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Central cities underpin urban spatial development

 
The Tianjin CTF Finance Center, a new landmark of the city, has been completed. With their pioneering role at home and abroad, several metropolises have readied themselves to become national central cities. Photo: XINHUA
 

 

The Central Economic Work Conference has requested that the comprehensive load capacity of central cities and city clusters be improved. 
 
  “Central cities are a system. They can be launched at the international, domestic and regional levels, thus constituting a complex network. The central cities mentioned at the Central Economic Work Conference refer not only to the national central cities. Not being static, the definition of national central cities also changes and develops with the times,” said Feng Kui, a research fellow at the China Center for Urban Development under the National Development and Reform Commission.
 
 
Development
In 2010, the National Urban System Plan (2010–2020) issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of China for the first time proposed the construction of five national central cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. In 2016, the “Development Plan of the Chengdu-Chongqing City Cluster” clearly stated that Chengdu should “assume the goal of building a national central city.” The Plan to Promote the Rise of Central China supported Wuhan and Zhengzhou to establish themselves as national central cities. In 2018, Xi’an was encouraged to become a national central city in a development plan targeting city clusters on the central Shaanxi Plain.
 
Feng said that at the end of 2018, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council released the Opinions on Establishing New and More Effective Mechanisms for Coordinated Regional Development, highlighting the cities with sufficient conditions for being national central cities. These cities include Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan, Zhengzhou and Xi’an.
 
“From the perspective of full participation in global competition, the construction of national central cities should be strengthened at the national level. Some cities have undertaken many actions to open up to the outside world. With their pioneering role at home and abroad they have readied themselves to become national central cities,” Feng said.
 
Ma Qingbin, a research fellow  at the China International Economic Exchange Center, said statistical data shows that it’s a common phenomenon for a regional economy to undergo the process of absorption and radiation. The strength of a central city will be improved when a provincial capital city’s primacy of economy and population gradually increases by about 15% over a substantial period. However, if the primacy continues to climb, a central city will have a diminished role in driving the satellite cities and undermine provincial economic development. A better model is to cultivate a sub-central city.
 
Xiao Jincheng, chairman of the Regional Science Association of China, said that in a specific area where cities are densely packed, with one to several metropolises, each metropolis impacts its surrounding areas and they form a metropolitan circle. The connection among metropolitan circles leads to a city cluster. However, there are large areas in China beyond the city clusters. The development of these areas requires the driving forces of regional central cities.
 
In recent years, many cities have accelerated the pace of building regional central cities. For example, Jiangxi Province recently issued Opinions on Supporting the Economic Transformation and Accelerating the Development of Jiangxi Province, in which Yichun is positioned to be the regional central city of Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei provinces.
 
 
Description
“Central cities have many functions, and three of them are more important,” Feng said. “First, a central city is a center of growth whose economies of scale and scope are extremely significant as it generates a large amount of a region’s production output. Second, a central city is a center of innovation. It is home to many universities, research institutes and enterprises that serve as the main body of innovation. Personnel, capital, data and other factors flow easily and great connectivity speeds up the progress of innovation. Also, it commands favorable conditions for innovation. Third, a central city is a center of service. It can provide strong support for the development of the entire region due to its advanced transportation infrastructure, relatively sound public service supply, and great ability in terms of production and consumption. The combined force of a growth center and an innovation center enhances the concentration effect of a central city, while the role of the service center enables its overall urban system to impact the surrounding areas,” Feng added.
 
Ma held that city clusters are an innovation platform and growth pole for achieving the “reasonable growth in quantity and steady improvement in quality” of the regional economy. Apart from the responsibilities of city clusters, central cities will function as a zone of demonstration, organization and coordination. “The development of urban-rural integration will become a new focus of policies as reforms of the household registration and land system move forward. City clusters, especially the urban-rural fringes near central cities, will be major places to implement these policies,” Ma said.
Ma said that the regional disparity is precisely the disparity between the development of central cities and city clusters. The main focus of achieving coordinated regional development in the future will be to coordinate city clusters and central cities. If the guideline is on the agenda, the target of coordinated regional development can be pursued.
 
Xiao said that most prefecture-level cities in China have an area of about 10,000 square kilometers and a regional population of 5 million to 10 million. There should be a central city to drive regional economic development. However, many cities are currently small in size and weak in strength and lack the ability to impact surrounding areas. It is necessary to enhance these cities’ capacity of industrial load and population attraction, so as to make them expand and grow more influential, thereby driving regional development.
 
What kind of cities can be regional central cities? Xiao said that in terms of a legitimate urban system, a region must have large cities, small-and-medium-sized cities and small towns. “In a region covering an area of 10,000 square kilometers with a population of about 5 million, it is reasonable to build a central city with a population over 1 million that can influence the area within a 60-kilometer radius. If the regional population nears 10 million, its central city is likely to attract one-third of the population in the region, which means 3 million, and its ability to impact surrounding areas will increase,” Xiao pointed out that regional central cities are a remarkable carrier of Chinese urbanization.
 
 
Load capacity
Ma held that comprehensive load capacity should include four implications. First, while the population becomes denser, the quality of public services such as education, medical care, transportation and employment should constantly improve. Second, as economic factors are more concentrated, the driving force of development and innovation should thrive. Third, while the industrial clusters grow more diverse, the industrial chain, value chain and supply chain should perform more prominent functions. Fourth, central cities should boost their regional or global influence and competitiveness as they participate in more frequent international exchange.
 
Feng said that a city’s load capacity concerns resources, environment, economy and society. Realizing the capacity depends on objective and subjective aspects. Therefore, cementing the governance system and capacity will help improve a city’s comprehensive load capacity.
 
“While relying on market forces to lead the development of regional central cities, the governments should play a bigger role,” Xiao said. In the future, we should strive to optimize the internal spatial structure of city clusters through the construction of regional central cities and thereby promote a form of coordinated, high-quality and sustainable development,” Xiao said. 
 
This article was translated from Economic Daily.
edited by MA YUHONG

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