Imagine a single metropolis of 130 million people. The Chinese are building it. It is called Jing-Jin-Ji and encompasses the current mega-cities of Beijing, Tianjin, and the more rural Hebei Province that sits in between.
It is the brainchild of President Xi Jinping and his urban and economic planners who view the supercity as the future of economic reform and environmental protection.
The key is collaboration where there has previously been little. As noted before, China is not the economic or political monolith that most Westerners perceive. It is a tapestry of cities, regions, and provinces that have operated largely independently and perpetuated income inequities through the strict residency controls of China’s Hukou system first established in 1958.
That is why when you cross the line between Beijing and Hebei Province today, as I do every day, you feel like you have stepped back in time. The glass high rises of the capital give way to the brick warrens of traditional Chinese villages. The people are poorer – much poorer – and the sanitation and general appearance of the people and the place is a stark reminder that in many ways China is still very much a developing country.
Unlike the mega-cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, Jing-Jin-Ji (“Jing” for Beijing, “Jin” for Tianjin, and “Ji,” the traditional name for Hebei Province, home to smaller cities like Langfang and Baoding.) this city will not emerge organically. It will be a planned city at every level; all built around a strategically designed network of high speed rail lines.
And therein lies the key to its success. In the past urban planners generally agreed that cities could be no larger than the equivalent of a one-hour drive by car. But mass transit capable of moving commuters at speeds in excess of 300 km per hour changes the math dramatically.
Enabled by that enormous increase in commutable reach, Jing-Jin-Ji will be spread over 82,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Kansas. It will, however, hold a population larger than a third of the population of the United States and twice the population of France.
To relieve its own traffic and environmental congestion, Beijing will shed itself of all businesses and government bureaucracy non-essential to the fulfillment of its civil role as the capital of China. Even hospitals will be moved.
There are, of course, hurdles to overcome. How, for example, will tax revenues be distributed between areas that today do not share such income?
It is, nonetheless, an ingenious concept that probably wouldn’t be possible in any other country on earth. In the United States it would surely be wrapped up in the courts for decades.
It shows just how holistic the Chinese are in their thinking. They know that without more equitable income distribution there will eventually be social unrest. But they can’t just dismantle the Hukou system or cities like Beijing will be literally crushed by the inflow of people looking for higher incomes and a better way or life. So instead of eliminating the system they will expand its footprint, but do so in a way that minimizes the environmental impact of such high population density.
And, of course, the transformation itself will provide plenty of jobs during the economically challenging years of China’s pivot away from an industrial export economy to a service-led consumption economy.
Circular thinking, perhaps, but an inductively reasoned solution that achieves the desired and most likely deductively-insurmountable goal.
View the author’s literary work written under the pen name of Avam Hale. Both books are available at Amazon and most major online retailers in both electronic and print formats.
Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China
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