China will build 6,000 new towns over the next two decades. This will be the most rapid urbanization in history. If China does it wrong, it will be the biggest urbanization disaster in history. If China does it right, it will set a new standard for urban planning and development for future cities around the globe: Urban Planning with Chinese Characteristics!
If urban planning and development just continue the practice of the past two decades, there will be unsustainable urban disaster driven by errors in government planning procedures, design, development practice, infrastructure construction, architecture, materials, urban management, social community design, economic concentration, and environmental degradation
Let’s take a few examples of these errors
· Planning: Master planning comes before clear economic, social and environmental strategy.
· Design: Design is driven by rigid technical standards and does not facilitate sustainable economic, social community and environmental strategy.
· Development : Developers do not follow Master plans.
· Infrastructure Construction: Infrastructure construction starts before strategic marketing and economic planning, constraining the shape of viable new urban and suburban places.
· Architecture: Celebrity driven, rather than integrated into the new community strategy.
· Materials: Poor materials undermine durability and degrade the environment.
· Urban management: Fragmented administration; government technical mandates without community involvement.
· Livability: Homogenous “Life style” planning, instead of diversified neighborhood communities and spaces.
· Market value: No strategic marketing plan for sustainable industry and commercial attraction and investment.
· Civic Life: Insufficient amenities and public centers for neighborhood identity and robust community life.
· Branding: New towns and renovated urban centers need distinctive Place brand identity that will be managed for decades to come.
What Can Go Right?
There are some well-planned new industrial cities like Tianjin Binhai city and a number of successful revitalized urban areas, like Xi[Maxwell M1] Tian Di in Shanghai and elsewhere in Chengdu, Guangzhou and other cities. But more often the Master Plans are congested and boring homogenous cookie-cutter formats. Even where Master Plans are good, actual development often corrupts their integrity because of inadequate development control. Sustainable community development requires single owner control of the land parcel with enforceable code specifications for sub-developers. There has to be more policy flexibility in the planning process and control in the development process to get away from the sterile standardization of most new towns. Good planning has to follow sound principles of Place Planning and Development.
What is Place Planning and Development?
The word “Urban” does not tell us what a City is. Real cities and towns are heterogeneous places where people of all classes live, work, learn, play, visit and socially interact with each other both within and between diverse neighborhoods, as well as interact with adjacent and nearby cities, towns and communities. It is this neighborhood diversity and interaction that gives vitality to urban life.
If there are no diverse neighborhoods with new cities and, towns and communities, then the city is a homogeneous settlement of aggregated persons, families, businesses and public areas that have no “living”vitality for their people, businesses and industries. Everything has a boring“sameness”. There is no threshold for human differences that can build interesting personal and family acquaintance, bonds for affection and trust, economic vitality and social harmony. Such physical settlements, however pretty they may look for the moment, will degrade and perish.
Kotler Marketing has four books on Place Marketing and has practiced its principles of strategy, development, design, marketing and management to attract people, investment, businesses and tourists to place destinations. We apply these same principles to urban planning and development in order to create Urban Places of vibrant community life and economic growth.
The Principles of Place Planning and Development
Place Planning requires a clear understanding of the purpose of a city. Economic and social strategies for urban places must precede Master Planning, design and infrastructure construction. Urban Places must have an intrinsic economic value and add collateral value to the surrounding metropolitan region and its industry clusters.
Place Planning harmoniously integrates the economy and community of urban places. Efficient planning of CBDs as a center of government, cultural institutions, service industries and high-end real estate and amenities must complement the diffusion of commerce, creative industry, affordable housing, learning and social life in the neighborhoods. Citizen participation at the neighborhood level must balance central power at the CBD level.
The CBD must interact with neighborhoods and neighborhoods with each other. Urban Place Planning, development and management has to be as social as it is physical. It has to be as humane as it is efficient. Architecture and landscape design must enable the distinctive and authentic identity to the City. These principles attract talent, investment, business and visitors to the city and its communities.
What is a City?
Historically there were clusters of independent towns. The most powerful town, or municipality, aggrandized, or more politely stated, annexed surrounding towns. The agglomeration became the “City.”
To this day, cities are composed of “Downtown CBDs” (the annexing town) and“neighborhoods” (the annexed towns). Downtown is the seat of political power, big business and finance, and high-end commerce and real estate. Neighborhoods are communities of people with the social residue of their former autonomy. They are a social fabric of families, homes, stores, small businesses, schools, temples and churches, fire stations, libraries, restaurants and theatres and unique historic sites. In some cases they become industrials ones.
People do not live in a city. Rich people live and work downtown. Ordinary people live in neighborhoods and either work in their neighborhoods or work or visit the CBD and industrial zones.
What Happened to the City?
The economic and financial growth of downtown expanded its original boundary by demolishing or gentrifying adjacent neighborhoods to make more room for CBD hotels, office towers, high-end housing and service businesses.
Municipal government moved industrial production to outlying old neighborhoods or to [Maxwell M2] Greenfield suburban districts. Developers built residential suburbs for middle-income housing, high-end condo and villa enclaves and even enclave zones for industrial migrant housing. Auto highways and mass transit connected the City center to neighborhoods and new suburban sprawl developments and towns. All roads led to “Downtown.”
Near-in neighborhoods decayed until they were cheap enough to be gentrified into high income lifestyle districts. The social community of old neighborhoods was replaced by the anomic lifestyle of young professional newcomers, living in uniform designed condo or rental flats.
Some old neighborhoods are historically preserved by the government because of special features, while other neighborhoods fight for their own preservation. Ad hoc neighborhood groups defend these neighborhoods. The cityscape may look like a pretty picture, but it is a power struggle and disaster for community.
Where Did This Happen?
It happened in the U.S. and it is happening in China and rest of the developed and developing world.
What is the Result?
The rich get richer and fill the ever expanding City Center. Middle class families move to homogeneous suburban developments, separated from old neighborhood networks and left with a minimal social fabric of community. Workers are shunted to residential towers adjacent to industrial zones, without nearby amenities. Poor people fall through the cracks! Most of the 78,000 reported protests in China are precisely about neighborhood displacement.
The municipal drive for globalized centers and suburban surroundings has produced a double standard of architectural fashion and lifestyle downtown and boredom in the surrounding settlements where people are new to each other and have few ties to bind them.
Downtown is held together by wealth. Decaying neighborhoods and new makeshift districts have little intrinsic commerce and public life to hold them together. The disconnection of economy and society is burdensome to people and dangerous for the State. As downtown wealth accretes, surrounding society becomes enraged. Official culture alone cannot bind this separation. We need to restore a community fabric and measure of public autonomy to city neighborhoods and new towns so they can be connected harmoniously to the Center City. Harmonious society is the goal of place planning and development.
What Role Do Planners Play?
City planners are the front men for downtown developers, financiers and politicians. They focus on “downtown” enhancement and suburban residential and industrial resettlement. However talented and well-intentioned, they work under the constant pressures of land sales for municipal revenue. They seek new models for their tasks from cities around the world, in order to copy what looks decent, rather than invent what will actually work.
Planners are driven by central political policy, municipal finance and centralized infrastructure and economy; rather than principles and strategies of economic development and community life. They are separated from economic planners, as well as from neighborhood people. They are technically- rather than economically- or socially-oriented.
What Role Should Planners Play?
The true mission of planners should be to plan new cities and redevelop old cities in a manner that harmonizes economic development with the neighborhood community. They have to be social and economic planners, as well as physical planners.
They have to preserve historic urban neighborhoods for current residents and newcomers in order to retain and augment the cultural identity of their city and maintain the balance between its CBD and local neighborhoods. They have to involve residents in the planning process.
Planners have to help the Government and the Party to find a new model of harmonious urban planning that combines economy and society, and execute that model with variety, adaptability and consistency.
What Role Do Designers Play?
Designers are hampered by preemptive infrastructure construction. They design around bureaucratic initiatives and roadblocks, rather than help bureaus design for viable economic and social strategy. As a competition-based professional they are driven by creative aesthetics and ecological innovations, rather the human livability and taste.
Urban designers focus on downtown commerce, finance, residential luxury and public institutions. They do not pay adequate attention to the sociability and aesthetics of neighborhood design. They are more interested in green technology than community livability.
China is a world leader in solar technology, which it can harness for sustainable cities. But, we must beware of “ecomania” and balance new energy technologies with social principles of human community.
What Role Should Designers Play?
Design should serve people through humane design. Aesthetic novelty and new technology are no surrogate for community. Master Planning has to integrate downtown attraction with neighborhood attraction. Neighborhood community design has to be a key element in Master Planning. Neighborhood design has to invite small business, light industry, crafts and services to neighborhood, so some residents can work in their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods have to be designed for safety, friendship, walking, shopping, fitness, learning, entertainment and community social life.
What Role Do Urban Agencies Play?
City management is driven by tax revenue for operations and economic development for jobs. It posits that economic development is the primary driver of social benefit through jobs and wage growth for the people.
Public managers primarily focus on providing services to CBD and industrial development. The provision of health and social services in the neighborhoods is a secondary interest. There are few incentives for robust neighborhood business and community life.
City managers engineer civic engagement, but do not confer legally empowered community involvement. Their heart is in the right place, but they do not share their authority. This is community engineering, not community life.
What Role Should Urban Agencies Play?
Urban managers are qualified professionals and are trying to do a good job; but they work within the economic priorities of municipal finance. Neighborhood residents do not trust the allegiance of these managers to community interest.
Urban service management requires a broader government mandate and training to involve residents in health and social service program decisions. To do their job well, urban managers have to gain the trust of people. They have to share decision making with neighborhood residents and businesses.
The Central Government acknowledges this need for citizen involvement. China’s 2007 Urban and Rural Planning Law calls for more participation at the local level and that comments by local people should be noted in the final plans. It also calls for more consideration of environmental and cultural conservation as part of the planning process and encourages an integrated approach from urban to rural.
There is a good opportunity to put this mandate to work. In 2012 the Central government is phasing out the Neighborhood Committee level of government. This creates a vacuum of connecting people to government. This vacuum can be filled by voluntary Advisory Neighborhood Councils. Voluntary Neighborhood Advisory Councils operate in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere in the world. These councils have legal standing in the municipality for advisory recommendations on service management and zoning. They have small budgets and their members serve on an unpaid, volunteer basis. Neighborhood councils balance community interest and downtown power.
I organized the first legally mandated neighborhood councils in the U.S. almost forty years ago, so I speak from experience about their usefulness for dispute settlement and civic harmony. My book, Neighborhood Government, Lexington Books, 1969, is still in print.
How Should Government Mandate Place Planning?
I wish I knew the answer! I know the questions, but I do not know the answers. It is for municipal leaders, planning professionals and neighborhood leaders to solve this problem of reconciling the power of CBDs for economic and job growth with the community interests of territorial neighborhoods.
I want to sum up three essentials of Place Planning that have to be faced: (1) strategy must come before planning and design; (2) CBD power must be harmonized with neighborhood community; and (3) neighborhoods require a legal framework for popular participation in local matters.
China’s Unique Urban Opportunity
The disconnection of economy and community is a crisis for all cities around the world, in both developed and developing countries. It is caused by the consolidation and globalization of industry, finance and trade.
It is an explosive crisis because the inequalities of downtown wealth and neighborhood decay. Dispirited neighborhood people are living without a social and commercial fabric of community. They express their rage in all forms of social distemper. Cities are time bombs that must be defused before they explode.
The whole urban world needs a new model of Place Planning and Development, and China is the only place where there is sufficient central authority, financial strength and the ideological, social commitment to devise this model. This cannot be done in the fragmented and competing authorities of Western democracies.
If China can plan, design and manage and the balanced city of downtown power and neighborhood community, she will achieve the harmony she seeks and provide a felicitous road to urbanization for the rest of the world.