Shop Digital Version Subscribe to the Print Edition TWOC TV

More City Clusters to Come

Entire regions hope to be urbanized, but problems remain for urbanizing the population


As China strives to urbanize beyond its existing metropolitan cities, the nation is trying to solve its urbanization issues via developing metropolitan areas. Through the development of city clusters, existing larger cities, their near-by smaller cities, and the underdeveloped lands in between, would congregate, transforming entire areas into urban regions with urban populations. The plan, Global Times reports, is to build two new ones:

“The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top economic planner, is considering adding two more national-level city clusters in the country’s urbanization blueprint…

Cities in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and Southwest China’s Chongqing-Chengdu area are most likely to be the new national-level city clusters, the report quoted Liu Hua, chief economist with Nanchang Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, as saying.

Liu said four capital cities along the Yangtze River – Wuhan, Changsha, Hefei and Nanchang – are lobbying central government authorities about forming a national-level city cluster, with the aim of gaining increased policy support.”

The three existing national-level city clusters, the Bohai Economic Rim, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, have seen tremendous GDP growth. Their successful numbers provide incentives for plans of building new ones, but Ni Pengfei from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences tells Global Times of his worries:

“Developing city clusters could relieve problems such as traffic congestion and pollution and increase the competitiveness of the region…

But the formation of city clusters should be decided by market forces rather than administrative orders.”

Government leaders do recognize the complexities regarding developing city clusters. Recently, the government delayed a meeting on national urbanization development, which involved upgrading the three existing city clusters by 2020 so they will be more internationally competitive. Government leaders wish for inherent problems to be addressed and countered, China Daily‘s sources claim:

“…top government leaders are not satisfied with the plan because it did not have any detailed measures for specific areas, an insider said.

‘The existing agricultural and urbanization policies failed to facilitate the urbanization of a large population, which the medium to long-term plan is expected to solve, otherwise it is incapable of pushing economic development and may even intensify social conflicts,’ an anonymous government source said.”

The article goes on to say that the state has called for a plan on “new-type urbanization”, which would urbanize the population rather than just land only.

In Nicholas Borst‘s research, he makes the distinction between de facto and official urban populations, whose growth is demonstrated in the graph below:



Borst points out that the discrepancy between the numbers for the urban populace and urban hukou populace is attributed to migrant workers, and that:

“To put it simply, for migrant workers, economic growth drives urbanization, not the other way around. Were growth to slow down precipitously, many would leave urban areas and return to the countryside…

Even for rural residents added to urban areas through reclassification, the change is not always positive. For many, reclassification corresponds with a property developer seizing their land and offering paltry compensation in return.” 

Migrant workers from less developed cities and rural areas continue to pose overcrowding problems for metropolises, while state-led city building has brought about the phenomenon of ‘ghost towns‘ and ‘ghost cities‘. Even though the China Daily’s government contacts realize the importance of transforming the population, the issues maybe much more difficult to solved. Income disparity, levels of education, and other aspects of social stratification will also need to be alleviated to achieve urbanization of an entire area.

Image courtesy of Reuters, by Aly Song.  


In the process of developing city clusters, subways are being constructed in various cities.

Follow us

Subscribe to out newsletter