Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Central planning and city planning

The China Daily's April 12 opinion page included "Debate: Urban congestion."  One by Murad Qureshi, ("Charge cars out of city center") argued for Singapore-style congestion charges.  Another by Tian Li, ("Problem lies deeper in economy") blamed government policies that favored autos as well as poor traffic management.  The third by Su Lang ("Multiple centers can clear jams") suggested that, "... city planners must also shift from concentric-circle to cluster-based development development, building multiple centers in a city."

The same sentiments could have appeared in any major U.S. paper.

Why do the major Chinese cities feature concentric ring beltways?  Beijing now has seven.  Historically, the emperor was to be at the center of Beijing.  Perhaps that was the model for the other cities.  Perhaps this thinking was reinforced by Western monocentric city ideas.  There is much willy-nilly copying of Western approaches.

But missing from the China Daily's debate as well as from so much Western city planning discussions is the thought that land markets left to themselves can best place and populate any city's sub-centers.  When it comes to cities, Americans as well as Chinese think in terms of central planning.