Friday, August 4, 2017 - 14:30
The construction of a megalopolis that would combine nearly 130 million people into a concentrated urban area in northern China is well underway. This colossal undertaking has been dubbed the Jing-Jin-Ji project, a portmanteau of its proposed connected cities, Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei. The rationale behind this megaregion is to increase infrastructural and economic interdependence of regions within close proximity, thus improving ease of administration and fostering economic development.
The Chinese government demonstrated their ideological and financial commitment to this project last November, when they approved a staggering $36 billion (247 billion yuan) deal to construct a new railway system linking Beijing to its neighboring cities. The plan would create nine new lines interlinking Beijing, Tianjin, and northern Hebei before 2020. This configuration mirrors that of the 80 million person Yangtze River Delta megaregion centered around Shanghai that has recently emerged as a significant contributor to the country’s economy.
Urbanization in China has a complicated history that is inextricable from Chinese politics. It experienced considerable growth in the 1950s during the Great Leap Forward when industrialization was championed and birth rates climbed; however, in the 1960s and 1970s, nearly 17 million youth were sent to live in rural villages in a process called “rustication” as a result of their perceived non-compliance with the Cultural Revolution. Following the relative political stability that emerged beginning in the 1980s, urbanization enjoyed an overall increase. In recent years, with China’s population reaching almost 1.4 billion, the need for urbanization has grown rapidly.
Are these megacities the solution to China’s ever-growing population? The answer poses a troubling paradox to urban planners, economists, ecologists, and citizens alike. With Beijing’s infamous pollution issue already alarming, environmentalists raise concern over the ecological crisis created by such a megalopolis. Moreover, despite the undeniable economic benefits for citizens who do chose to urbanize, in the form of better access to education and healthcare and more disposable income, the macro effects a megalopolis would generate would increase the socioeconomic disparity between urban versus rural and coastal versus interior regions. How Beijing will overcome these obstacles remains to be seen.
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