Metropolitan areas critical to urban development: expert

By Zhang Jiaqi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 11, 2019
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Zhou Muzhi, head of Cloud River Urban Research Institute. [Photo courtesy of Zhou Muzhi]

As early as 20 years ago, Zhou Muzhi put forward the concept of megalopolises and suggested China's policymakers to develop megalopolises; now, China nailed down its policy of developing metropolitan areas, the urban development expert continues to contribute his thoughts and research outputs to the country's development. 

The growth of cities is about improving the quality of urban development and people's livelihood, in which the policy of building metropolitan areas is one of the most important policies and aims to promote high-quality development, Zhou said at a meeting with the media in Beijing on April 8. 

According to the guidelines released by China's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), on Feb. 21 this year, China aims to build several metropolitan areas with global influence by 2035. 

Developing metropolitan areas will help improve demographics and economic structures, and stimulate effective investment and potential consumption demands, leading to economic expansion, the guidelines said. 

Rapid urbanization and changing requirements 

In 2001, Zhou carried out a large-scale international research in collaboration with the NDRC. From the findings, Zhou suggested that China should develop large megalopolises. He also successfully predicted China's three megalopolises today, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, the Yangtze River Delta Region, and the Pearl River Delta Region. 

Over the years, the professor of economics at Tokyo Keizai University engaged in the redevelopment plan of Tokyo Bay Area, the largest bay area in the world. Moreover, he also frequently commuted between China and Japan, which helped him better understand the urban development of the two countries. 

According to Zhou, China, like Japan, has seen a massive increase in exports and rapid urbanization. 

After China's WTO entry, the country witnessed the rapid development of exports and accelerated urbanization. Over the 16 years since the millennium, China has made some urban development achievements but saw drawbacks along the way, Zhou said. 

Data he provided show that between 2000 and 2016, China witnessed its GDP increase by 3.3 times, population increase by 10%, and urban area up by 1.8 times. But over the same period, China's population in densely inhabited districts or DID (with a population density of more than 5,000 people per square kilometer) increased by only 20%. As an index that depicts China centralized and clustered urban development, its figures "grew at a relatively slow pace" according to Zhou. 

Besides viewing China's urban development as a whole, Zhou also analyzed China's urban development from the perspective of different cities. 

Zhou is also the head of an international think tank called Cloud River Urban Research Institute. Zhou and his team at the institute have issued the annual China Integrated City Index together with the NDRC for three consecutive years since 2016. The indexes assess 298 Chinese cities above the prefecture level based on three main dimensions-society, economy, and environment, then rank them based on the analysis of vast amounts of original data, including satellite remote sensing data, for the purpose of comprehensively assessing their quality and sustainability of development as well as exploring the future of urbanization in China. 

Based on the 2018 index report, the top 30 Chinese cities on the manufacturing list contributed nearly 75% of China's export value of goods. However, many cities that appeared on the manufacturing list didn't make it into the IT list. 

Going further to explore factors affecting the influential level of the industries, Zhou found that container port in transportation, export and import of goods, and inbound tourists in exchanges and communication, as well as technology and financial services in amenity, are factors most relevant to a prosperous manufacturing sector; in comparison, airport in transportation, IT conferences in exchanges and communication, as well as accommodation and entertainment are factors most relevant to a prosperous IT sector. 

Zhou highlighted that as the world welcomes the knowledge economy, the conditions required for a city to prosper have changed with time. 

"Under the new requirements, cities and metropolitan areas should rethink how to keep up with the trends and even be in the lead," he said. 

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