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PLANNING IN ASIA

Diverse as the planning scene is in Europe, it is much more so in Asia. One reason is the huge difference in income among the nations of Asia. Table 18-1 compares GDP (gross domestic product) per capita for a few Asian nations and the United States. Note that the wealthiest Asian country on the list, Japan, has approximately 20 times that of the poorest, Bangladesh.

The range of differences in national growth rates is also much greater than in Europe. Prosperous South Korea has a fertility rate of 1.2 (2.1 is replacement level). Its population has more or less topped out and will begin to decline shortly unless there is a major increase in fertility. In far less prosperous albeit rapidly developing India the fertility rate is 2.7. The country experiences approximately 25 million births per year, and grows at about 16 million people per year (Figure 18-2).26

The variety of political regimes in Asia is huge. A democratic and efficient regime in South Korea shares a border with North Korea, whose dysfunctional and impoverished regime is one of the most tyrannical on the planet. India's soft democracy contrasts sharply with the efficient, hard- edged democracy of places like Singapore. China's government—which is autocratic, repressive in the realm of ideas (for example, Internet censorship,) and political disagreement, and yet accepting of a great deal of economic freedom—has been spectacularly successful as an engine of economic growth.27

For the previously mentioned reasons it is even harder to generalize about planning in Asia than in Europe. Consider, for example, South Korea. The nation enjoys a high living standard and is a powerful international competitor in manufacturing. Its 48 million people, who own perhaps

TABLE 18-1 Per Capita GDP of Selected Nations, 2010

Bangladesh

$1,660

India

$3,400

Indonesia

$4,300

China

$7,400

South Korea

$30,200

Japan

$34,200

United States

$47,400

Note: Figures are based on purchasing power parity.

Source: CIA World Factbook, www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/.

South Korea's population

FIGURE 18-2 South Korea's population (top) now has a heavy concentration of people in middle age, a favorable situation for economic growth. But in another two decades or so it will be heavily weighted toward retirement age population, a much less favorable situation. Note that the population age 40-44 is almost twice the size of the population age 0-4. The present population stability will be replaced by one of substantial decline unless there is a large increase in fertility. In India (bottom) the youngest age cohorts are the largest, so population shrinkage, if it happens at all, is many decades away. The changing slope at the bottom of the pyramid indicates that India's still high fertility rate has been declining.

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census International Data Base, www.census.gov/population/ international/data/idb/.

20 million automobiles, live on 38,000 square miles, somewhat less land area than the state of Virginia. Korean planners' concerns will all seem very familiar to European or U.S. planners. Given the high population density and the high rate of automobile ownership there is a great emphasis on both highway and public transportation planning. Seoul, the capital city, with a population of 10 million, has the world's third largest subway system and an extensive network of bus and light-rail transport. The Seoul capital district contains almost half the population of the nation, and it continues to grow even as the nation as a whole has reached population stability. Thus new town planning is of major concern for Korean planners.

International economic competitiveness is also an issue with planners. The Songdo "intelligent city" developed on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land on the Incheon waterfront about 40 miles to the west of Seoul was expressly planned in part to help the nation compete in international trade and finance. Much of the city looks rather Western and, in fact, its master plan was done by the New York architectural and planning firm Kohn Pedersen Fox. American planners and engineers who spend time in South Korea are often impressed with the speed with which the Koreans go from concept to detailed plans to completed project. In a parallel with the German situation (discussed earlier in this chapter) the huge uncertainty that hangs over the planning situation in South Korea is what will happen with North Korea. Just as Germany was divided between East and West at the end of World War II, Korea was divided between North and South. In the case of the Koreas the story is far from over.

Songdo, South Korea.

Among other prosperous Asian states including Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, many concerns are similar. In Japan, there has been an emphasis on public transportation and infrastructure development. There has also been much interest in urban growth boundaries (UGBs) and in channeling urban growth to preserve open spaces between places, much as in parts of the United States. Of course, at present Japan is primarily focused on recovery and rebuilding following the 2011 tsunami.

In faster-growing and less prosperous parts of Asia the planning concerns may be very different. Where rural areas are densely populated, the marginal or additional productivity of one more worker is necessarily very small and that leads to substantial migration to urban areas, even though economic opportunities for most rural migrants there are limited. That migration often shows up as large squatter settlements, both on the periphery and inside of cities.

Providing even the most minimal sort of housing is a tremendous problem in much of Asia. Some nations have tried public housing, but the scale of the problem has overwhelmed the funds available. A number of nations have taken a sites-and-services approach. Funding comes from the municipal government, sometimes the provincial or national government, and sometimes from international donor agencies. Typically the municipal government provides the site with utilities, often only a community tap, and with sewerage,

A sites-and-services project some years ago in Chennai (formerly Madras), India. The city government provides utilities and plots of land at nominal prices. Some of the construction is with indigenous materials such as reeds, sticks, and dried mud. Other construction is with modern materials such as concrete blocks.

or sometimes only with drainage and electricity. The prospective homeowner gets the site for a nominal fee and then builds his or her shelter on it. The shelter may be only indigenous materials like sticks, mud, and whatever scraps the owner can scavenge. In some cases more substantial materials are used. In time, larger and more substantial structures tend to replace the original ones. The house may serve as a store of wealth for the original occupant, perhaps being sold to obtain other housing or to start a small business venture. The sites-and-services approach has generally worked out better than direct provision of housing but it, too, often does not match the scale of the problem of housing large numbers of poor rural-to-urban migrants.

For a planner concerned with providing the residents of a squatter settlement with clean water so that they don't get water-borne diseases like cholera, concerns such as green spaces, sustainability, and walk ability that engaged the interest of planners in Songdo may seem quite secondary.

In China and India huge middle classes have emerged along with modern economic sectors, the Chinese emphasizing manufacturing and the Indians emphasizing advanced services like information technology. These modern sectors and large and prosperous middle classes coexist with huge amounts of rural poverty and underdevelopment.

While some planners focus on the problems of poverty, others are involved with an entirely different set of problems. At this time more commercial and residential high-rise construction is going on in Shanghai than in any other city in the world. Its planners will necessarily be preoccupied with questions of urban design, public transportation, and coming to terms with the nation's exploding automobile population. In China and to a lesser degree India, rapid industrialization has exacted a huge environmental price. Thus many planners will be concerned with environmental questions that will seem quite familiar to their Western colleagues. Conflict over priorities and the allocation of resources is inevitable.

Planning for the Great Migration. The most ambitious planning initiative in Asia is currently taking place in China. In 2013 The New York Times reported:

China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years—a transformative event that could set off a new wave of growth or saddle the country with problems for generations to come.28

In 2014 The Wall Street Journal reported that the plan had been officially approved, though the journal indicated a 2020 rather than a 2025 date and a correspondingly smaller number of moves.29

The plan involves the taking of millions of farmers' properties and the demolition of their homes, some payment as compensation, and rehousing, primarily in newly built high rises. At least some assistance with the prices of apartments will be provided. Reports on these details vary. The plan also involves massive expenditures on infrastructure of all sorts.

The Government of China, though far less oppressive than it was in the days of Mao Tse Tung, is not an elected government and so is far less transparent than governments in, say, North America or Europe. Decisions are made high up by a limited number of people and then announced. There is thus much that no one outside of this limited circle can know.

The reason given for the plan commands a brief explanation. The economic model that has given China enormous rates of economic growth has been built on huge and growing exports of manufactured products, a very high rate of investment, and correspondingly a very high savings rate by the Chinese population. That model is not sustainable indefinitely. Most economists who have considered the matter believe that the nation must shift to a more consumer- oriented model—less dependence on exports and much more consumption of both services and manufactured products by the mass of China's population.

In 2014 a government website explained:

Domestic demand is the fundamental drive [szc] of our nation's economic development, and urbanization has the greatest potential to expand domestic consumption.

If carried out at anywhere near the numbers mentioned, the program would be the largest act of social engineering ever carried out in the history of the human race, with the possible exception of China's disastrous "Great Leap Forward" (1958-1962) under Mao Tse Tung. The movement of rural population to the cities would be inevitable in any case if the history of many nations, including China, is any guide. The decision to accelerate it, and also to structure it by building a large number of cities and towns in formerly rural areas is what is new. Will that work out better than allowing a continual unplanned drift of population into existing huge metropolitan areas like Shanghai and Beijing? Would it be better to build new cities and towns at a pace necessary to accommodate the rural-to-urban shift when and where it occurred naturally rather than to control and force it? I make no claim to know.

Earlier in this chapter we noted that recent planning decisions in Great Britain were a move away from the comprehensive model (see Chapter 19) to a more incremental approach. The Chinese approach is very much the opposite, a full-blown embrace of the comprehensive model on a huge scale.

This section started by discussing the great differences between Asian nations in income and demography. Perhaps the coming years will see some convergence. We noted India's high fertility rate, 2.7. But 15 years ago it was 3.4. Another drop like that and India will be down to replacement level, though it would take several more decades for population to stabilize. India and China are both still very poor by Western standards, but both are experiencing extremely rapid economic growth. Perhaps in several decades they will achieve the levels of prosperity that now prevail in South Korea or Japan. So too may that other very populous Asian nation, Indonesia.

Up until now the flow of planning ideas and technique has largely been from the West to Asia. The planner who travels to Indian cities cannot miss signs of the British town planning tradition in matters like parks, public spaces, and street layout. Some of Chandrigah in India was planned by the French planner Le Corbusier. Parts of Islamabad, once part of India and after the 1947 partition of India the capital of the newly created Pakistan, were planned by the Greek planner Constantine Doxiadis. A great many Asian planners have been trained in European and American planning schools. And American and European planning and architectural firms provide consulting services to numerous clients in Asia. But as Asian sophistication in planning continues to grow, the flow of ideas and expertise will almost certainly become more balanced.

 
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