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City planners enter uncharted waters
By Tian Xiuzhen (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-22 10:02

SHANGHAI: Aiming to build itself into a city which is pleasant to live and work in, the Shanghai municipal government has set itself a new round of urban planning.

The core issue in this second round of the city's urban planning, which started in 1999 and extends to 2020, is population in its downtown.

The city hopes to decrease the population in the downtown area from 9.7 million to 9 million. The population in its suburbs will increase from the current 6 million to around 9 million by 2020, according to Wu Jiang, deputy director general of the Municipal Urban Planning Administrative Bureau.

The task is obviously challenging, Wu said.

Downtown Shanghai, a 670-square-kilometre area within the Outer-ring Road, now houses about 9.7 million people.

An additional 2 million visitors every day brings the density to over 14,000 people per square kilometre - the highest in the country and three times that of capital Beijing and two times that of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province.

"Shanghai's downtown can be described as one of the most populated places in the world and the high density hinders the improvement in people's living conditions," said Zhu Dajian, professor at the School of Economics and Management of Tongji University.

According to international standards, reasonable density in a metropolis like Shanghai should be around 10,000 people per square kilometre.

The population density in Shanghai now equals that of Tokyo, is 1.5 times as many as New York and 3 times that of Paris.

According to the government's schedule, about 50,000 people are expected to move to the suburbs each year before 2010 and by 2020, the downtown population will be controlled to reach less than 9 million, which is thought by many experts to be a proper but hard-to-achieve number.

The relocation of some of the population will be accomplished by improving services in suburbs so the people will be willing to move there voluntarily, Wu Jiang said.

In the downtown area, the government will control tightly the land supply for the construction of highrise apartment buildings. It also plans to enlarge green space and public areas.

In the suburbs, Shanghai will build several complete satellite cities and towns of various sizes. Each town will have an obvious industrial function as well as comprehensive residential, medical, entertainment and educational facilities so that residents there can work and live as conveniently as they would downtown.

New cities and towns

Among the new suburbs, Songjiang District is growing as many universities open new campuses there. Meanwhile, the Shanghai No 1 Hospital has moved its inpatient department from downtown to this area.

A harbour city is being built in Luchaogang of Nanhui as a logistics centre to the under-construction Yangshan deep-water port.

Anting of Jiading District is promoting itself to the world as Shanghai's Detroit, as it combines automobile manufacturing, maintenance, research and development functions.

These new cities and towns are expected to accommodate between 300,000 to 800,000 people and residents there will enjoy over 15 square metres of green land per capita.

In addition, about 60 small towns with populations of more than 30,000 are also planned. About 3,000 communities in the suburbs will be built to replace existing farming villages.

To make it easier for commuters, Shanghai will develop rail tracks and by 2010. It will have over 400 kilometres with 11 lines in operation, carrying daily 6 million people - 35 per cent of the city's total passenger volume.

Currently, 1.3 million people commute daily by rail tracks in the city.

In the long run, the city will have 17 rail lines with a total length of 810 kilometres. With the support of such a well-constructed metro network, the trip from downtown to the suburbs will take within one hour and the trip between any two points inside the downtown area less than 45 minutes.

"People's living style will change a great deal as education, medical service and other public resources are spread out to facilitate the development of the suburbs," said Ren Yuan, professor in the Institute of Population Research with Fudan University.

Ren said Shanghai is trying to develop in a more scientific and efficient mode, trying to avoid mistakes other cities have made in their urban planning, with awkward transportation and low efficient city layout. And it is difficult to manage an urban crisis under such conditions, Ren said.

Ren reminded officials and scholars concerned that population is a dynamic concept. He predicted, in the long run, Shanghai will host a population of 30 million and the downtown population will continue to grow rapidly from now up to 22 million in 2020.

Ren's prediction has been backed up by a study launched by Jiaotong University, Fudan University and East China Normal University. The study shows that by the end of 2020, the maximum population in the city should be between 29 million and 30 million.

After 2020, the downtown population is expected to drop gradually as the second industries, such as labour-intensive manufacturing, will be relocated to other provinces and the rail tracks will effectively scatter the population to a much larger area, Ren said.


Based on the study some scholars say the population distribution goal the government has set up for 2010 and 2020 is impractical. Peng Xizhe, professor and director of the Institute of Population Research with Fudan University, contributed the reasons for the unwanted increase to the strong housing demand, convenient transportation, adequate commercial facilities, hospitals and schools in the downtown area.

"It is easy to live downtown. 'Why should we take the trouble to move out?' is the consensus for those who have apartments there. Additionally, living here is a symbol of wealth and dignity," he said.

The Shanghai Municipal People's Political Consultative Conference has newly concluded research analyzing major contradictions and problems in managing downtown population and putting forward suggestions on implementation measures.

The research showed that though the city government has been moving to spread the populations from the downtown area outwards to the suburbs, the total downtown population is still growing rapidly.

Data showed that the downtown population in 2003 increased by about 640,000 since 2000. The number in the suburbs increased by 584,000. The majority of the increase resulted from migrants moving in from other parts of the country.

"Without effective measures to manage, more people will flow in, especially to the area between the Outer-ring Road and the Inner-ring Road," said the research report.

The total population of the city will keep on growing rapidly as around 600,000 Shanghai natives who went to the countryside in other areas of the country in their youth during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), will move back to the city.

Thanks to the advantageous position of Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta in the country's economy and opening-up reforms, more people, including foreigners, will continue to choose Shanghai as their destination for both living and working.

"The population density will remain if the government continues to focus on improving the downtown transportation or building more parking places," Peng said.

The city's 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05) has clearly stated to shift the emphasis of urban construction from downtown to the suburbs and has created conditions for the residents and industries in the downtown area to move into suburbs. However, the successful bidding for the World Expo to be held in 2010, pushes the city to enhance its downtown renovation and construction.

"It becomes even harder to move people out," Peng added. "The government should ponder seriously over the issue and work out down-to-earth solutions, or readjust the goal."

"There is no inevitable relationship between a big population and a city's problems if there is reasonable urban planning and administration," said Tang Zilai, a professor at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University.

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