China creates new megacity label for biggest urban centres

The State Council will change the way it classifies its sprawling cities, a shift that could further limit residency in the country's biggest centres

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 3:08am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 November, 2014, 4:46am

A shake-up of urban planning could make it harder for residents to move to the mainland's biggest cities if it comes with tougher population controls, according to experts.

The State Council announced yesterday that it would introduce a new "megacity" category to its urban planning system, saying the country's urbanisation push had entered a "critical moment" and more measures were needed to manage population flows.

The megacity label would apply to centres with more than 10 million people, Xinhua reported. According to the 2010 national census, six cities would fall into this category - Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing , Guangzhou, Tianjin and Shenzhen. The second-biggest category will be for "very large" cities with populations of between five million and 10 million people. In all, 16 centres fall into these two groups, both of which will have limits on population inflows.

The State Council's guidelines would also raise the population limits for "small cities" from 200,000 to 500,000. And cities with a population of between 500,000 and 1 million will be reclassified as "mid-sized cities". "Large cities" will refer to those centres with a population of between 1 million and 5 million.

The State Council did not say what population and urban management policies would be introduced, but urban planners said smaller cities might be given more opportunities to grow.

Li Xun, deputy director of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, said population controls in the six megacities could become "even tighter", and it could remain very difficult to get an urban hukou, or household registration, in the 10 very large cities.

The mainland's biggest cities, which are beset by various problems from traffic jams to air pollution and a lack of water, would instead focus on improving public services to their existing populations and preventing further urban sprawl. "[But] the mid-sized and large cities are expected to receive more favourable policies for growth in the coming years, as well as some townships which were previously not recognised as cities," Li said.

Zhao Zhao, a researcher with the China City Development Academy, said the urbanisation drive needed to focus more on third and fourth-tier cities instead of megalopolises.

As part of its urbanisation push, the authorities plan to raise the proportion of urban residents to about 60 per cent of the total population by 2020, up from 53.7 per cent now. But Beijing has repeatedly delayed the plan's rollout in the last two years. President Xi Jinping rejected one proposal last year because it focused more on investment than improving livelihoods.