimentation as a matter of urban policy. Already the government taxes coal and fossil fuels used in the power and transportation industries, and offers tax incentives for renewable energy and nonpolluting vehicles. But we can go further, finding new ways to use technology to improve and expand the delivery of government services. The government’s Unique Identification project, which uses biometric data such as photographs, fingerprints, and retinal scans to create cost-effective and easily verifiable ID numbers for all Indian residents, is an excellent example of how government can leverage technology to help India’s citizens. These new numbers will make it easier for Indians to pay taxes, collect government benefits, and receive other government services. They also will help prevent fraud, bribery, vote rigging, and illegal immigration, as well as facilitate the delivery of many private-sector services.

India’s new cities will be its afterburners, the catalysts sparking new bursts of growth. The innovations developed in each scattered enclave will be emulated and improved upon elsewhere, and thus give rise to innovation. Rather than directing where capital should go, or funding white-elephant infrastructure projects, the central government should set the rules of the game and then step back.

What India needs from the world as much as investment dollars are bold thinkers who can help to define these new ways of living. We should seek out these visionaries, give them a platform to test their theories, and invite them not to build gaudy skyscrapers but to help develop new ways for the human race to live. Foreign direct ideas should be as valued a commodity as traditional FDI.

The world has a stake in India’s success—and not just because of the need for someone to pick up the slack from a slowing China. Much of the developing world faces the same challenges India does. The solutions developed here—the answers to almost metaphysical questions about how societies should work and grow—will have worldwide relevance.

For better or worse, India is where the future will be made. Let’s get it right.

About the author

Anand Mahindra is chairman and managing director of global conglomerate Mahindra. This essay is excerpted from Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower. Copyright © 2013 by McKinsey & Company. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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