Both Shanghai and Beijing have announced population limits and are implementing policies to reduce the number of new arrivals. These restrictions look likely to be replicated in many of China’s more populous cities.
But the rate of urbanization shows no sign of slowing. So, while existing smaller cities can absorb some of the millions who relocate, China is, with increasing haste, looking to develop entirely new urban areas in order to provide homes, jobs and infrastructure — all while driving economic growth.
Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the technology hub Unicorn Island outside Chengdu is one of numerous new urban areas being constructed in China. Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects/Negativ.com
These projects all look back to one city for inspiration: the godfather of urban transformation and the country’s “model” city, Shenzhen. Now home to over 13 million people, the southern metropolis is the Chinese government’s proudest symbol of the last 40 years of economic reform.
Building on Shenzhen
On September 4, 1984, the sound of firecrackers echoed through the streets of Shenzhen as the city celebrated the completion of the International Trade Center, its — and, at the time, China’s — tallest building.
Deng Xiaoping, the country’s then paramount leader, had visited the site earlier that year and had given the project his seal of approval. He was particularly impressed by the speed of construction, which — though it began slowly, partly due to a lack of proper equipment — eventually reached a rate of one new floor every three days. The pace with…