Expanding City Borders. Creating Communities.

China: Looking Ahead

February 16, 2018

According to Robin Xing, Chief China Economist, “166 million people will move from rural to urban areas in the next 14 years, with 75% of them headed toward lower-tier cities.

By: Susanna Swee

As larger proportions of China’s population move from the countryside to become urban citizens, they’re calling the nation’s lower-tier cities home. We now see the country’s less well-known cities emerging as growth engines providing fertile terrain for local and international investment. The shift to lower-tier cities makes it imperative to invest in flexible infrastructure to accommodate additional people and the spaces, services, and amenities that support the creation of healthy communities.

There’s no doubt that economic factors play a dominant role in China’s development, but we can’t discount how vital it is to preserve China’s unique culture and its deep connection to the land. The Plan on Revitalizing China’s Traditional Crafts protects Chinese culture and heritage, particularly the intangible elements of the country’s culture, and the government’s 13th FYP outlines its dedication to a greener environment.

China’s commitment to land, environment and culture demonstrates the understanding that vibrant future communities are underpinned by environmentally responsible and sustainable development and bound together by the beliefs and customs of its people – the competitive advantage that makes China a formidable player on the global economic stage. Creating the circumstances for fruitful communities, rooted in history yet empowered to move flexibly into the future is a design challenge that fuels our imagination and our passion.

How do you create a sense of community when so many people come from elsewhere?

In an increasingly connected world where borders are blurred and cultures blend to create new perspectives, the preservation of an Eastern mindset is more important than ever. And particularly when you have so many people moving into a new city, it’s vital to find a unifying spirit – something that can connect people from different backgrounds and experiences to create a cohesive sense of community. Truly livable cities are bound by culture and values.

AVIC’s International Aeroworld Chengdu is a prime example of what’s possible when a community is designed to speak to the people living there through a connection to the local culture and land. The design for this master planned community is shaped around sustainable living and a celebration of the history and innovation of China’s aviation industry.

Attracting young professionals and industry leaders, our Shanghai Planning and Landscape studio drives the design based on the Livable Cities of Tomorrow platform they developed for the new and evolving cities across China and Southeast Asia. Maintaining the beauty of the land, the natural topography and waterways are preserved by the interweaving of urban and naturalized landscapes with public transit and destination planning. Through an integrated approach that includes consulting and design across sectors, it lives as an example of the importance of approaching community design from a holistic perspective. By respecting the land and designing around the local culture, communities truly become places people are proud to call home.

Along with the massive movement of China’s population, comes an evolving middle class where we can see a more sophisticated consumer segment emerging nationwide. “While it’s still the case that the mainland’s 100 million middle-class citizens contribute significantly to the economy, residents of lower-tier cities have seen their incomes, and hence their purchasing power, rise steadily too.” South China Morning Post. China’s urbanization efforts and simultaneously developing middle class present the nation with a tremendous opportunity to continue to expand in a way that reflects and supports the needs of its people.

As affluence increases, where do people want to spend their time and money – and on what?

China’s lower-tier cities pose an interesting challenge: the redevelopment of the infrastructure required to accommodate its booming population growth. More affordable than major urban areas, the nation’s lower-tier cities are attracting top talent and offering opportunities for the middle class to stretch their dollar even further. With enticing employment prospects and more disposable income available than ever before, China’s middle class is moving to lower-tier cities and, in-step with global trends, displaying a preference for spending their money on experiences over products.

While located in Shanghai, the redesign required for Crystal Galleria offered us a glimpse into the challenges of redeveloping existing structures to address evolving needs in lower-tier cities. Having been abandoned for two years, this building stood with only columns and escalators. Our mandate was to create a bustling retail centre, however, we recognized that this opportunity was about more than building another mall – it was about creating a lively community hub. Through a mixed-use approach that includes retail, office space, and temporary promotional areas that encourage community gathering and interaction, Crystal Galleria becomes not only a space to shop, but an integral component of the community.