China Policy Institute Blog » China’s Speculative Urbanism and the Built Environment

The following is an invited contribution to the China Policy Institute Blog (thanks to Jonathan Sullivan for the invitation and editorial support). The theme of the blog at the time of the invitation was ‘environment’, and to me, this cannot be detached from the issue of China’s speculative urbanism that has been sweeping the country for years.

  • Updated on 12 October 2014: A related piece is published in the CITY journal in September 2014. It is entitled Contesting Speculative Urbanisation and Strategising Discontents. Click here to read the paper. Related blog post can be found here.

China Policy Institute Blog » China’s Speculative Urbanism and the Built Environment

Published on 24 April 2013

Critics have been speculating since the 1990s that China had already entered an ‘urban age,’ with a large number of migrants unaccounted for in the national census. But it was not until 2011 when the majority of the country’s national population were to be found, officially, in urban areas for the first time in history. From the viewpoint of the built environment, China’s urbanisation has entailed a massive accumulation of the country’s fixed assets through investments in infrastructure, facilities and real estate properties. Key cities have led the way. For instance, in the case of Beijing, the city’s share of total fixed asset investment in its gross regional product was more than 40 per cent for much of the 2000s. More than half of Beijing’s fixed asset investment during this period went into the real estate sector. Such a mode of urban accumulation plays out in a geographically uneven way. In comparison with Beijing, the share of Tianjin’s total fixed asset investment in its gross regional product was more than 50 per cent in 2008, and rapidly rose to 71 per cent in 2010, but the city’s investment in the real estate sector remained around 20 per cent or less during the first eight years of the 2000s. Continue reading