Urban Fold

Chinese Cities Following Unsustainable Trail Blazed by Western Planners

As part of a Foreign Policy magazine special report on cities, Peter Calthorpe examines the form of China's urban growth, which is beginning to resemble the car-oriented development of the United States in the 1950s and 60s.

By 2020, China will add an additional 350 million people - greater than the entire population of the United States - to its cities. Already the world's largest car market, the country has embarked on a rampant road building program, putting it "in danger of making the same mistakes the United States made on its way to superpower status," writes Calthorpe. How China plans for these two related issues - the growth of its cities and the growth of its automobile culture - is a critical issue for people in China and around the world.   

"The choices China makes in the years ahead will have an immense impact not only on the long-term viability, livability, and energy efficiency of its cities, but also on the health of the entire planet," argues Calthorpe. "Unfortunately, much of what China is building is based on outdated Western planning ideas that put its cars at the center of urban life, rather than its people. And the bill will be paid in the form of larger waistlines, reduced quality of life, and choking pollution and congestion. The Chinese may get fat and unhappy before they get rich."

Although Calthorpe observes that "Many Chinese officials, including at the highest levels, recognize the need to move beyond the automobile," he cautions that they, "have a limited window of opportunity to plan for prosperous, livable, low-carbon cities."

Full Story: Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction

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