Tema del Mes


Exploring An Alternative Model of Rural-Urban

09 / 08 / 2015 - Por Zhao Pei

La urbanización en China ha sido mucho más veloz que en los países industriales occidentales. En 2030 las urbes chinas van a alojar cerca del 70% de la población y decenas de millones de personas habrán emigrado del campo a la ciudad. Incluso si hubiera suficiente espacio y recursos urbanos, sostiene el autor, simplemente expandir el tamaño de las ciudades actuales sería equivalente a su suicidio. Y nos invita a pensar modelos alternativos de desarrollo para el futuro.

Yushan es una pequeña aldea situada en el centro de China, que reconvirtió su pobre agricultura primaria en una pujante economía, que combina la manufactura vitivinícola con servicios turísticos de pequeña escala y alta calidad, aprovechando de manera sustentable su medio ambiente montañoso y la capacitación profesional de su población local. Yushan tiene hoy una nueva identidad que ya no es campesina pero tampoco urbana. Este caso es tomado por el especialista Zhao Pei para pensar modelos de desarrollo alternativo que podrían aliviar los conflictos sociales, ecológicos y habitacionales que incrementaría en el futuro el éxodo masivo de población rural hacia las grandes ciudades.
Transcribimos aquí su presentación, realizada en idioma inglés.

Exploring An Alternative Model of Rural-Urban.

When most people mention the ‘smog’ of China, they may think about the air pollution of China since it became notorious in recently years. However, here is referred to as the smog which covers the road of Chinese urbanization and blurs the view of urban future. In any case, all two ‘smogs’ have to be resolved immediately in China. Getting them right will help China to keep growing fast for years to come, but getting them wrong would be disastrous not only for China but for the whole world. Currently it seems there is no such precedent for China to learn from, so the ‘smog’ need to be broken through by its own exploration.

‘Smog’ of Urbanization
In the late 1970s, the largely rural country that Deng Xiaoping (himself of peasant stock) set out to “reform and open up” had become overwhelmingly urban in its economic and political focus. China’s urban population had grown by more than 500m since Deng launched his reforms: the equivalent of all the people in the United States plus three Britains. In 2011, the country reached 50% urbanization. In 2030 China’s cities will be home to close to 1 billion people, or about 70% of the population, compared with 54% today. Tens of millions more migrants will have poured in from the countryside. Between now and 2030, says the World Bank, the average rise in the number of city-dwellers each year is likely to be around 13m, roughly the population of Tokyo. Li Keqiang, current Chinese prime minister, thinks further urbanization as critical to China’s economic success. He quoted Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, who said that technological innovation in US and urbanization in China would be “two keys” to mankind’s development in the 21st century. In 2013, a new grand plan for China’s cities was published, which mentions three main problems: worsening pollution, urban sprawl and congestion, and growing social tensions. But in the end, it also points out that China’s urbanization lags behind that of other countries at similar levels of development (typically around 60%), and that there remains “quite a lot of room” for further urban growth.

If we assume the predictions of the World Bank is right, then China has to face three fatal questions before 2030:

-    How to find enough living space and resources to provide the fundamental services with all the welfare benefits and access to public services for the new residents under current over-burden conditions?
-    How to guarantee the quality of urban environment and enough clean energy since it is almost impossible to clear the current urban pollution? What if adding a vast migrant population?
-    How to improve the intensive relation in between rural migrants and urban residents?

Before discussing any possible solution, it is helpful to examine the root of those phenomena. Although those urban problems mentioned in the official report are extremely different, they all can be traced to the ultimate one - massive rural migrants, also if there are enough urban resources and space for future development, those three questions may not be hard-to-achieve.
However, considering the tension in-between the limited urban resources and current large number of population in large and medium-sized cities of China, it becomes an impossible mission; and to increase the size of current cities to accommodate more migrants is equivalent to suicide for those cities. The speed of urbanization in China has been far faster than in Western countries during their industrial transformations. It took China only 30 years to climb from 20% urbanization to today’s 54%. In Britain the equivalent journey took 100 years and in America 60, while recently population growth in urban China has been slower than in countries such as South Korea and Indonesia during their period of rapid economic development. The reason is clear: those large and medium-sized cities where most migrants of past decades years moved into are saturated. On another side, those small cities and towns are too similar with rural parts to be attracting for those potential rural migrants.
To produce such theoretical dilemma, there is an assumption which is the simple binary system of rural-urban. In such system, there are only two inhabitation forms for people, and the city is the terminal model for the rural; and any other inhabitation form is temporary, unstable, and as intermediate product. So, maybe, what we should do is to question the assumption now, so we can rethink the potential relation of rural-urban and find alternative models for human’s inhabitation, or at least, some transition forms.

Build a New Socialist Countryside
In March 2006, China’s National People’s Congress officially promulgated the central government’s intention to “build a new socialist countryside” (XNCJS), a new policy initiative and approach to rural development. In last year, Chairman Xi Jinping emphasized this policy again. Generally speaking, through XNCJS, the central government intends to increase the rural income through a mixture of infrastructural investment, agricultural specialization, the expansion of social welfare, and accelerated urbanization (even further to overcome rural poverty and the rural-urban divide). “Building a new socialist countryside” is always taken as a political slogan due to its ideological term, and also taken as economic means to tackle the global financial crisis, or keep the continually increasing of domestic GDP. However, from the view of perspective to review and understand this policy, it may provide us some new possibility on development model for Chinese urbanization.
In this sense, ‘build a new socialist countryside’ is to create a buffer or to establish some new settlement and industrial production model in between the urban and the rural. And the further expectation is that if it can develop some inhabitation forms different from both urban and rural forms to get away the single evolution thought which is "the city is not the only choice for rural areas".
Yushan, a small town, is located in the middle of China, with 4000 people and one hour driving way far from provincial capital city. In this town, there are a lot of mountains, and lack of arable land. Although with the beautiful landscape and natural environment, the people who live here have to struggle with poverty, and the average incoming for 1 acre farming land per year was about US. Until one day, people found it is perfect for their lands to grow the wine grapes, then a winery is built-up and almost half lands were replanted as wine grapes. So the average incoming for 1 acre farming land per year were increased to US0. With the smell of red wines, the tourists came and the resorts hotels, restaurants and a series of public facilities were built up. To provide enough and qualified service, more skilled and trained workers is needed, but the salary level was too low to attract those urban workers, so they have to find senior managers and training consultant to train the local farmers. Then small technological school and training center were brought into this area, following that the health centers and other public facilities gradually were improved. In the end, everything in this small village has changed but not that much, and the local residence of Yushan are neither farmers nor urban citizens, and they found some identification for themselves. From a case study, some important transformation, in urban planning aspects, under the process of this policy implementation can be reviewed below, including industrial structure, social relations, public facilities, and environment.

-    Industrial transformation: from basic agriculture to high-end service industry
-    Social construction: the local original social and production relations were changed by the new industry
-    Public facilities: starting from utilizing the local resources and industry re-organization to improving public facilities and local infrastructure
-    Environment: with bringing high-end tourism into, the natural environment would not be polluted by mass development and visitors

In this argument, one factor should always be emphasized. Compared with simply giving rural migrants permanent urban residence status and basic social welfare same as urban resident, it is more important how to make those new migrants smoothly merge into urban social structure and relations, transiting from past living and production model to urban model and become used to it. The question is not only to give rural residents equal rights, but also to guarantee their long-term ownership of such rights and help them use those rights properly, rather than giving them freedom detaching them from rural areas and in the meanwhile adding them a set of invisible urban shackles that expose them to become potential destitute people in the cities.

Sobre el autor:
Zhao Pei es Profesor de la Xi´an University of Architecture & Technology (XUAT). Como investigador se especializa en arquitectura y urbanismo contemporáneos en relación al proceso de modernización en China. En el link asociado está disponible su C.V.