China Eying Pearl River Mega-City

Win the future:

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy. Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong

As Ryan Avent points out, it’s not even that crazy:

The region is already quite densely populated, as you can see above, and the metro areas within the new city limits currently bleed into each other. Neither is the area of the new city that outrageous. It’s about 120 miles from Zhaoqing to Huizhou, not much more than the distance from Malibu to the eastern side of the Moreno Valley, between which spans the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (home to about 17m people).

What the Chinese effort actually seems to entail is a significant improvement in transportation around the region, harmonised local policies, and a rationalised metropolitan system of governance. And America could learn something from this. The New York metropolitan area (about half the size and population of the above mega city) stretches across four states. If the jurisdictions that make up the New York area were better able to coordinate, they city might not find itself cancelling critical infrastructure projects to close short-term budget gaps.

Indeed, check out a rough satellite view of the area and you’ll see that envisioning the Pearl River Delta as a mega-city seems fairly reasonable:

I would say the key merit of this plan isn’t just the possibility for more coherent regional planning (it might work out well, or the planning might be out of touch and inept) so much as it is the deliberate desire to keep filling in China’s most prosperous, highest-productivity area. And it’s quite reasonable to expect people to continue flowing away from the poor countryside to opportunity in richer areas, and specifically this area which is quite prosperous by Chinese standards. Rich, productive urban areas are, after all, where the best opportunities lie and it’s sensible for the Chinese to be planning for the infrastructure needs of a future in which more people flock to them.

The tragedy is that we’ve largely stopped doing this in the United States. Of course people still flock to the Boston-Washington corridor, the Bay Area, etc. But we don’t adopt the kind of infrastructure and zoning policies that would facilitate those areas becoming substantial denser. Consequently, instead of having the fastest net population growth in the richest metropolitan areas (or states) we have people flocking to Houston and Phoenix in search of cheap housing.