Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Chinese Cities’ Expansion Plans Could House 3.4 Billion People

  • 3,500 new areas being considered by small cities dwarf demand
  • State media criticizes effort that could feed housing glut

New areas planned by China’s small cities could accommodate 3.4 billion people by 2030 -- or almost half the world’s current population -- a target that even Chinese state media calls problematic.

A report by the National Development & Reform Commission, China’s central planning agency, found that small- and medium-sized cities were planning more than 3,500 new areas that could accommodate more than twice the country’s current population of 1.4 billion. The entire world has a population of 7.4 billion, according to U.S. Census estimates.

The findings were detailed in an analysis by the official Xinhua News Agency, which criticized the planned new areas as unworkable: "Who’s going to live in them? That’s a problem," the piece said.

The expansion comes amid urbanization calls by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang as China prepares for another 100 million people to move from the countryside to urban metropolises by the end of the decade. People tend favor bigger markets with more opportunities and fewer than 1-in-10 migrant workers moved to small cities last year, according to an NDRC report published in April.

Even without the new areas, China already has more housing than it needs and "ghost cities" have proliferated. China has been building more than 10 million new units annually for the past five years, outstripping an estimated of demand of less than 8 million, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence Economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen.

The expansion plans were obviously unrealistic, the Xinhua piece cited South China Urban Planning Society President Hu Gang as saying. Overplanning was driven by local governments’ desire for more land income, Hu said. Higher population targets can help them allocate more land for building.

— With assistance by Ken Wills

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