China’s urbanization trend

At the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Hu Jintao set a goal of quadrupling per capita GDP by 2020 from the level of 2000. According to current trend projections, the achievement of this goal depends to a large extent on China’s continued urbanization.

– The trend of world urbanization. Although the development of world cities has a history of 5,000 years, even in 1800 AD, the proportion of the world’s urban population to the world’s total population was only 2%. However, in the past 200 years, the trend of urbanization in the world has accelerated, especially the economic globalization since the 1980s, which has made cities in various countries develop at an unprecedented scale and speed. By 2006, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities. According to the United Nations report, from 2000 to 2030, the world’s urban population will soar from 2.4 billion to 5 billion, and the world’s urbanization level will rise from 47% to more than 61%; by 2050, the global urbanization level will exceed 80% (figure 1).

China's urbanization trend
Figure 1 – Forecast of global urbanization level in 2050

The United Nations forecasts global urban population and growth from 1950 to 2050 by their respective country definitions of urban populations, with urban population and growth concentrated primarily in Asia, followed by Europe, Africa, and Latin America (Figure 2). According to the current development trend, by the end of the 21st century, contiguous urbanization sprawl areas may be formed around the world, as shown in Figure 3.

China's urbanization trend
Figure 2 – Global Urban Population and Growth (1950-2050)

Note: The urban population in the figure is projected by the respective country’s urban population definition.

China's urbanization trend
Figure 3- Possible world urbanization sprawl space at the end of the 21st century

– The role of megacities. Economic globalization has promoted the development of global cities, and megacities have become symbols of the growth of the global urban system. There are now 30 cities in the world with a population of more than 10 million. Among them, 10 are developed countries, accounting for 33%; 20 are developing countries, accounting for 66%. These cities are mainly distributed in Asia (43%), America (23%) and Europe (17%).

According to the statistics of OECD countries, looking at the relationship between city size and urbanization trend, in the global urban system, both the urban population and the urban population growth rate are both megacities and large cities.

According to the research on the urban agglomeration area (Geopolis) conducted by Professor Francois Moriconi-Ebrard of the University of Avignon, France, the “World Urbanization Prospects” annual report published by the United Nations in 2009, and the data of the world urban agglomeration research conducted by Professor Thomas Brinkhoff of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, the population of the world’s top 29 megacities with more than 10 million is growing rapidly.

We conducted a univariate regression analysis on the top 30 megacities in the world, and divided the models into three categories according to the b1 value—that is, rapid development, medium-speed development, and low-speed development. It can be seen that Beijing should be included in the ranks of medium-low development speed. Even the fastest-growing city in China, such as Beijing, is not the fastest among the world’s top 30 megacities, both in terms of total population and urban population growth.