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close this bookEmerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)
close this folderPart 2. Changing Asia-Pacific world cities
close this folderGlobalization and the urban system in China
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentEconomic reform and globalization in China
View the documentThe globalization of china's economy
View the documentForeign investment
View the documentUrbanization and urban system development in China
View the documentThe effects of globalization on the urban system in China
View the documentProblems of urban development under the open policy
View the documentPolicy implications and future trends in urban development
View the documentNotes
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentReferences

Problems of urban development under the open policy

The open policy, particularly the introduction of foreign investment, a commercial economy, and private enterprises, has greatly influenced urban development in China since 1978. It has weakened the pre-1978 mechanisms of population control and state resource allocation that were effective in shaping urban development to a form desired by the government. The household registration system has been relaxed and there is increasing mobility of people. The development of a free market and the proliferation of individual enter prises outside the state system are rapidly eroding the household system, which was effective in controlling population growth in the cities. The state is less relied on to provide employment and services. People can earn more outside the state system in private enterprises and enterprises involving foreign investment. The Chinese government is no longer able effectively to control urban development. Kwok (1988) observed that large cities were developing more rapidly than the government policy, which aims to "control the growth of large cities, rational development of medium-sized cities, and active development of small cities." There have been rapid changes in the urban system owing to economic reform. As a result, the following pressing issues have to be faced in the rapidly growing cities and towns in the Eastern Coastal region (Yeh and Leung, 1991).

Temporary population

The most remarkable phenomenon in Chinese cities under economic reform is the growth of the temporary population in large and medium-sized cities. There are two types of temporary population. The first type is temporary residents (zanzhu renkou). Unlike permanent residents (changzhu renkou), whose households are registered in the city, temporary residents are mainly people who obtain permission to stay in a city for a fixed period of time. They are mainly contract workers working in factories or on construction sites. The other type is the transient or floating population (liudong renkou). They are people who enter and leave the city within a few days, weeks, or longer. They may be travellers, businessmen, or people looking for jobs. The transient population is normally not reported in city statistics but temporary residents are reported.

Temporary residents can constitute as much as 20-25 per cent of the total number of residents of some cities. In Guangzhou, the percentage of temporary residents is very large, being 38 per cent of the total number of residents (Zou, 1990). In Shenzhen SEZ, temporary residents outnumber permanent residents: in 1991, there were 432,000 permanent residents, but temporary residents numbered 766,000, accounting for 63.9 per cent of the official population in the SEZ (Editorial Board of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Yearbook, 1992). Some of the temporary residents can become permanent residents after staying in a city for a period of time. The building industry engaged the largest proportion of the temporary population, followed by retailing, especially individual retailing enterprises on the street.

The Institute of Urban and Rural Economic Development in the Ministry of Construction has conducted a detailed study of the characteristics and problems of the transient population in large cities (Li and Hu, 1991). They found that there was a rapid increase in the transient population in large cities. The duration of stay of the transient population has increased. Most of them came to work in the cities, either self-employed or employed in the building and retailing sectors. Most of them came from villages and were mainly males with a low educational background. The existence of the transient population results from the household registration system not being effective in restricting non-registered people in a city under economic reform. Non-registered people can bypass household registration by getting their daily necessities from the free market. The presence of the transient population is alarming in some of the large cities. They have increased the crime rate and overloaded transport, infrastructure, and housing in the city. As social facilities are based mainly on permanent residents, the existence of a temporary population also creates great pressure on social facilities, transport, and housing.

Urban land use and development control

In the past, the internal structure of Chinese cities was strongly influenced by urban planning and state investment. However, these are of diminishing importance when more and more firms and factories are owned by individual enterprises and foreign investment.

The permission for foreign investors to use land and to participate in the property market has rapidly changed the internal structure of Chinese cities (Yeh and Wu, forthcoming). Foreign investors were allowed to use land for a leased period in the Special Economic Zones by paying annual land-use fees as early as 1981, soon after SEZs were established (Yeh, 1985). The adoption of the paid transfer of land-use rights (tudi youchang zhuanrang) in the First Session of the Seventh People's Congress in 1987, which is similar to leasing land to developers, has further opened up the urban property market to foreign investors. Their participation in land leasing and urban land transactions has given rise to new forms of foreign investment in China. Their investments have led to rapid urban renewal in the old urban districts of the cities.

Although a City Planning Act was enacted in December 1989, it was not effective in controlling land development. It mainly required the city government to prepare a master plan, but the provisions are too broad to control site-specific development, leaving too much discretionary decision-making to the building administration and local district governments. Disputes may occur between the applicant for land development and the authority that grants planning permissions. It is difficult to reject a building application on the basis of the existing land-use zones because they are too broad. The actual location, type, and intensity of development may not be what the planners intend to achieve in the master and detailed plans. For example, a site zoned for public building may be used to build tall office buildings, irrespective of whether or not it is a suitable site for office building and whether or not there is a need for cultural and recreational building in the neighbourhood. In the past, most offices, shops, and commercial activities were owned and operated by government departments. All non-residential and non-industrial land was considered to be public building land. This is different from the concept of public building land in the Western free market economy. Most of the land that is considered to be "public land" in China would be regarded as office and commercial land in other countries. Because of increasing private and foreign investment in the cities, land zoned for public buildings may no longer be under the control of the city government. Land zoned for public buildings may be developed into commercial offices and hotels for higher profits by government departments and state enterprises, which intend to make more money, leaving inadequate amounts of land for other public building to meet the demand of the community for sports, cultural, and recreational facilities.

The existing land-use zones are also too general. It is not possible to make sure that certain types of land will be available in the right locations or available at all. For example, land zoned for public building may be used to build offices and hotels, regardless of whether or not they are in the right location. This is why office buildings and hotels seem to be erected at random in the cities. If all public building land is developed into offices, there will not be any land left for public buildings for sports, culture, and recreation.

A new form of land development control is needed to cope with these developments. Shanghai and other cities are now experimenting with the introduction of zoning regulations to control the type and intensity of land use in the city. It is hoped that the objectives of the master and district plans can be better achieved and that there will be less dispute over the type and intensity of development in the planning permit application process. The building administration and local district governments will have less discretion over the type and development intensity of a site. It is hoped that orderly and efficient land development can be achieved, avoiding incompatible land use in wrong locations.

Urban transport

Another major urban problem that has surfaced under the open policy is urban transport. The problem manifests itself in a number of ways, notably inadequate infrastructural development, a rapid increase in motor vehicles, and conflicts over urban land use and between public and private transport.

Take the case of Guangzhou as an example (Yeh and Leung, 1991). Between 1949 and 1986, the city's road length increased from 228 km to 474 km, or by more than 200 per cent, whereas road space expanded from 1.85 million m2 to 5.37 million m2, or by nearly 300 per cent. However, between 1949 and 1988, Guangzhou's bicycles and motor vehicles increased over 80-fold to 1.9 million and 0.158 million, respectively, and passenger travel volume by 27 times to 1.1 billion trips per day. Moreover, whereas the growth rate in vehicles was around 10-12 per cent per annum in the 1970s, it increased to 22 per cent per annum in the 1980s. As the city expanded, and new areas of development such as the Tienhe and Huangpu districts were established, conflicts over land use and traffic arose between old and new city districts. To put it simply, the (old) central city is densely populated and developed, whereas the new districts are more spacious and are at some distance from the central city. This generates uneven cross-traffic, sharp peak hour demands, and increasing commuting or journey distances and time. All of these make the provision of efficient public transport in socialist China not an easy task.

The worsening situation of passenger transport can be attributed to the failure to resolve conflicts between public and private transport. In China, the bicycle may be regarded as a form of private transport, given its functions and characteristics. Yet it is a mode that has been nationally subsidized and heavily interwoven into the social fabric. In Guangzhou, passenger trips are classified as motorized (32.02 per cent), bicycle (29.95 per cent), and walking (38.03 per cent). Passenger trips made by bus and trolley bus account for only 21.63 per cent, or roughly two-thirds of motorized trips and 72 per cent of the bicycle trips daily. Thus the more efficient motorized modes are not being fully utilized or developed, and the significant role of the bicycle poses problems of efficiency, safety, transport planning, and traffic management. Increasingly, the modern private transport mode in the form of motor cycles and private cars is being introduced and further complicates the issue.

Traffic congestion is getting worse in the cities. There is an increase in commuting because of the wider spread of land use and people no longer live next to their workplaces. However, the transport system is not growing fast enough to cope with the increase in passengers and motor vehicles. There is inadequate provision of roads, together with a shortage of traffic control systems and facilities.

Environmental pollution

Environmental degradation is an increasingly serious problem in China. Although the Environmental Protection Act was initially adopted on a trial basis as early as 1979 and finally adopted in 1989, it was not effectively implemented, particularly in small cities and towns. Environmental pollution is better controlled in cities than in towns. Many rural enterprises discharge water without any treatment (Chang and Kwok, 1990). Air pollution is also increasingly severe.

In the Pearl River Delta, one of the fastest-growing regions in China since 1978, the threat to the environment comes not from the major cities in the region but from the rapidly growing small cities and towns (Yeh et al., 1989). Despite the increase in population in Guangzhou in the first five years of the 1980s, the water quality of the section of the Pearl River downstream of Guangzhou showed only a very minor deterioration trend (Huang et al., 1988) because the increase in domestic sewage was offset by a reduction, by as much as 23 per cent, in the discharge of industrial effluents during the same period as a result of tightening environmental control measures in Guangzhou. Industries in Guangzhou were growing at a rate of 12 per cent per annum in this period, but environmental control measures were able to reduce the amount of industrial effluent per industrial production unit by 16 per cent in these five years.

Environmental control is much more relaxed outside the major cities of the Pearl River Delta. The main threat comes from industrial development in small and medium-sized cities and towns and from rural industrialization (Ma and Qiang, 1988). In the eyes of industrialists, one of the attractions of the small and medium-sized cities and towns is their less stringent environmental control measures. Hong Kong and Macau are the major sources of foreign investment in the Pearl River Delta. Some of their polluting industries, such as tannery and dyeing, which are becoming increasingly costly to operate because of tightening environmental controls, have been moved to the Pearl River Delta. Some industrial enterprises in Guangzhou have also moved to the countryside for similar reasons. Rapid industrial development in the small cities and towns has produced a large amount of industrial waste, creating problems that are often beyond the capacity of the local authorities to handle. This has resulted in unabated pollution in many areas, rendering prime agricultural land less productive and causing oxygen depletion and eutrophication in receiving water bodies and subsequent contamination and reduced production of aquatic products (Shen, 1983).