What if, What else, and What are the Odds – China’s Megacities

Monday, December 1, 2008 23:30

Developed to absorb, house, employ, and sustain 1.3 billion people, the largest cities in the world going forward will all be in China.  8 of which are predicted to be be over 10 million according to a recent Business Week piece.

Jonathan Woetzel and his team presented their research equally interesting study at the JUCCCE conference last week, and for those of you who have been following All Roads for a while you’ll know that the development of China’s 2nd tier has been a focus of mine as well.

So, with that in mind, I brought together a few others who had been in China for while, with a breadth of different experiences, who were equally capable of shooting through just how the process of urbanization in China was going to take place.

For those in the room, there were a few themes that we kept coming back to:

1) Urbanization is inevitable, and the process will include huge hurdles, will have huge opportunities, and will be key to China’s long term stability

2) Migrant laborers are growing more sticky, and are establishing themselves on the outskirts of cities.  While still outsiders, families are coming together, kids are going to school, and this is creating a measure of stability within the family unit

3) Infrastructure will be one of the most important facets of urbanization.

As for why China should urbanize:

  • Need to move people off land to improve physical conditions
  • Easier to manage social net (education, health care, etc)
  • Will create stronger domestic economic cycles
  • Energy, water, and raw materials stabilize with greater oversight and enforcement
  • Land management, agriculture, and food quality all improve

Some hurdles:

  • Allocation of resources
  • Environmental balance
  • Moving families from farm to city
  • Sanitation
  • Job creation
  • Education
  • Security (physical and societal)

With that, let us your thoughts on the challendges/ opportunities you see for China’s urbanization.  With 400 million more people projected to participate in this process, there are sure to be plenty of both.

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2 Responses to “What if, What else, and What are the Odds – China’s Megacities”

  1. Clement Wan says:

    December 2nd, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Interestingly there was an article in the WSJ today on reverse migration though I’m not sure what its point was. Clearly for the reasons you note, it is largely a temporary phenomenon – a result of the economic downturn:

    But, as you also note, there are significant hurdles ahead as China continues to urbanize. I personally liked the idea of highways that were largely tolled if they could have been made to be self funding though that seems to be out the window with the recent proposed gas tax initiatives that I think have much greater opportunities for, let’s call them “inefficiencies”. I think one of the primary reasons for urban sprawl in the US and Canada has been cheap/subsidized transportation into the suburbs. It would be far more sustainable with greater population densities.

    I think it’s not just a question funding infrastructure, but how it gets funded. Fortunately for China, there are many opportunities for it to leapfrog in technologies. Just as it has taken less and less time for various countries to develop (e.g. HK vs US vs Asian Tigers), China has the opportunity to leap forward using technology and knowledge that wasn’t as certain before. This being said, I don’t know how well the current government is structured to deal with these challenges.

  2. Rich says:

    December 2nd, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Hi Clement.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Fortunately, no one in China is talking about sprawl, and 2.5 years ago China put a complete nix on single family housing licenses. To think of how China would build, much less sustain, individual housing for 400 million people is just scary!