The Insurmountable Opportunities of Explosive Growth

Urban design in China

Authored by: Daniel B. Abramson

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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China’s “explosive” urbanization of the past 30 years created an intoxicating atmosphere for urban design, encouraging local officials and developers to create models of good practice and to envision major improvements that higher levels of government could then promote across the country. These opportunities have often proven largely illusory, however, as the very speed and scale of development also presented obstacles to creative, locally responsive and socially inclusive design. The greatest challenges that China’s explosive growth presents for urban design have to do with achieving a balance of scales in three dimensions: spatial, temporal, and social/organizational. Over the past five years, a developmental policy emphasis on the economic “new normal” and a “new-type urbanization” has led to three new trends in the way urban design treats urban space: (1) as a subject for incremental “betterment” instead of a tabula rasa; (2) as an open urban matrix instead of an aggregation of cellular spatial units; and (3) as an ecological system integrated with its larger natural setting, instead of in opposition to the rural environment.

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