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OECD Urban Policy Reviews: China 2015

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China needs a new model of urbanisation to match the shift to a new model of growth. For decades, both urbanisation and growth have been based on robust export demand, cheap labour, cheap land and artificially low pricing of environmental externalities. None of these can support growth or urban development in the future. This review examines the major challenges associated with the shift to a new model of urbanisation, looking at a range such issues as social and labour-market policies, land use and transport planning, urban planning, urban governance and public finance. The review presents a new assessment of China’s major cities, which defines functional urban areas based on settlement patterns and commuting zones rather than cities defined as administrative units. The results show, among other things, that China has many more mega-cities, with populations above 10 million, than the official data suggest. The good news for China is that the reforms needed to foster what the authorities call “people-centred urbanisation”, while complex, are coherent with one another and supportive of the broader shift to a growth model that relies more on domestic demand and productivity growth.

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Foreword and acknowledgements

Urban issues are increasingly prominent on national policy agendas in developed and emerging economies alike. Across OECD member countries, these policies encompass plans to solve traditional urban problems and to address newer issues such as urban competitiveness, city marketing, environmental sustainability and innovation. In much of the non-OECD world, governments are working to manage urbanisation processes that are unprecedented in speed and scale, confronting many of the same problems as OECD members but in a far more dynamic economic and social context. This dynamism, in turn, entails both challenges and opportunities: managing fast-growing cities can be harder than coping with stable ones, but it also offers more chances to innovate and, in many cases, avoid mistakes made in countries that urbanised much earlier – such as lock-in to a car-dependent urban form.

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