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China’s Pearl River Delta grows fast in urbanization

Pearl River Delta, urbanization in China, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, a city of around 11 million people, is now merely one element of the Pearl River Delta, the world's largest continuously urbanised area with a population of more than 60 million people.


This is the area that inspired architect Rem Koolhaas to coin the term "generic city" back in 1995, referring to a city without history that develops randomly. In Shenzhen today, cars and motorbikes clog the roads while skyscrapers tower over the city's small commercial area, one of many such neighbourhoods in a congested and hyperactive urban environment.


People have been arriving here from every corner of China since May 1980, when the country's reformist leader Deng Xiaoping launched one of the boldest economic experiments ever attempted, kickstarting the plan to turn China from a conventional communist economy into the global powerhouse it is today.


Shenzhen, with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants scattered in a number of small village clusters, made history as China's first "special economic zone", where foreign direct investments and private enterprises were allowed. The impact was immediate, and profound.


Forty years ago, the road between Shenzhen and Hong Kong consisted of fields and small military outposts patrolling the border. Today, crowds of people push their way towards the immigration controls, many pulling trolleys stuffed with goods purchased in Hong Kong to be resold at a profit in mainland China – mostly milk formula and other baby products.


In no time at all, the rural villages that once dotted the landscape had simply disappeared.


Nowhere on the planet has there been urbanisation at the scale and speed of the Pearl River Delta. Its nine cities – Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai – were earmarked by China's central planners to comprise a single, ultra-connected megalopolis by the year 2030. Thousands of urban villages have been devoured along the way.


This process took on an even greater urgency after the Central Urbanisation Work Conference held in Beijing in 2013, during which the Chinese leadership decided that urbanisation was "the road China must take in its modernisation drive", according to a Xinhua dispatch shortly afterwards.


Guangzhou – earmarked as the Pearl River Delta's main hub for services, transport and administration, while Dongguan and Shenzhen remain its manufacturing backbone.



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