Thursday, February 03, 2011

China Mega-City of 42 Million People

Guangdong Province in southern China is the manufacturing heartland of the nation, perhaps like the Chicago-Detroit-Cleveland hub of the United States a few decades ago. China wants to consolidate 9 cities in Guangdong, including the capitol, and merge them into one large mega-city of 42 million people.

When I did an exchange in China last April, I lived in Guangzhou (the capitol) for a month and had the opportunity one weekend to travel to Hong Kong, which is just south of and not included in this proposed mega-city (since Hong Kong is its own special administrative region and not really included in China proper).

The interesting thing about this plan is that this area is already a mega-city. Its not like China is trying to play semantics here for bragging rights. Guangzhou is only about 100 miles from Hong Kong. Furthermore, on the drive (by bus) from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, we passed through the bulk of this proposed mega-city. Between Guangzhou and Shenzen, for example, it's not like we were driving through empty fields and farmland. It was all highly populated. It wasn't as dense as the cities proper, but it was every bit as dense as the bulk of Indianapolis is.

Apparently the impetus to consolidate is to streamline all of the public infrastructure servicing the cities. Under one authority, it is more efficient to organize rail and transit, for example. I am a big fan of China, but I am not as bullish on China as some people in the United States are. Sure, the Chinese economy is going to overtake ours, and relatively soon, but I still think their challenges going forward are larger than a lot of people suggest. That being said, for people who are terrified of China's rise, this is another example of how they are getting a leg-up on us, by smart planning to make their cities and infrastructure more efficient.

There has been a lot of talk lately about how cities and states in the USA are going to all start going bankrupt. Maybe the low population density of American cities has something to do with it? Compare Indianapolis to Amsterdam, which both have about the same population, but Amsterdam is physically only 20% as large as Indy (and Amsterdam feels less crowded for some reason). Which city's infrastructure is more expensive to maintain? The two cities are so different in part to their historic development, but for the last 50 years in America we have guaranteed cheap gas and large abundant roads, whereas in the Netherlands they've taxed gasoline and built public transit with the money. Plus, they have awesome bike lanes which are often physically separated from the roads, leading to things like this: a packed bicycle parking garage next to the central train station.

I don't think it is ever too late to change our development model. The new buzz in Indianapolis is that one of the highways on the upper east side is constantly clogged because the suburb up there is booming. There is so much land in the city proper that is hardly being used, its just a shame these people aren't moving into those areas instead. It seems less efficient to build ever outward when we already aren't using what we have, but I understand schools are a big part of the problem.

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