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Raining on cities' GDP parades

By Gao zhuyuan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-07 09:20

When I was a little kid, my friends and I enjoyed rainy days and the subsequent water fights immensely; we'd sing the Cantonese nursery rhyme Big Rain while wading through flooded streets on our way home from school. However, such scenes of heavy rain and street flooding are no longer just part of the Lingnan culture in Guangdong province and nearby regions such as Hong Kong and Macao.

Last year torrential rain and floods wreaked havoc in Beijing, claiming more than 70 lives and causing billions of yuan in economic losses.

This year, Wuhan in Central China was hit by rainstorm-triggered floods in July that led to the provincial capital being dubbed the Oriental Venice. Hard on the heels of that, half of Chengdu was inundated by storm water runoff.

Photos of waterlogged cities are now popular online, as Chinese netizens playfully invite visitors to admire the "sea views" in flooded inland cities.

Global climate change, of course, has to take the blame for such scenes. But there is also another culprit, namely the neglect in urban planning that has resulted in the underdevelopment of crucial infrastructure and the rapid loss of "natural sponges" such as wetlands.

Urban sprawls have rapidly encroached on the countryside in the past decade, as local policymakers have developed an obsession with building brand new urban districts or erecting landmark buildings. Compared with the infrastructure boom above the ground, sub-surface infrastructure development continues to be out of step with the urbanization process.

For example, despite concerns about eventually building a "ghost town", the Lanzhou government and businesses planned to invest 22 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) to build a new urban area on the outskirts of the northwestern provincial capital, until the provincial environmental watchdog suspended the project in April. To many, the Lanzhou initiative was indicative of local governments' notorious obsession with expensive urban development programs aimed at stimulating GDP growth and bolstering property development in order to boost their fiscal revenues.

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