I’m writing today from Chongqing, a vast city in central China that is China’s gateway to its western regions. By some accounts, Chongqing is the largest city in the world, a muncipality of 32 million people, but that, I’ve learned, is misleading, since that number includes the population of a handful of satellite cities and a rural population of 20 million. A few years ago, however, China carved Chongqing and its 32 million people out of Szechuan province and made it a municipality of its own, and today the Chongqing is a pilot project for the most important thing happening in China, and perhaps the world: the urbanization of as many as half a billion people from rural farms and villages into newly constructed cities.”Chongqinq,” says Wen Tianping, the city’s spokesman, “is a microcosm of China itself.”
The scale of the enterprise is staggering. In Chongqing, each year for the indefinite future, the plan is to move 500,000 people from rural to urban life. That means that Chongqinq must plan, ready, and construct the equivalent of a city the size of Atlanta, Georgia, every year, providing jobs, roads, housing, infrastructure, schools, hospitals and more. It’s a project that has been going on in China for the past 20 years, during which 200 million people have already been urbanized, and over the next generation another 200 to 300 million people will follow in their footsteps.
“We have plans, timetables, goals,” says Qian Lee, the director of Chongqing’s comprehensive business promotion project. “You can’t have a plan for everything. But we don’t make plans to be abandoned. We make plans to be accomplished. You do it scientifically, as we always say in China.”
And the thing is, in China, plans work.
In Chongqinq, the population itself has been steady for many years, but the entire municipality is shifting from rural to urban. The city center houses 5-6 million people, satellite cities of up to 1 million or more are popping up around it, and urban townships ot 200,000 to 500,000 are springing up like mushrooms around those. “We’ve planned six regional centers of 1 million each,” says Qian Lee. As people leave the farms and villages, some of the land is converted to industrial use, and some it is combined into more efficient, industrialized farming. “Chongqinq will become what we call a ‘dragon’s head’ economic engine for the upper Yangtze River region, and the model for balanced, urban-rural areas.”