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Do cities need a capacity to accommodate 3.3b people?
By Ng Ting Ting (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2005-07-18 17:31

Believe it or not, Chinese cities have the capacity of accommodating 3.3 billion people, at least their urban plans so tell.

According to urban plans submitted to and approved by the State Council, the cities are supposed to serve a population of 3.3 billion, a figure far beyond China's total population, 1.3 billion, urban and rural people combined. This means their capacity could not be met even after 100 years, or maybe never, and a colossal amount of precious farmland has to be sacrificed for urban expansion.

China Financial and Economic News, in report published on Monday, vividly coined a vivid phrase to describe this phenomenon - "a huge shoe for a small foot." The most direct consequence of this phenomenon is too much land occupied for urban infrastructure construction and too little land for farmers to toil.

Instead, China needs more farmlands to feed its population.

"The farmland in China is vanishing rapidly, at a pace of up to 10 mu (a hectare equals 15 mu) every year," said Lu Xinshe, vice minister of Land and Resources.

In the last 20 years, 140 million farmers had lost their land. Apart from ecological reason, farming structural rearrangement and natural disasters, the main reason of the rapid decrease of farmland lies in the growth of non-farming spaces, or land for urban construction.

Some cities are demonstrating their voracious appetite for land in the process of rapid urbanization, regardless of the practical use of land, which leads to the trend of the mismatch between the reality and the city planning. The mismatch also raises a lot of problems, including insufficient involvement in public infrastructure, low efficiency of land use, high unemployment rate and the lack of protection for the living of farmers who lost their land.

Moreover, the government cannot afford the huge resources required for the rapid expansion, which is more than what the cities really need. Big malls, wide roads and garden-styled industrial buildings planned in cities have only 10 percent of practical use, which means that urbanization has already gone too far beyond the pace of industrialization and economy.

The per-capita average of farmland in China is one mu, which is only one-fourth of the world average and ranks the 67th in the world. Among all the 2,800 counties in China, the per-capita average of farmland in 666 counties is lower than the United Nation's warning limit of 0.8 mu, and in 463 of them, it is even below 0.5 mu.

Supposed there is no further decrease in the amount of farmland, China's total amount of farmland, 1.34 billion mu, is able to support 1.4 billion to 1.5 billion people naturally.

The report cited two main reasons for the wrong planning.

First, some municipal governments do whatever they like regardless of the regulations set by the central government. They interpret the policies in the way that suits their own land-use planning.

Second, many plans are too shortsighted. Many municipal leaders aimed to get political achievement within a short time, so they would focus on acquiring land from farmers and selling it to industrial or property development. However, the amount of state-owned land in cities is limited.

Some cities, in order to create a better investment environment and attract resources (especially high-technological industries), artificially sold land at a lower price. Under this mentality, some local governments tended to offer less compensation to farmers who lost their farmland, harming farmers' interests.

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