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Scientists seek keys to urban development
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Social scientists from around the world are looking to the rapid development of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) for answers to challenges from urban landscapes sweeping across developing countries.

The phenomenon of "urban villages", usually recognized as dirty and disorderly areas in a metropolis due to irrational urban development, holds enormous potential, the scientists said.

Such urban sprawl in the PRD should be developed into commercial centers or made into a variety of complementary landscapes, they suggested.

The social scientists are part of a group of 90 participants in a six-year research program on megacities, which have populations exceeding 1 million.

The program, which started two years ago and supported by the German Research foundation, includes scientists from places such as Hong Kong, Germany and Bangladesh.

The researchers picked the PRD and Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to study the informal dynamics of global change in the two regions.

"The PRD is one of the regions in the world with the fastest development. Bangladesh is a country seeing rapid population growth and loose government regulation," Frauke Fraas, a geography professor at the University of Cologne in Germany, who is also a coordinator of the program, told China Daily.

"We want to compare the two countries."

Six groups of researchers are staying in the PRD to do their research, while a further three groups are staying in Dhaka.

Megacities are being seen as a result of globalization and have, up until now, been largely unregulated and informal in their development.

But any accompanying urban village, in Guangzhou or other cities of the PRD, should be tapped for development in several ways, Li Yongning, a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said.

"Liede Village is a good example," Li said, citing one of the largest urban villages in Guangzhou.

There are plans to build a commercial center combining shopping malls, hotels, commercial mansions and high-class residential buildings in the Liede area.

Another way is to preserve part of an urban village's old structures while accommodating new buildings, Li said.

Apart from researching urban villages, the groups are also investigating migrant workers in the PRD.

Li Yongning, the leader of the research group studying the issue, said migrant workers now possess higher educational backgrounds and are more skilled than their predecessors in the 1980s and 90s.

As a result, these laborers earn higher incomes and contribute to increasing labor costs, he said.

He said he sees the country being forced to innovate within the next decade, as the economy moves away from a manufacturing-based one fueled by low-cost labor.

(China Daily November 20, 2007)

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