China's New Urban Frontier: Chongqing

NEW YORK, April 27, 2011 - The explosive growth of Chongqing, a major city in southwest China, has generated immense interest for what it suggests about China's model of development, and for what it implies about further Chinese urbanization. columnist Gordon Chang moderated a panel discussion among Albert Chan, Director of Development Planning and Design at Shui On Group, Qiu Shujie, Vice Chief Architect of Chongqing Urban Planning Bureau, and Mahadev Raman, Chairman of Arup Americas. The program was the fourth in Asia Society's series Remaking the Chinese City.

The panel focused on the factors spurring Chongqing's rapid urbanization, in particular the central government's "Go West" campaign to develop its western frontier — a state-led model of development that is unique to China.

A second factor at work in Chongqing is what one panelist called a "fascinating interplay between private developers and municipal governments."

"Looking at the conditions in China," Raman said, "the sheer volume of what needs to be developed, it is very clear that the public sector cannot do it by itself and the private sector has to step in to keep the pace going."

Raman added, however, that "the public sector has a very important role to play" in developing the infrastructure that enables development. "This includes transportation, sanitation, water supplies, and energy supplies."

But whatever the prospects for further development in China, one of the concurrent challenges of urbanization is protecting the environment.

According to Chan, "China is industrializing, it will become the factory of the world, and pollution is inherent in industrialization." He added that the specific challenge then becomes reducing the level of carbon emissions per capita.

That will be no easy task. According to Qiu, environmental protections require coherent and extensive coordination between different government departments to ensure new projects adhere to strict standards.

Despite these challenges, all three panelists were confident in the power of the central government to effect necessary change, claiming "once the government wants to do something, they are able to do it."

Reported by Diana Choi