Xiongan very likely to follow example of Singapore in land management: advisor

By Global Times – Agencies Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/23 18:38:39

Population will be curbed to avoid ‘big city diseases’

The 2,000-square-kilometer mini-city of Xiongan will draw thousands of Beijing government workers

The anticipation for the future of Xiongan has already pushed up land and rental prices

A series of reforms will curb speculation and make Xiongan's housing affordable

An overview of Xiongxian county, part of the Xiongan New Area, in Hebei Province. Photo: VCG

For years, Aowei Road, a major thoroughfare running through Rongcheng county, North China's Hebei Province, was where the local government and some clothing shops were located.

Today, it has been dubbed by residents as the "road of central government-owned enterprises" after a slew of big corporations, such as the State Power Investment Corporation, China Communications Construction and the State Development & Investment Corporation, opened their offices there.

This all happened in under six months earlier this year, after China announced in April a massive plan to develop "Xiongan New Area."

Spanning the counties of Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin, the 2,000-square-kilometer "mini-city" of Xiongan will take over Beijing's so-called non-capital functions, such as large enterprises, financial institutions, colleges and research institutions, helping to relieve pressure in the congested capital.

According to estimates made by the management committee of Xiongan New Area, in the six months following its establishment, 65 companies have already moved there from Beijing. At night, yellow lights from all the new office buildings illuminate the once-dark, quiet little town.

But the surge in population will also bring new challenges, including difficulties finding housing, setting up a transportation infrastructure and establishing social welfare. How to build a livable green city that meets the needs of these new transplants will be the top priority for the city's planners and administrators.

Population limit

A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) this April said that Xiongan should try to avoid overpopulation, a common phenomenon in many big Chinese cities that has lead to housing, transportation and environmental problems.

With its current population of 1.13 million, the study said that Xiongan's future population should be maintained within 5 million. Reports by the Xinhua News Agency, however, put the future population of Xiongan at around 2.5 million.

Huang Qunhui, director of the Institute of Industrial Economics at CASS, said the relocation of one million people to Xiongan is realizable with the transfer of Beijing's non-capital functions.

But whether the city is able to draw a population in the long term will depend on the vitality of its industries and local economy; it is still too early to predict a future population scale.

According to statistics from 2015, the population density of Shenzhen was 5,713 people per square kilometer, Shanghai at 3,809 and Beijing 1,323. If Xiongan's population is below 2.5 million, its population density will be 1,250 people per square kilometer, slightly lower than that of Beijing.

But if Xiongan's population soars to 5 million, its population density will almost double that of China's capital. Relieving Beijing's population burden by creating somewhere even more crowded than Beijing itself would be contrary to Xiongan's good intentions. The local government should therefore set strict limits on its own population, researchers say.

Unemployment rate

As Xiongan has positioned itself as a green, smart city of innovation, the CASS report projects that a large number of its future population will be high-end talents who moved there with their companies. Locals, including urban citizens and peasants, will mainly work in the service sector or in jobs which have relatively lower technical requirements.

Another challenge lies in how to deal with the local population working in Xiongan's older industries, which are now undergoing a transformation. In the half-year since it was established, 9,000 small manufacturing businesses in Xiongan that failed to meet environmental requirements have been asked to fold, thereby increasing the local unemployment rate.

Many local construction companies have also halted their projects due to tight controls on China's real estate market. The sudden jobless population of construction workers will be another big challenge for the New Area's management committee and the local government.

The management committee said that it has already rolled out a series of measures to ensure their employment. Over 80 central-government-owned enterprises and local enterprises have provided 100,000 jobs in the counties, and Hebei authorities launched campaigns to provide new training for locals in accounting, housekeeping, afforestation, gardening and even tea ceremony.

Big city diseases

One of the symptoms of "big city diseases" is the separation of residential and work districts, resulting in extremely long commutes. In Beijing, for example, it is not uncommon for people to spend two to three hours on their daily commute.

"One of the biggest problems with Chinese cities is their unbalanced functions. When we talk about development zones, we think of a large zone of factories with no place for night snacks. On the other hand, districts like Huilongguan and Tiantongyuan in Beijing are colossal residential areas with no industries around," Li Xiaojiang, dean of the China Academy of Urban Planning And Design, told China Newsweek.

The result, he concluded, is that people must travel many hours to commute between such areas, which is "really inhuman." Li added that Xiongan will try to alter that problem to become a city where multiple functions develop in balance, thus becoming a model for future cities.

An unnamed official at Xiongan's management committee told China Newsweek that the New Area will be divided into several districts, each several dozen square kilometers. At each of these districts, the people's needs for work, life and public services will all be met.

A study by Xu Zhenqiang, Deputy Director in Chief of Digital City Engineering Research Center, Chinese Society for Urban Studies, showed that as a metro train can travel seven stops, or seven kilometers, in 15 minutes, a 7x7 kilometer grid (about 49 square-kilometer in area), is probably the best size for each Xiongan district.

Public transportation will be the primary means of transport in Xiongan. Most of it will be underground, as well as the city's water, electricity and gas supply and disaster relief systems, according to plans revealed earlier.

Sinopec Green Energy Geothermal Development has been developing geothermal resources in Xiongxian and Rongcheng counties since 2009. Sun Caixia, the company's technology director, said the geological conditions beneath the surface of Xiongan is very good for underground development. "The spacious subterranean area will make underground tunnels and three-dimensional traffic possible," she told China Newsweek.

In August, China's geological authorities announced that after two months of surveying, they concluded that Xiongan is "very suitable for underground development."

Geological departments are also currently building a digital platform, which will provide statistics for future city planning and risk management.

Affordable housing

Quite often when future plans are announced for a Chinese city, a construction spree follows, along with speculators who drive up property prices. Such "land finance" has been part of the engine behind the booming Chinese economy for the past 20 years.

Xiongan hopes to avoid that. In April, after the blueprint for the New Area was first announced, it rolled out a series of measures to stabilize property prices and curb speculation. "The New Area will not rely on land finance (as its development model)," Chen Gang, head of the management committee, told China Newsweek.

In the half year since its announcement, no residential housing was built. Over 1,000 homes, both for commercial and residential use, have been rented to non-local enterprises and individuals who have swarmed into Xiongan over the past six months. Officials say rentals in Xiongxian and Anxin counties rose by 10 to 30 percent, while in Rongcheng, where the New Area's management committee is located, rentals rose by 100 to 300 percent.

To cope with this situation, the local governments of the three counties under the administration of Xiongan put forward a series of measures, including shutting down illegal real estate agencies and establishing a government-led house-renting platform to provide free information to lessors and tenants.

In the future, Xiongan's housing market will very likely follow the model of Singapore, whose government directly manages many lands and constructs public or low-rent housing for those in need, according to Wu Hequan, deputy head of the expert advisory committee on the collaborative development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei under the State Council.

Xiongan's local authorities are already planning to boost the construction of affordable rental properties for newcomers. The authorities will also establish a point-based system to determine which migrants will be qualified to purchase these homes. Only those who have lived and worked in Xiongan for a certain number of years will be eligible to purchase homes.

Global Times - Agencies

Newspaper headline: New area


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