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Rush To Cities Needs Big Thinking

Rush to cities needs big thinking, institute says

Ting Shi – SCMP – Updated on Jul 25, 2008

The mainland’s best chance of meeting the challenges of massive urbanisation lies in encouraging the development of its biggest cities, a report issued yesterday says.

Urbanisation promises to continue at an unprecedented rate – by 2030, two-thirds of all Chinese, or 1 billion people, would probably be living in cities, the McKinsey Global Institute report says. That also means cities will have added 350 million people in 20 years – more than the entire US population today. By 2025, China will have 219 cities with more than 1 million people and 24 cities with more than 5 million.

Mega-cities – those with populations of more than 10 million – will continue to grow rapidly. By 2025, they will be home to 13 per cent of the mainland’s urbanites. Over the next two decades, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Wuhan will probably surpass 10 million and join Beijing and Shanghai among the mainland’s mega-cities.

Rapid urbanisation carries serious challenges. Demand for water will increase by 70 to 100 per cent, while energy needs in urban areas will more than double. Some 900GW to 1,100GW of power production capacity will have to be prepared by 2025 to meet the energy demands of those cities. During this period, the mainland will also have to pave 5 billion square metres of road, lay 28,000km of commuter railways and erect 20,000 to 50,000 skyscrapers to accommodate the new urbanites.

The pressure for land will increase, demand for resources will double and pollution will rise. Also, providing health care and education to migrants would severely strain municipal finances, the report says.

To ensure that this unprecedented transformation unfolds as smoothly as possible, Beijing should take a more concentrated approach, the report suggested. That would require “a deliberate shift” from the current policy of developing mid-size cities to focus on the largest cities.

The bigger the city, the bigger its economy and the better its education and infrastructure, the report says. Apart from the natural efficiencies created by scale, large cities also have the advantage of municipal leaders who are the best administrators, it says.

A concentrated approach also creates the greatest energy efficiencies. Under the mega-city scenario, mainland cities would use energy 18 per cent more efficiently than under the dispersed-growth scenario.

Such urban policies “would generate the greatest benefits and the least harm for the country”, it says.

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