Planning the Chinese City: Governance and Development in the Midst of Transition

By Wu, Fulong; Zhang, Fangzhu | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Planning the Chinese City: Governance and Development in the Midst of Transition


Wu, Fulong, Zhang, Fangzhu, The Town Planning Review


This special issue of Town Planning Review focuses on the planning of the Chinese city, exploring the central issue of changing governance and development. The papers have been presented to a conference on China's Urban Transition and City Planning, held in Cardiff in June 2007, and have been reviewed and revised for publication. The authors examine some of the new practices and trends in city planning in China, in particular covering themes of pro-growth and entrepreneurial governance, cultureled urban redevelopment and the complex and contradictory roles of city plans. The guest editors are grateful to Klaus Kunzmann for allowing us to include an Englishlanguage version of the paper he presented at the Fourth Rencontres Internationales de Recherche en Urbanisme, held in Grenoble in February 2008. This explores some of the implications of China's urban development for European metropolitan cities, although many other cities elsewhere could also take note of his thoughts. We also welcome the opportunity to include a photographic essay by Wang Fang on the MinGong in Beijing. The MinGong are migrant farm-workers who leave their homes to seek work in cities, and they are a widespread phenomenon in urban China today.

These 'new' trends are not isolated from mainstream planning issues nowadays. In fact, because they are so closely related to the current debates in city planning in mature Western economies, this special issue hopes to broaden the discussion to include the wider context of greater market orientation, controversially encapsulated by so-called 'neo-liberalisation' (Harvey, 2005).

What can be seen in the Chinese context is the transition towards a more marketoriented development mechanism under economic reform. This has led to entrepreneurial urban governance, fierce inter-city competition and a greater need for regional coordination. The function of city planning is changing from resource allocation to place promotion (Wu, 2007a). At the same time, the Chinese economy is experiencing the restructuring of state-owned enterprises and the development of export-oriented industries. China is known as the 'factory of the world'. Rapid economic growth has generated wealth and a steady increase in income. As a result of the increase in the cost of production and rising local consumerism, consumption-led growth is becoming a new economic driver. As such, Chinese planning resembles some features of governance in the post-industrial West.

Entrepreneurial governance: planning as re-articulating governance

That the Chinese city has seen prevailing urban entrepreneurialism is now well documented (e.g. Wu et al., 2007). There is a wide spread of localism. To capture mobile resources, localities have deployed various competitive strategies. In densely populated regions, such as the Pearl River delta, where globalisation integrated the peripheral towns and rural areas into the city region, this has led to a fragmented spatial structure and uncoordinated governance. To counter governance fragmentation and the absence of coordination, regional strategic plans are being developed by the central government to facilitate the governing of city regions. The article by Xu documents a nascent trend in city-region governance that has not yet been fully researched.

The issue of regional governance has largely fallen into the gap between regional studies and urban studies. The former is largely concerned with regional inequalities at national, inter- and intra-provincial levels, while the latter is concerned with different levels of government within the municipality and the emergence of neighbourhood governance. Only recently has regional governance began to catch the attention of researchers, in particular in terms of the adjustment of administrative boundaries and hierarchies (Ma, 2005).

To some extent, we have seen the re-emergence of regional policy at the cityregion scale. Regional policy under state socialism very much resembled those of Fordist-Keynesian regimes; it focused on achieving regional resource allocation and the reduction of regional imbalance.

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