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Even those lucky citizens who live in modern tower blocks must put up with clogged roads, polluted skies and cityscapes of unremitting ugliness.

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The rapid expansion of urban China is astonishing, but new policies are urgently needed to create healthier cities. Combining on-the-ground reportage and up-to-date research, this pivotal book explains why China has failed to reap many of the economic and social benefits of urbanization, and suggests how these problems can be resolved. If its leaders get urbanization right, China will surpass the United States and cement its position as the world's largest economy. But if they get it wrong, China could spend the next twenty years languishing in middle-income torpor, its cities pockmarked by giant slums.

Resident in China for more than a decade, Tom lives in Beijing with his wife and two children.

Migration in China

This is his first book. The central public square in Kangbashi, in Ordos, is nearly as large as Tiananmen Square.

trouvbertticot.tk Buildings and cities across China are routinely built and laid out on a scale that is designed to shock and awe, not to produce a comfortable living environment. Top-down planning does have its advantages.


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It ensures that houses are built, bridges constructed, subways dug. If officials say they will build something, they invariably do. In China it is the other way around.

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But top-down planning also has its limits. Long-term plans can fail to anticipate the messy reality of rapid development and may lock in planning errors. With few cars on the road in the early s, planners followed the already outdated American practice of merging entrance and exit lanes. But as the number of private vehicles in Beijing exploded from one million in to more than five million today, these ill-designed not to mention dangerous junctions became a major cause of congestion.

Geography, Environment, and Cultural Zones

Long-term planning inevitably produces more uniformity than allowing cities to evolve organically. All municipal governments are required to produce a twenty-year master plan outlining general development goals, land-use patterns and a transport scheme.

Moreover, when city planners draw up designs for new districts, they must conform to certain national planning standards. The width of all new city roads, for example, must accord with regulations set in Beijing. The result is that dozens of new city districts all look the same. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few officials who are rewarded for boosting economic growth rather than providing public goods.

Officials have a clear incentive to push for more development, however unneeded or badly planned, yet little incentive to listen to the concerns of residents. The result is unhealthy competition between cities, over-investment and endless construction: more roads, new industrial parks, unnecessary airports, bigger government offices. Every city aspires to be a mini-Beijing, rather than catering to local needs. Residents are rarely consulted during the planning process for large development projects.

Public monitoring only occurs once construction has started, or even after it has finished, by which time it is too late to turn back. Local governments routinely spend grotesque sums on municipal vanity projects, often employing teams of international planners, architects and consultants. Competition with other cities means that if one city builds a swanky theatre or museum, theme park or Ferris wheel, other cities will want one too.

Nonetheless, after half a century of soul-sapping utilitarianism, the pursuit of design is cheering in itself. In a country that must house millions of new residents every year, cities and developers are under enormous pressure to build millions of apartments as quickly and cheaply as the can. City planners concentrate on nailing down a land-use plan, while developers roll out the same cookie-cutter apartments across the country.

Aesthetic considerations are not high on the list of priorities, especially in a country where many people have become inured to unremitting ugliness. As China becomes wealthier and people begin to demand better, urban design will improve. For the moment, however, most urban residents are far more concerned about price and comfort than aesthetics. The reality is that the urban landscape of a country that must house one billion people is never going to be beautiful.

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