China’s economic boom, combined with migration from the rural areas, is fuelling a high-speed urbanism that is producing new cities in the shortest imaginable time and completely changing the face and character of the country’s older towns.
This directional urbanisation, propelled from within the coastal zones into the countryside, has brought even the smallest villages face to face with the phenomena of globalisation, foreign capital and generic architecture. At the same time, the pace and scale of development, particularly in the mega-cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan, has highlighted the interrelated problems of mass migration, pollution and the loss of arable land. The lack of an overarching urbanisation policy means that there are no mechanisms of negotiation between economic interests, cultural traditions, developmental pressures and existing ecologies. At a larger scale, China risks seeing its urban identity swamped by a generic pattern of indiscriminate urban sprawl.
400 NEW CITIES In 2000 the former civil affairs minister, Doje Cering, formulated a plan to build 400 new cities by the year 2020, to accommodate the migration from the countryside into urban conglomerations. According to this plan, 20 new cities need to be established each year. LU took this formulation as the framework for the year’s research, testing the applicability of our methodology to the limit, then adjusting and reformulating it. The resulting work generated ‘protostrategies’ for new large-scale agglomerations as a way of critically addressing the phenomenon of mass-produced sprawl urbanisation. The brief was the documentation recently provided by Chinese planning authorities, requesting its change of status from county to a new city. We operated critically, seeking to produce alternative templates of urbanisation based on strategies that stemmed from embryonic processes seeking the integration of cultural tradition, regional ecological systems and economic globalisation.