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Right urbanization path

Updated: 2013-08-27 06:57
(China Daily)

What kind of urbanization is needed to make the country's economic growth sustainable and its social progress healthy? There may be different ways of interpreting the central authorities' urbanization strategy, but it is definitely wrong to interpret it as sheer expansion of the size of a city or the creation of new cities.

Yet it is obvious that is how a number of local departments have chosen to interpret the central government's urbanization drive. A survey of 12 provinces conducted by a department of the National Development and Reform Commission shows that the 12 provincial capitals will each create 4.6 new urban districts on average. The 144 prefecture level cities surveyed will each build 1.5 new urban districts on average.

A typical example is the city of Yan'an in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, which plans to open up an area of 78.5 square kilometers in the mountains to create a new city.

While it may be necessary for some cities to expand to accommodate their growing populations, the reality is that some local governments expand the size of their cities simply so they can sell land to boost their revenues. Their mentality is that once roads and other infrastructure are constructed, the land prices will go up and investors will come.

Yet, such a development approach is risky for both local and national development.

Urban area expansion will certainly occupy arable land, which poses a threat to agricultural production in the world's most populous nation. The total area of arable land has already shrunk from 130 million hectares in 1997 to 120 million hectares in 2011. If the rapid decrease of arable land continues unchecked, it will be detrimental to the country's food security in the long run.

Another factor to consider is the acquisition of farmland may cause conflicts between local governments and rural villagers, which could pose a threat to social stability.

The expansion of urban areas will also cause damage to local ecologies, which might threaten people's livelihoods.

Urbanization needs to be a well-thought-out process, which requires research and planning. Any deviation from the right path will likely compromise the quality of urbanization and even lead it astray.