"One Body and Two Wings," the 1994 concept plan for the decentralization of Suzhou
Suzhou Industrial Park, circa 2001
Zhengdong New Town
Yujiapu New Financial District
Constructing Utopias: China’s Emerging New Town Movement
In a new book under contract with Princeton University Press, Constructing Utopias: China’s Emerging New Town Movement, Zhongjie Lin, associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning, examines the contemporary new town movement in China, focusing on the reciprocal relationship between city building and social transformation through the lens of urbanism and utopianism.
In what geographer David Harvey characterizes as the “largest mass migration ever seen in human history,” approximately 16 million Chinese residents move from rural areas into cities each year. This enormous urbanization has continued for more than a quarter century, driven by the national policies promoting an urban economy. The central and local governments have carried out ambitious plans to build hundreds of new towns––planned and constructed whole on largely unoccupied land––that both accommodate and accelerate China’s dramatic demographic shift.
Lin’s study is the first of its kind to recognize this phenomenon at the level of a national “movement”—one which not only fundamentally reimagines the Chinese cities but also markedly impacts the geo-spatial and socio-political climate worldwide. It illuminates emerging patterns of urban growth in the era of ubiquitous globalization, addressing the pressing issues of sheltering the world’s rising urban population, and discussing strategies responding to the critical environmental crises that cities face.
Steered by the nation’s aggressive urbanization policies, China’s new town initiative resembles Britain’s new town movement of the postwar period in several regards, which originated from Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept and in turn influenced other visionary projects across the world. Yet China’s more recent transition has taken place at an unparalleled scale and generated social impact of an unprecedented magnitude. Capitalizing on globalized networks of industry and trade, as well as modern technology, China’s urbanization carries with it economic ramifications and environmental implications that far exceed the movements of the mid-twentieth century and, indeed, of any previous time in history.
Looking into both the successes and failures of the Chinese new towns, Lin delves into a series of exemplary cities intended to showcase cutting-edge ideas and technologies of city building and to pioneer new town development in the country. While these heroic projects encompass commendable achievements in terms of economic stimulation, technological advancement, and architectural experimentation, the disillusions of their social and environmental agendas also present critical lessons to city builders and policy makers worldwide. They alert us to rapid urbanization’s risks and suggest alternative ways in which communities could be better engaged in the creation of sustainable social-environmental systems.