Filling in the blanks

On 15 oktober 2015, in boeken, duurzaamheid, economie, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Ghost cities of China’ (2014) of Wade Shepard:


So how does the story end? In ‘Ghost Cities of China’, the New York based writer Wade Shepard tells ‘the story of cities without people in the world’s most populated country’. “Between now and then, the country’s urban population will leap to over one billion, as the central government kicks its urbanization initiative in the overdrive.” Surely it will not be a happy end. So I read the full book, and I must say it is different from what you might expect after reading the text on the cover. Shepard ends his story like this: “China’s urbanization race cannot go on forever. Indeed the white flags are now being waved announcing the final lap.” For his conclusion Shepard referred to an announcement of the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resource in September 2014, which states that new urban development will be forbidden unless a city can prove that its population is too dense, or some kind of natural disaster occurs. That means the end of fast urbanization. Shepard: “The next fifteen years will be about filling in the blanks; much of the building has been done, it’s now time to do something with it.”

It’s no coïncidence that just a few months later, in August 2015, the Chinese stock market crashed and the economic growth of the Eastern empire started slowing down.  The economist Coen Teulings, professor at the universities of Cambridge and Amsterdam, came to the same conclusion. In NRC Handelsblad of 19 August 2015 he wrote that this crisis was no surprise to him either. Like in Japan and South Korea forty years ago, the fast economic growth of China was highly based on urbanization. “That growth slows down when all the migrants have moved to the cities, thus leaving an empty countryside.” If it wants to continue to grow, he adds, China needs a different strategy, based on consumption and innovation. “China should step into a more consumption-driven growth strategy with adequate social services.” As a planner I would add that by building ghost cities urban planning in China has not finished yet: now it is time to improve the Chinese megacities. Then the economy might keep on growing. I think my proposal also would be more sustainable than just promoting more consumption.

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Alternative models

On 31 augustus 2015, in boeken, voedsel, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Food and the City’ (2015) of Dorothee Imbert (editor):


A new book about “the complex interrelationship between urbanization and food production” through time and space, in fourteen chapters. Great read. Dorothée Imbert, who holds a chair in landscape architecture at the Ohio State University, is editor. Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, Washington DC, published the book. The monumental volume contains the proceedings of the 2012 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC. Architects and historians contributed with essays on food production in highly urbanized regions in the US, Japan, Israel, Europe, China, Africa, with a special role for the cities of Tokyo and Paris: two distinguished culinary centres with a global impact on food consumption and food production. Here you find articles for instance on the invention of sushi and the unique market garden system of 19th-century Paris. I wrote an essay on the regional food supply system of Amsterdam 1930-1969, focused on the IJsselmeerpolders.

Margaret Crawford wrote an essay on ‘’Urban Agriculture in the Pearl River Delta’. Crawford is professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. In her article she describes the rapid urbanisation of the fertile delta landscape in China’s South, in and around the city of Guangzhou, a city-region of some 60 million people. Crawford focuses on the fragmented peripheral counties lying outside of Guangzhou’s urban core, a landscape she describes as a desakota landscape: a spatial form of mixed  urban-rural interaction you find around major urban centers in developing countries. More than thousand administrative villages or 4,300 natural villages, she thinks, will soon disappear if urbanisation continues in this pace. She hopes urban agriculture will survive as community gardens or in any other form, “which would help legitimate them in the eyes of planners and officials.” Growing concerns about food safety among affluent consumers could be a trigger. Crawford thinks France and regions in central and northern Italy might be worthwile studying. I found many similarities with the Dutch situation, although Guangzhou, Dongguan, Macou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen are dense urban centers, while Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht are rather small, not densely built at all. The Dutch farmland survived, that’s true, but is it sustainable? Which spatial model is the best?

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