Small- and medium-sized cities or megalopolises, to shape China’s urbanization future

Dec. 12,2015
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As the reform of the household registration system deepens, semi-urbanized population (rural migrant workers) will gradually become urban residents, and some rural residents will also become urban population due to further industrialization. Meanwhile, inter-city movement of urban residents will be more frequent as a result of the relaxation of household registration restrictions.

Shall China’s urbanization be dominated by the development of small- and medium-sized cities or mainly form megalopolises in the future?

Professor Xu Qingming from the School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University pointed out that the direction of population flow during urbanization and the subsequent spatial population distribution, which reflect the efficiency of spatial allocation of key factors during regional economic development, are in essence an issue of the spatial structure of regional economy as well as a reflection of the degree and situation of the spatial agglomeration of industries and production factors such as labor and capital in the region. Therefore, the urbanization process and spatial distribution of population need to be compatible with the optimization and upgrading (namely the advancement) of regional industrial structure.

Professor Xu compared the spatial allocation of urban population in the Yangtze River Delta of China(here referring to Shanghai Municipality, Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province), with Japan and South Korea, he tried to reveal the internal connection between changes in the spatial distribution of urban population and regional economic growth as well as industrial structural change. It is believed that to some extent, China’s megalopolis in the YRD, Japan and South Korea have similar features in terms of regional natural geography.

The findings of this research can be summarized as follows. Firstly, the population agglomeration gradient between core and non-core cities of a megalopolis is essentially a reflection of the region’s spatial industrial structure. The population agglomeration gradient between core and non-core cities in China’s YRD, compared with those in advanced economies such as Japan and South Korea in the similar development stage, is not quite reasonable. As a result, the YRD’s core cities’ function as centers in the regional economic circle is insignificant, and the development of the core cities’ tertiary industry and the region’s overall industrial structure are unsatisfactory and need to be improved. Secondly, the economic development of Japan and South Korea illustrate that the change of a megalopolis’ population agglomeration gradient is ultimately determined by the megalopolis’ economic growth and the spatial change of its industrial structure. Between the 1970s and the 1990s both Japan and South Korea experienced rapid economic growth. During this period, Japan witnessed an increase in its spatial gradient of population agglomeration between core and non-core cities; while South Korea saw a decrease in its corresponding gradient due to the excessive population agglomeration in the earlier time. All of these, from different aspects, reflect the consistency between the change of urban population agglomeration gradient and the change in the level of advancement and rationalization of industrial structure. Thirdly, to further promote the YRD’s economic competitiveness, and to catch up with and surpass advanced economies such as Japan and South Korea, some of the existing urbanization strategies which would hinder the increase in core cities’ population agglomeration densities need to be changed. It is also essential to deal with the relationship between the economy of megalopolises and the economy of administrative regions, and to eliminate non-marketization measures that constrain the free movement of key factors such as population. By helping to increase the population agglomeration gradient in core cities, these actions could create new opportunities for optimizing and upgrading regional industrial structure.

The research findings are published in the 1st issue of Chinese Journal of Population Science, 2015. The bilingual version has already been launched.

Corresponding Author: Xu Qingming
CNKI Press Officer: ZHONG Ming

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