Sustainable Cities™

China: Extreme Urbanisation

The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang wants to develop the country in a direction, in which comprehensive urbanisation, involving modern high-rise buildings and schools, and new hospitals and roads will guarantee the people of China modern services and a modern lifestyle. The Prime Minister’s plan is for 70% of China’s population to live in towns and cities: i.e. 250 million people, who presently live in the countryside, will be moved to towns and cities in the course of the next 12-15 years.

Kina Urbanisering2

The Chinese government's ultimate goal in this urbanisation and modernisation plan is to boost China's economy, by increasing the number of people living in the already vast metropolises to 900 million by the end of 2025. Today China's metropolises accommodate 450 million people. So the increased migration to cities will mean that large country areas will be transformed from green agricultural areas and small villages into suburbs with huge blocks of flats and new motorways. The idea of this urbanisation strategy is to transform the lifestyle of peasants and village-dwellers, thus ensuring increased consumption of material goods by the population, and thereby reducing the country's high dependency on exports.

Experts fear the modernisation plan

The plan, which was presented at the Urbanisation Forum in Beijing August 10, 2013, was met with resistance from both central and local leaders. They feared that the costs involved in the realisation of the plan, and the increased cost to the healthcare system and the expense of moving the people, will all bury the country in debt. Another challenge facing China is the large difference in the level of education between the highly educated city-dwellers and the unskilled workers from the countryside. In May 2013 McKinsey & Company highlighted this challenge. According to McKinsey & Company, if the plan should work and the migration lead to growth in the cities, China is going to have to make a great effort to eliminate this gap. The belief that urbanisation in itself is not sufficient to create growth is also held by the Asian Development Bank and the London School of Economics in their new study.

Kina UrbaniseringPhotos: Danish Architecture Center

Another challenge for the urbanisation plan is that the number of people, which the government plan to move from the countryside into the cities, did not previously consume the same amount of water, heat and electricity as city-dwellers. By suddenly moving to the city, the new inhabitants' energy consumption will probably soon be on a level with that of the existing city-dwellers. If this happens, China's government should expect a situation, in which pollution in the cities involved will increase by an additional factor corresponding to the consumption of the entire population of the USA.  

Tuesday, September 03, 2013 / By Nina Kirstine Busk

Last updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014