Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Exploring Ecological Modernisation and Urban-Rural Eco-Developments in China: The Case of Anji County

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Exploring Ecological Modernisation and Urban-Rural Eco-Developments in China: The Case of Anji County

Article excerpt

The article explores the concept of the eco-economy in relation to planning and innovations taking place in the Anji district of China, Zhejiang Province. Through exploring a grounded process of ecological modernisation involving plan-led development processes, we argue that a new model of the localised eco-economy is developing based upon a cluster of complementary production and consumption spheres: settlement infrastructure developments, renewable energy and recycling, bamboo clusters, food clusters and ecological tourism (Non Jia Le). This represents to new form of more endogenous rural and urban eco-development in China which could be replicated as part of progressing the 'New Countryside Movement' more generally. The analysis suggests that concepts such as eco-economy, and their associated and unfolding dynamic rural and urban 'webs', are applicable in the case of Chinese environmental and economic development more generally; and that such processes could proliferate through careful and innovative plan-led processes which foster the re-appraisal of the endowments of regional and local resources.

Ecological modernisation amidst rapid urban-rural transformation

The 2000s brought with them a new set of challenges for the Chinese countryside. Whilst agricultural output and meeting food security needs were paramount in the early reform period (early 1980s to 1990s), it was increasingly recognised by policy makers and academics that this was leading to widening social and economic disparities between rural areas and the rapidly urbanising cities (Christiansen and Zhang 1998). From 2005, the national government embarked on the 'New Socialist Countryside Movement', and began to invest more heavily in rural infrastructure, rural credit systems and minimum living guarantee systems for the rural populations (Jingzhong et al., 2010). This process has clearly been uneven, but it has re-instated an older principle in China -san nong - referring to the interactions of rural area, villager and agriculture, and suggests the integration of public awareness of the countryside, with the more 'harmonious' process of urban and rural development. Even though practices are uneven, some rural areas are being appreciated as places for integrated forms of development, rather than just the basis for more intensive agriculture and population out-migration. Of course, the needs of food security are clearly very stark, but mass rural protests and the widening income disparities and life chances of rural and urban dwellers have re-enforced the national need to adopt a more central role for broader notions of environmental and rural development (Rozelle et al., 2002; Yau, 2002).

Thus, rural development policy in China is now more positive about defending and developing rural infrastructures (including farming and related multi-functional development activities) in the midst of large-scale urbanisation of much of the former rural population (Daming, 2010; Fan et al., 2004), and the intensification and increasing scale-economies of its agricultural base. Moreover, China's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could imply a further disruption of national markets through the import of cheaper agricultural commodities from elsewhere. The national government is keen to avoid this by linking three major goals: safeguarding family farming as part of creating more 'harmonious development of town and countryside relations'; attempting to reduce poverty and inequalities gaps between urban and rural living; and, more recently, and perhaps even more problematically, securing positive ecological externalities from these policies in terms of protecting landscape, biodiversity and local food systems (OECD, 2006).

These policy shifts form an important part of China's process of institutionalising ecological modernisation (Mol, 2000; 2006). Even before the transition from a 'command-and-control' economy to a more market-oriented one launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, there had been concerns about pollution and the overuse of resources. …

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