Chinese cities are searching for new ways to ensure economic growth for their inhabitants. During the Mao era, central government was in charge of planning regional development. Since the reforms, Chinese cities have gradually been empowered to plan their own development strategies.
In his study1, Wei focuses on the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang, to examine the urban strategies adopted by local governments in a transitional society.
According to the author, China’s transitional mode has led to the adoption by local governments of growth-oriented strategies, but this model does not appear to be sustainable in the long run.
The first part of this article looks at the transformation of city governments, which Wei qualifies as transitional institutions. Because of decentralisation, marketization and globalisation, the three aspects of transition, growth is the focus of local government planning, thus increasing competition between cities.
The author lists the different urban strategies implemented in Hangzhou. He first studies the importance of tourism in the city and argues that despite its increasing popularity with Chinese and foreign visitors, “Hangzhou has a long way to go to make the city a world-class tourism city”.
The article then looks at the industrial sector in Hangzhou. During the Mao era, priority was given to heavy industry. However, under the reforms, Hanghzou was one of the first cities to open special development zones to host foreign investors. Since the late 90’s, Hangzhou’s local government, like other municipal authorities, has set itself the goal of making the city a high-tech centre through the creation of special high-tech zones. Wei notes, however, that competition in this field among neighbouring cities has been fierce. Another direction pursued by local development policies in Hangzhou is that of education: new campuses have been opened in a district devoted to higher education.
What Wei is trying to show is that all of these projects are designed for special zones or districts that increase land consumption. This phenomenon is also exacerbated by administrative rescaling, with the annexation of rural districts by Hangzhou. Wei emphasises the fact that land development in Chinese cities is institutionally based.
According to Wei, the growth strategy adopted in Hangzhou has not only pushed up land consumption, but has also challenged the city’s sustainability and liveability. Because of the economic and population growth that Hangzhou has experienced since the 80’s, real estate prices have risen and Hangzhou has become one of China’s most expensive cities. Wei claims that this has led to speculation and corruption of local officials.
Wei’s point is that land development has been used intensively by local governments as their main urban policy tool. Urban strategies have also been motivated by the prevalence of land development and the real estate sector in providing financial resources for Chinese cities.
Wei’s article convincingly demonstrates that land development policies in China are the consequence of the transitional aspect of Chinese institutions. As a result, further reforms, such as marketisation, would certainly resolve some of the issues that Chinese cities are facing and reduce land consumption.
We should advocate for more inter-city cooperation. The growth strategy adopted by many Chinese cities, including Hangzhou, has created competition at the regional level; consequently, too many resources, such as land and capital, have been wasted.
- Wei, Y. (2012) Restructuring for growth in urban China: transitional institutions, urban development, and spatial transformation, Habitat International