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10 Mar, 2013

China Bids to Control Burgeoning Size of Megacities


BEIJING, (Xinhua) 2013-03-09 — Grey smog returned to Beijing again over the past two days and forced residents to wear masks outdoors. Polluting weather has hit the Chinese capital frequently since the beginning of the year. A key factor leading to the smog is exhaust from vehicles.

About 5.2 million vehicles are running on the roads in the metropolis, which has a population of 20.6 million. Traffic congestion and shortage of resources, such as water, are also common problems for other large cities in China.

On Tuesday, delivering a government work report to the first session of the 12th National People’s Congress, the Parliament, Premier Wen Jiabao said megacities and large cities should be kept to an appropriate size and they should fully play their role in driving the development of surrounding areas.

The following day, Zhang Ping, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the country should appropriately control the expansion of mega and large cities, and exert efforts to develop small and medium-sized cities and small towns.

China is likely to draw a layout on the country’s urbanization drive in the first half of the year, he added.

By the end of 2012, the country’s urbanization level rose to 52.6 percent from 45.9 percent five years ago, marking a historic turning point in the nation’s urban-rural population structure. The figure means more than half of the total population live in cities.

In China, a megacity refers to one with a population of 10 million or above and a large city five million or more, according to Pan Jiahua, head of the Urban and Environmental Studies Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

Currently, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing municipalities all have a population of more than 20 million. Cities like Tianjin, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have a population of more than 10 million.

The country is planning to promote sound urbanization development in an active yet prudent way. Authorities believe urbanization offers the largest potential for China to expand domestic demand, which is vital for sustainable growth of the world’s second largest economy.

The concentration of education, medical care, work opportunities and other resources are major attractions for people who swarm into big cities.

However, the excessive density of population will affect the operation efficiency and quality of life, in addition to the strained supply of energy and other resources, said Pan.

The same problems occur in many other developed countries, like the United States, Japan and Britain during their industrialization, said Wang Ming, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body.

The rapid development of China has caused urban problems that have become increasingly worrisome, said Wang, adding the country has more than ten megacities now.x   In fact, a policy of controlling the scale of large cities, appropriately developing medium-sized cities and actively building small ones was put forward as early as 1980.

But the main tool in the past was the household registration system, or “hukou” in Chinese. The method proved problematic, said Dong Liming, a professor of urban and environment research at Peking University.

Legislation is needed to avoid the concentration of urban facilities and functions, according to Pan. Large cities should focus on high value-added industries such as high-tech and cultural sectors, whereas small and medium-sized cities and small towns develop their distinctive industries, Pan said.

Beijing, for example, is working hard to accelerate the transformation of its economic growth mode and explore the control of the city’s scale and slow population growth, said Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun.

The population of Beijing grew from 16.3 million in early 2008 to 20.6 million currently and is increasing by about 600,000 annually. Beijing has a land area of about 16,800 sq km. Business hub Shanghai, which covers an area of about 6,340 sq km, has about 24 million people.

Comprehensive measures should be adopted to control the size of megacities and large cities and new ones should try to avoid the way current megacities have expanded, according to analysts. “A big population does not necessarily mean good for a city. What is important is that a city should have its own distinctive features and is livable,” said Pan.

According to an urban development report issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last year, the next five to ten years is a key period for China’s urbanization drive.

Currently, large cities face great challenges in economic structure, planning, construction, management, environment and public services, said the report. It is a must to underline the scientific development of cities and enhance the overall quality of them and urbanization, the report said.