Endless cities: will China’s new urbanisation just mean more sprawl?

The announcement that new megacity Xiongan will be built near Beijing is the latest attempt to take pressure off China’s biggest metropolises. Can it work?

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Endless cities: will China's new urbanisation just mean more sprawl?
Overwhelmed with demand, Shanghai faces a shortage of school places / © Nir Elias – Reuters

Wu Shuhua sells flowers from the back of her bicycle in the pleasant, tree-lined streets of Shanghai’s Xuhui district. Originally from a village in neighbouring Jiangsu province, Wu came to the wealthy eastern city for its abundant economic opportunities.

But it isn’t easy to make it big in Shanghai without education or connections. There are many flower sellers in the city – two other regulars work the same street – and most days Wu positions her bike on a strategic corner and waits patiently for customers.

She is one of almost 10 million rural migrants in Shanghai, part of the world’s most rapid urbanisation, moving almost 500 million rural Chinese people into cities over the last 35 years. China now has more than 600 cities, many of which were small towns just a few decades ago.

In April, the government announced plans to create Xiongan, an enormous new city 60 miles south of Beijing which sits within the Jing-Jin-Ji urban megaregion. While details are still emerging about the future of Xiongan – which will cover the counties of Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin, as well as the Baiyangdian wetlands – reports envisage a city that will grow to three times the size of New York. It will incorporate universities, institutions and residents from the capital, helping alleviate pressure on housing and public services – although not before prompting an initial land-buying frenzy in the area cited for development. […]