Hoe China uit elkaar valt

On 20 november 2017, in demografie, by Zef Hemel

Gelezen in The Economist van 23 september 2017:

Figure 8 Urban trajectories in China

Bron: Cybergeo

Hoe hard de bevolking in perifere regio´s kan krimpen, daarover berichtte eind vorige maand het Britse The Economist. In ‘Ups and Downs’ schreef ze over hoe het reusachtige China kampt met snel toenemende bevolkingskrimp. Gedeeltelijk is dit de erfenis van de eenkindpolitiek, deels komt het door de snel toenemende welvaart en urbanisatie die het vruchtbaarheidscijfer van Chinese vrouwen snel doen dalen. Met een vruchtbaarheidscijfer van 0,71 is de Chinese megastad koploper in de terugloop van het aantal geboortes. Traditiegetrouw krijgen vrouwen in plattelandsgebieden de meeste kinderen, in stedelijke gebieden worden veel minder kinderen geboren, en dus ook in Beijing. Een gemiddelde van 2,1 is nodig om een bevolking op peil te houden. Met andere woorden, de Chinese hoofdstad zou snel krimpen als niet veel mensen naar Beijing zouden migreren. En dat doen ze op grote schaal. Ondertussen blijft de bevolking op het platteland, waar ook vroeger officieel uitzondering op de eenkindpolitiek werd gemaakt en gezinnen meer dan één kind mochten grootbrengen, licht doorgroeien. Maar hun kinderen verliezen ze aan de grote steden. En waar de bevolking snel krimpt, daar ontstaan acute problemen met de pensioenvoorziening en met de arbeidsmarkt.

De allergrootste Chinese steden  Beijing, Shanghai en Tianjin winnen sterk aan inwoners, ondanks het feit dat hun vruchtbaarheidscijfer uitzonderlijk laag is. Dit heeft te maken met het inkomensniveau. In grote steden ligt dit beduidend hoger. De groei van de bevolking is daar zelfs meer dan 3 procent per jaar. Jongeren trekken naar de grote stad. Ondanks het feit dat de drie metropolen de immigratie proberen te dempen, groeien ze versneld door. Het platteland en de provinciesteden proberen juist bevolking aan te trekken met goed onderwijs en met versoepeling van regelingen, maar dat is vergeefs. En de Chinese centrale overheid? Haar grote zorg is de groeiende ongelijkheid tussen de regio’s en de niet te stuiten opmars van de allergrootste steden. Het denkt door herverdeling de krimpregio’s te steunen en de metropolitane groei af te remmen en zo het immense land bij elkaar te houden. Onder het bewind van Xi Jinping is in China sprake van een zeer sterke centralisatie.  Maar volgens The Economist is de president veel te laat met ingrijpen. Metropolen blijven groeien en het platteland loopt leeg. China is op termijn niet bij elkaar te houden. Het immense land is niet de enige. Steeds meer landen ontwikkelen zich in de richting van stelsels van stadstaten. Zeer lichte stedenbanden, afgewisseld door ontvolkt platteland, zullen de oude natiestaten op termijn doen vergeten.

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Look east

On 11 november 2015, in wonen, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015) of Wade Shepard:


People are complaining about the steeply rising housing prices in Amsterdam. They know it’s nothing compared to cities like London, New York City and even San Francisco, which are much worse. Do they know that housing prices in the Chinese cities are the highest in the world? According to the IMF’s house price-to-wage ratio, China’s big cities are, relatively speaking, some of the most expensive in the world in which to buy real estate. The ratio measures median housing prices in relation to median disposable income to calculate the minimum amount of time it would take for an average resident to pay for a property. In ‘Ghost Cities of China’, Wade Shepard explains why. Commodity houses in China are free-market properties that can be bought and sold at will, prices are not capped by the Chinese government. “According to this evaluation method, China, including Hong Kong, has seven out of the world’s top ten most expensive cities for residential property.” In Beijing, it would take 22.3 years to buy a property, in Shanghai 15.9 years. That is twice as high as in Tokyo, three times higher than in London, and four times higher than in New York City.

Fifteen years ago property developers didn’t exist in China. Prior to 1988 land transactions were even not permitted. Shepard explains how the Chinese government has created a market for real estate in the mid nineties. Two years later the Chinese private housing market exploded. “As could be expected, prices surged.” By 2010 its property market was already the largest in the world. In four years time the cost of real estate in China tripled. In 2012 alone people in China spent over US$1 trillion on real estate. The Chinese love real estate, they want property. The house is now the main indicator of status. ‘No house, no wife’, they say. It’s not a bubble, Shepard stresses; the demand is real. China has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. The faith that the Chinese have in the value of housing is unflappable. Other viable financial options for investing money are extremely risky. That makes the Chinese into the greatest city builders of the world. So the West better stop complaining. Build cities. Look East!

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On 9 november 2015, in economie, stedenbouw, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015) of Wade Shepard:


Tomorrow I will give my yearly lecture in the bachelor study course ‘Perspectives on Amsterdam’ at the University of Amsterdam, theme: Political Economy. This time I will focus on the Zuidas (Southaxis) project, the new CBD of Amsterdam. Will it be successful? How much will it cost? Why build it? While preparing my lecture, I reread in ‘Ghost Cities of China’ about the building of CBD’s in Chinese cities. The American journalist Wade Shepard describes in the book how all the cities in China are developing their own Central Business Districts. Shanghai was first, with its Lujiazui business district in Pudong; Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south followed. Shepard writes that it didn’t stop there: many other Chinese cities started building their own versions of the Pudong model, also the very small ones. “Hence in 2014 the CBD is a near ubiquitous landmark in China’s cities.”

In 2003 the Ministry of Construction tried to get a handle on the CBD building boom. It was a problem, because building a CBD is a very expensive undertaking and might cost each city a fortune. But still it continues. Shanghai plans to have at least even three CBD’s on the east, west and south sides of its urban core, while Beijing envisions four CBD’s. Of course, the model was borrowed from the West. Paris, London, New York all built their CBD’s in the recent past. But the USA has only two: New York and Chicago. All the Chinese cities though hope to become a financial hub of their own region, or even the entire country. Shepard concludes that all those CBD’s are now so common that it is necessary to have one just to keep up. And of course only the business districts in the two biggest cities are prospering. The vacancy rate in many provincial cities is now more than 40 percent. Still, many more will get build in the near future. Shepard: “So it is clear that China’s CBD oversupply can only get a lot worse.” Almost the Dutch VINEX-model, I would add, with every provincial city building its ‘Central District’ near the railway station. Meanwhile, with Amsterdam’s Southaxis competing with La Défense, Paris, and Canary Wharf, London.

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Asian style

On 12 oktober 2015, in duurzaamheid, economie, migratie, stedelijkheid, by Zef Hemel

Read in China Digital Times of 26 June 2014:


What the Russians are trying to do in and around Greater Moscow (17 million inhabitants), the Chinese are doing even on a grander scale with Beijing (22 million inhabitants): building an Asian megalopolis. I remember the session in the Intercontinental Hotel in Moscow in April 2012, when a delegation from the Chinese capital informed the Russians about their plans to transform Beijing into a city of 110 million inhabitants. We were all perplexed. Since then president Mr. Xi Jinping took over. He changed the policy of the Hu-Wen administration, which was focused on accelerating development in the inland regions (‘Go West’), and called for integrated, coordinated development of the region around Beijing. This megalopolis will become the third economic power house of China, after Shanghai’s Yangtze River Delta and the Guangzhou’s Pearl River Delta, two spatial-political products of Den Xiaoping’s administration in the 1980’s. Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province are collaborating now on a huge scale, it’s a daring experiment of the new leadership all the rest of the world should have a closer look at.

Just imagine the European Union would force the Netherlands to collaborate with the Belgians and the government of Germany to build a World City out of the triangle Amsterdam-Brussels-Cologne: a megalopolis of more than 60 million inhabitants, doubling its size the coming twenty years thanks to migration from the Middle East. Schemes of densification of the extremely distributed suburban landscape would aim the creation of an economic power house on the North-Western shores of Europe, comparable to Greater London (10 million) and Ile de France (12 million). It will never happen of course. This is Europe, not Asia. But maybe Mr. Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, aiming economic growth as well as sustainability, will at least come up with a proposal to transform the Dutch fragmented suburban landscape into a densily built city-state of 17 million inhabitants. How will the nation react? Negative, I suppose. It will happen anyway.

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