Inside a Growing Chinese Megacity

Through the example of the booming megacity of Chongqing, this article explores how urban growth is occurring in China, and what it means to plan a rapidly growing city.
August 23, 2010, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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The city was home to just 200,000 people in the 1930s, but now has a metropolitan population of 32 million.

"In today's China, it is most accurate to say there is a profound appearance of planning. This holds true for urbanization, as for much else. "Planning is really a form of publicity," one researcher at the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in Beijing told me. He explained: 'It's a paradox. Things here are very planned, in that lots of plans are being made. But in practice, it's a lot messier. It has to do with the way that plans are used -- or not used.' As for the megacities now rising across the country: 'In theory, all development has to be guided by plans. But cities across China are operating without plans being approved -- plans don't have that constraining effect. 'City planner' is an aspirational title; mainly it involves approving plans that are already in the process of being built.'

And so, as we watch the world's fastest project in city-building unfold, it is important to realize that there is no blueprint; China has embarked on an extraordinary course of what Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century, calls 'unintentional urbanization.' Think of it as a railroad car hurtling down the line at the same time that attendants scramble to hitch on the wheels and lay the track."

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Published on Monday, August 23, 2010 in Foreign Policy
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