Chinese Cities Build Big Despite Shedding Residents

More than 900 Chinese cities are continuing to plan for growth even as their populations shrink.
March 21, 2019, 5am PDT | Elana Eden
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Attila JANDI

Nearly one-third of Chinese cities are losing population—more than anywhere else in the world, according to a new study from Tsinghua University. That finding, obtained by monitoring nighttime lights in more than 3,300 cities over three years, conflicts with official data anticipating urban growth throughout the country.

"The Chinese cities under the greatest pressure of shrinking include those heavily dependent on natural resources, such as the coal mining town of Hegang in Heilongjiang province," Sidney Leng reports in South China Morning Post. Many are located in China's rust belt.

A review of 60 cities' urban development plans showed that many municipalities are still relying on "inflated" projections, leading them to undertake major infrastructure and development projects designed to accommodate population growth that is not likely to occur.

Researchers worry that this trend marks a recipe for urban decay, leading to empty high-rises and unused industrial developments. "Many landscapes in the US rust belt could be the future of some of China’s shrinking cities," one researcher told the Post.

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Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 in South China Morning Post
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