The administration of Beijing chose to set a population threshold for its vertiginous growth in 2004. It wanted to limit its population to under 18 million until at least 2020. Well, we know how miserably that attempt failed. The city smashed that number as early as 2010, with its population standing at 21.2 million today. As Bloomberg reports:
“[The] trouble is, the metropolis remains a magnet. The population – 2.5 times New York’s – surged 53 per cent from 2000 to December 2013, the equivalent of adding all the residents of Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. Where it took the largest US city more than a century to double to its current size, Beijing did it in within 25 years.”
Beijing keeps attracting people from rural areas, lured by expectations of higher incomes, improved quality of life, and job opportunities. “Beijing is a victim of its own success,” said a demography professor at Peking University.
And a victim the city is. Beijing keeps struggling to cope with its long-lasting problems, such as shortage of water, smog, housing, and gridlock; the rapid growth of its population just threatens to exacerbate the issue.
As a result, local authorities are trying to limit migration to the capital. They have reportedly banned the sub-division of apartments, restricted the supply of low- cost housing, and set limits on services to those without a municipal residency permit. Some of the latest migrants reported having a hard time buying a car, an apartment, or even sending their children to Beijing’s schools.
A few scholars have criticized the local policy of turning people away, maintaining it simply won’t do, and some have hinted that Shanghai’s model is more efficient. Shanghai auctions car plates rather than giving them away in free lottery, and charges up to 15 RMB for its distance-based subway tickets. Tao Ran, director of the China Center for Public Economics and Governance at Renmin University in Beijing, is one of the scholars claiming Beijing needs to allocate its scarce resourced more efficiently. “If the government lets people take the initiative and follows market rules, problems will be solved,” he told Bloomberg.
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