Smaller cities, better life

By Yang Xuedong
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, June 7, 2010
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There are conflicting views on urbanization in China. Some say the government should develop mega cities that offer all the comforts of modern life. But others say smaller cities are the way forward.

We should bear in mind that not every small city can develop into a big city. Many local governments would like to turn their cities into metropolises on the lines of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. But in most cases these are pipedreams.

I come from a smaller city, so am instinctively averse to mega-cities. Although I am living and working in Beijing, I feel like a stranger. I miss the warmth of my hometown. But I know that back there the streets are covered with litter and the markets full of fake products, so I value the relatively ordered life in Beijing.

I often go to smaller Chinese cities on business. It often seems to me that local governments take Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, or even New York as models. They are all busy knocking down old streets and building gleaming city centers that ape the mega cities but with absolutely no character. When I see these soulless developments I feel nothing but sorrow and helplessness.

People associate bigger cities with the affluent lifestyles of Tokyo and New York and think they have to live in a mega-city to have a better life. But we need to remember there is no common yardstick applicable to all cities.

If public services and city administration were upgraded in smaller cities, people there could live just as well as in Beijing or Shanghai. Of course, local people need to develop more respect for their fellow citizens. And governments need to develop a freer atmosphere that opens up opportunities for people.

Most of China's smaller cities are not up to these standards yet, and this helps explain people's preference for larger cities.

But, in the end, quality of life is not determined by the size of a city. People should be given the chance to live a better life in smaller cities too.

(This post was first published in Chinese on June 1, 2010 and translated by Wang Mengru.)


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