当前位置:首页 >学术
2017-07-27 10:48:49来源:中国城市建设网

English Translation:

Liveability of cities is not about their size

Challenging the assumptions about liveability in the context of Greater China

Tan Khee Giap, Wang Kejian, NieTongxin

Urbanisation is an imperative trend that is moulding the future trajectories of countries. Currently, more than half of the world’s population live in an urban environment, and by 2050, 70% of the world’s population are expected to be urban. In China, some 20 million people annually swap rural life for an urban one.Liveability of cities is a crucial element in determining national competitiveness in the context of urbanisation not least because liveable cities attract good workers and businesses, and business activity is a key factor in a city’s development.

China, which was previously focused on growing the size of its pie in the global economy, is also set to embrace a wider definition of advancement, which includes liveability. Xi Jinping, upon assuming presidency in 2013, announced a “New Normal” era for China where economic growth is no longer the only gauge for success, but where an “inclusive and sustainable” growth strategy will be pursued. The changes in China’s societal sentiments and political priorities mean that liveability is increasingly being pushed higher up the Chinese government’s list of agenda.

In the pursuit of ensuring greater liveability of its cities, however, governments have to form a sound understanding of what determines liveability. One commonly held assumption regarding liveability is that a small population size is associated with greater liveability. The logic flows that less populated cities allow their residents greater land or amenities space per capita, and therefore greater ability for them to enjoy life and personal space. In contrast, larger cities suffer from a “megacity syndrome”, which is characterised by overpopulation, traffic congestion, rising housing prices and cost of living, as well as air and noise pollution. According to a research, the majority of Chinese citizens deem small and medium-sized cities more liveable than big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in terms of air quality, waste treatment capacity, and built environment.

Worryingly, numerous global liveability indices seem to confirm this line of thought that liveability of bigger cities is lower than that of smaller cities. The top ranking cities, Vancouver, Vienna, and Melbourne, have population sizes of 600,000, 1.7 million, and 4 million, respectively, compared to New York and London, which have more than 8 million each. Even when we zoom into the context of Asia, Macau (with a population of 560,000), Weihai (2.8 million), and Xiamen (3.6 million), rank above their more populated counterparts like Shanghai (23.8 million), Beijing (20.7 million), and Shenzhen (10.5 million).

With such a belief in mind that smaller size creates greater liveability of cities, some city governments attempt to tackle their urban problems by blindly controlling the population size of their cities. For example, Beijing aims to tackle the grave problem of traffic congestion by restricting traffic based on time and car plate numbers. However, the problem still persists. The household registration system, or the “hukou” system, is another policy that approaches the matter from the same perspective, in limiting access of public services and benefits to internal Chinese migrants.

Nevertheless, by generating a simple scatter plot based on our proprietary data of 100 Greater China cities, we observed that there was little to no correlation between population size and the liveability of cities. In fact, there was a wide variation in the liveability scores among numerous cities of a similarly small-sized range. We further employed a multiple regression model to test which of the following variables had the greatest impact on liveability of Greater China cities: population size, gross regional domestic product (GRDP) per capita, and the proportion of tertiary sector to the overall economic activity of the city. Due to the lack of city level data availability on air pollution level, environmental variable was not chosen for the model. The results of the multiple regression model showed GRDP per capita as the factor most significantly influencing liveability, while population size and the proportion of tertiary sector to the overall economic activity of the city both showed insignificance in their relationships with liveability. The results therefore revealed that population size has little impact in determining the liveability of a city.

Given that China’s cities are at different stages of development – with the coastal regionwell ahead of the inland economies – for many cities, income level is still the basic element required for liveability, since without purchasing power, individuals and city governments alike will not be able to go beyond the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to look beyond satisfying the physiological needs into other aspects of life, such as social, cultural, or environmental considerations.

Furthermore, taking into consideration the fact that there are altogether 286 prefecture-level and 368 county-level cities in China, the majority of which are small cities (according to the Wall Street Journal there are 1600 small cities in China), it becomes clear that the top ranking cities are so ranked not because of their small population size per se, but because they possess unique value propositions that allow them to be more liveable than others, and stand out from the thousands of other small-sized cities. These characteristics may include scenic and well-maintained environment (e.g. Guilin), a rich cultural heritage (e.g. Qufu), and a combination of environmental friendliness and economic development (e.g. Zhuhai). Our investigation therefore debunks the assumption held by many that smaller population size positively influences a city’s liveability and vice versa.

It is said that the most optimised type of urbanisation occurs with more planning. For a country like China where the government is a proponent of a top-down, planning-oriented approach, this is good news. China also possesses the impressive ability to glean various learnings from around the world, and then to incorporate those insights and techniques into whatever strategy they want to achieve. Nevertheless, this is precisely why China will need to be clear-headed, and free of assumptions, in pursuing a strategy to make its cities more liveable going forward. Fundamentally, its approach towards enhancing liveability has to tackle the core problem of planning, administration, and the management of cities, rather than to react to symptoms or address the wrong areas such as population size. Furthermore, the policy thinking needs to be backed by facts on the ground, and should capture the comprehensive range of factors affecting liveability instead of simply emulating the “best players” heralded by indices developed, in many cases, for specific purposes of multinational corporations.

To this end, the Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore (NUS) provides a holistic and evidence-based framework that fills the gap, by taking into account the specific multi-dimensional sensibilities of China’s ordinary residents. This year, ACI is launching the completed analysis of the 2014 Greater China Liveable Cities Index and Simulation Studies (GCLCI) at the institute’s annual conference, which is happening on the November 26th, 2015. This will be a highly relevant document for Chinese policy makers as a reference point for city planning, construction, and management. The World Bank’s Asia representative also endorsed the quality of the institute’s liveability analysis framework earlier.

In order to capture the essence of this “overall well-being”, ACI’s liveability index attempts to offer a comprehensive definition of liveability according to 96 indicators across five environments, namely, economic vibrancy and competitiveness, environmental friendliness and sustainability, domestic security and stability, socio-cultural conditions, and political governance. The GCLCI is a geographically sensitive and categorically comprehensive framework that offers an alternative to China and potentially Asia’s policy makers and academics in their ongoing quest to better understand and address the potent issue of liveability.

Dr Tan Khee Giap,

Co-Director of Asia Competitiveness Institute, LKYSPP, NUS

Mr. Wang Kejiian,

Deputy Director, Commercial Network Construction and Development Centre of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC), People’s Republic of China

Mr. NieTongxin,

Research Associate, ACI, LKYSPP, NUS

增值电信业务经营许可证:京B2-20171283   互联网新闻信息服务许可证10120200016
《城市建设》 国际标准刊号:ISSN 1674-781X   国内统一刊号:CN 11-5897/F
《城市建设理论研究(电子版)》 国际标准刊号:ISSN 2095-2104   国内统一刊号:CN 11-9313/TU