21 June 2013

China's Big Bet to Move 250 Million People into Cities

Here's the plan. China wants to move 250,000,000 people out of its rural areas and into cities within the next 15 years.

There are 316 million people in the United States. China's plan is to move nearly as many people as the world's third most populous country.

To do so, China is undertaking a massive construction effort to expand, improve and build new urban centers. Reporting from the New York Times reveals that the effort to transform the country has the potential to rapidly propel China or saddle it with long term and harmful problems.

This will decisively change the character of China, where the Communist Party insisted for decades that most peasants, even those working in cities, remain tied to their tiny plots of land to ensure political and economic stability. Now, the party has shifted priorities, mainly to find a new source of growth for a slowing economy that depends increasingly on a consuming class of city dwellers. 
The shift is occurring so quickly, and the potential costs are so high, that some fear rural China is once again the site of radical social engineering. Over the past decades, the Communist Party has flip-flopped on peasants’ rights to use land: giving small plots to farm during 1950s land reform, collectivizing a few years later, restoring rights at the start of the reform era and now trying to obliterate small landholders.
VICE recently reported on what it calls China's ghost cities. Correspondent Ryan Duffy traveled to Songjiang to see a British copycat city. There are other European-based tows planned for development. The problem is that there are no people living there. The only people they see on the trip are recently married couples taking pictures in the setting. Expensive prices and the fact that nobody lives there keeps many away. The report shows the potential problems with centrally planned development programs like the construction of entire cities. Landesa, the Seattle-based land rights NGO, took a look at the impacts of China's rapid development. They found that the Chinese government is increasingly taking land away from its citizens.
The costs of this top-down approach can be steep. In one survey by Landesa in 2011, 43 percent of Chinese villagers said government officials had taken or tried to take their land. That is up from 29 percent in a 2008 survey.
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