5 Things to Know…About China’s New Urbanization Guidelines

By CC Huang


On February 21, China’s State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee released a new set of guidelines (English coverage) for strengthening urban planning and development. These guidelines were borne out of recommendations from the Central Urban Work Conference this past December reflecting the nation’s new emphasis on urban sustainability. The last such meeting was held in 1978, when China’s cities were home to less than 20 percent of its population. By contrast, that number today is 57 percent.

This announcement represents a major step forward for urban development in China. For the past few decades, city planning was based on a car-dependent, Soviet model dominated by superblocks, wide roads, and single-use districts. By comparison, the new guidelines prioritize walking and public transit options over car use, preserve historical and cultural characteristics, and grow cities only within the means of their natural resources.

In 2008, for the first time in human history, more than half of the global population was living in urban areas and the United Nations predicts two-thirds of the world’s population, about six billion people, will be city dwellers by 2050. As the world’s most populous nation, China’s urban development will set the tone as urban populations continue to grow worldwide.

The comprehensive principles included in China’s new guidelines range widely in scale, covering a city’s entire geographic boundary down to its streets, blocks, and buildings. They also offer guidance on municipal water, waste, and energy systems, which are important at all scales. Below, we elaborate on five of the key principles included in the guidelines: