China's Cities

One neighborhood in Shenzhen… [JesseWarren / Flickr]

…another neighborhood in Shenzhen [JesseWarren / Flickr]

Our show on internal Chinese migration made it clear that millions of workers moving from farms to city factories are changing urban China at an almost unimaginable pace:

Shenzhen…was farmland basically in the 60s and 70s, and it was deliberately left undeveloped because the Chinese government under the Communists, the Mao Zedong years, was afraid of contamination from Hong Kong (Hong Kong was a British colony, it was an outpost of capitalism)…And then suddenly, after Deng Xiaoping began to institute changes in 1978, this city became the exact opposite. They had named it a window to the outside world, and they decided…this is where we’re going to invite outsiders to come and invest and hopefully build a private economy. And so that sort of change is something that just happened within the span of a couple of decades, but it’s a monumental shift in outlook, and of course the city boomed after that.

Peter Hessler on Open Source, 9 May 2006

Shenzhen is one of China’s “overnight cities” that seem to have materialized out of thin air; but ancient cities like Beijing are also developing and changing at a rate the West has never experienced:

Beijing homecomings were jarring: a month-long journey could make me feel like Rip Van Winkle. New districts were constantly springing up throughout the capital, replacing old sections that were demolished one by one…The pace of development was so intense that speed was always the first priority, and most new buildings were completely undistinguished: quickly designed, cheaply built, badly finished. They looked temporary, like awkward new neighbors who don’t fit in and probably won’t stay for long.

Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present

So we’ve been wondering: what does this explosive change mean for urban planning and public infrastructure? How do you design (or adapt) a city to absorb massive, rapid population growth? How are social relations shifting in Chinese cities? What’s happening to city centers as vast numbers of residents flee to new suburbs? What are the environmental effects of new factories and skyrocketing demand for resources like water and electricity?

Help us think this through.

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