Architecture & Urban Planning in China: urbanization to create massive infrastructure investment

Some 300 million Chinese now living in rural areas — the equivalent of the entire population of the United States — will move into cities in the coming 15 to 20 years, said a senior Chinese official recently.

The fast pace of urbanization will create at least 1 trillion yuan (nearly 150 billion US dollars) in annual investment opportunities in building water supply, waste treatment, heating and other public utilities in the cities, said Xu Zhongwei, deputy policy director of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

“Such a big urban population will result in huge market demand,” Xu told China Daily.

China is undergoing rapid urbanization, with its rate increasing from 17 percent 30 years ago to 45 percent at the end of year, Xu said. More than 600 million of China’s 1.3 billion people already live in cities.

“This is an incredible speed and I am quite proud that we didn’t see a huge increase of slums in the cities during the process,” Xu said.

In contrast, urbanization in other transitional economies, such as India, Brazil and South Africa, resulted in many slum areas.

China’s urbanization rate will increase by nearly 1 percent annually during the coming 15 to 20 years, which means that China will urbanize 300 million rural people during the period, Xu said.

However, compared with international average standards, Chinese cities are extremely dense, Xu said.

Statistics have shown that the population count per square kilometer in central parts of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing has surpassed 50,000 to 60,000. The world’s average per square kilometer stands at just 10,000. Currently, the Chinese government’s plans call for 120 square meters of living space per person, taking into account all aspects of life, such as housing, parks, roads, schools and other public utilities.

“The standard is too low and I personally believe we should double the standards and decrease density of cities,” said Xu.

The cities in China just cover 80,000 square kilometers of land in the country and if it the standard is doubled, it will be increased to 160,000 square kilometers.

At the same time, the government is implementing tough policies to protect arable land and taking cautious steps to expand cities.

“We need a balanced policy to prevent people from living a poor urban life in high-rise buildings,” said Xu. “If that happens, fast urbanization is meaningless.”

Yu Lei, a young resident in Chongqing, said he is fed up with living and working in the downtown area.

“I want to move to the suburbs and buy an apartment there but the long commuting between the center and the suburban region has made me shelve the plan,” said Yu, who lives near the city’s business center Jiefangbei.

But James Jao, a Chinese-American expert on urban planning, said that China should insist on intensively using land when constructing cities and the current standard should be kept.

China should include green space in its urban planning, as well as mass transit, said Jao.

Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Lead Product Design Strategist at SAP and promotes User Experience Design as visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design. Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar Medeiros has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, United Arab Emirates, United States) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he championed the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai

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