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China’s Urban Sprawl

China's new urbanization plans

03·18·2014

Living in the city might not be all it’s cracked up to be. As China’s economy and modernization grows, so does it’s need for urbanization, but with urbanization comes many, many problems. Problems that are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The government just released plans to increase services and infrastructure to support the growing number of migrants in the cities. The number of permanent urban residents that make up the total population is set to grow from nearly 54 percent currently to over 60 percent by 2020. According to Reuters, “among the biggest obstacles to the planned relocation of several hundred million rural residents is the huge infrastructure development needed to accommodate the new wave of city dwellers as well as reform of the country’s “hukou” registration system.”

According to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, urbanization allows for sustainable and healthy economic growth. The country intends to grant 100 million migrant workers and other permanent city residents full urban status. Currently a large number of migrant workers are not eligible for public services and other simple benefits such as local education for their children. The government plans to remove some of the restrictions on obtaining a hukou (household registration permit) in small cities and towns by 2020, but they still hope to keep strict control over ever rising populations, especially movement between villages and cities.

In recent years the empty village phenomenon has caught the nation’s attention. The older generation are often left to tend their own land and look after the children that have been left behind as their parents (particularly the men) have left their villages to get jobs in the towns and cities. In these villages production levels are slowing due to the increasing number of women in the workforce; their productivity is usually lower than the men’s. Children have little or no parental guidance, and there is a rising social security problem as people’s income gradually decline.

In some areas it is even argues that local tradition, heritage, and culture is under threat. Regional dance, song and crafts are being forgotten as communities scatter into the big cities, and there is no longer the necessary knowledge to pass on the skills to the younger generation.

By moving to the cities,  migrant workers are often left vulnerable to exploitation and are generally offered low-paid and low-skilled jobs. There are frequent disputes over unpaid overtime or unpaid wages, which often leaves them without their benefits, as it is relatively easy for employers to discriminate against migrant workers. Migrant children often have to have better grades to get into universities and migrants may need higher results to get the same jobs and wages as someone people with urban household registrations. Those from rural backgrounds even have to put up with thoughtless snobbery, and it is often said that to call someone a farmer is one of the worst possible insults, as it represents people who are backward, lack education and are generally ignorant. All of which is a far cry from Mao’s era, when the peasant masses were praised for being the bedrock of the nation.

As recent RMB value depreciation continues, reaching a new five month low, fear of a slowing economy will only further drive the rural population into the cities. With urbanization comes an influx of money from the spending required to make the changes. In a move to not only improve standards of living but also the infrastructure and services available on the outskirts of modern cities, China is to set invest one trillion RMB in developing its shanty towns and surrounding areas, according to Bloomberg news. More than 4.75 million households will be involved in the redevelopment as China wants to increase small towns in size, so they become small or medium sized cities, all while increasing public facilities and improving infrastructure.

In comparison to developed countries, the percentage of urban residents is still relatively low, for example in the US the percentage is 82 percent, and for many other westernized countries it hovers around 80 percent.  In this regard China still has plenty of room to grow, for developing countries the figure is around 60 percent, whereas for China the figure is just above 53 percent. The higher the urbanization rate, the larger disposable incomes and rates of consumption, all of which improve rates of economic growth. China has spent years on mass demolitions and reconstruction across the entire country, and the development of city clusters has increased in recent years, where the government has joined cities with surrounding towns to create giant metropolitan centers.

China’s rising consumerism will only help to increase wealth and support plans for urbanization. Forbes recently posted figures that 79 percent of China’s citizens love or at least enjoy clothes shopping and less than 3 percent dislike it. Lots of shopping has now become incredibly luxury focused, with big western brands such as Burberry in high demand as peoples incomes increase and huge malls pop-up all over the big cities.  Consumerism aside, those that remain in the villages risk living in conditions that have not changed  in 40 years, where as those that do leave for the cities face intense pressure and discrimination. The rural poor in China, it seems, are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Check out China’s massive urban expansion in GIF’s

Image courtesy of Weibo Mickding 

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