The latest plan from China, a megalopolis six-times New York, combining Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei province, called Jing-Jin-Ji, with a population of 130 million,
The new region will link the research facilities and creative culture of Beijing with the economic muscle of the port city of Tianjin and the hinterlands of Hebei Province, forcing areas that have never cooperated to work together... This month, the Beijing city government announced its part of the plan, vowing to move much of its bureaucracy, as well as factories and hospitals, to the hinterlands in an effort to offset the city’s strict residency limits, easing congestion, and to spread good-paying jobs into less-developed areas...
Jing-Jin-Ji, as the region is called, is meant to help the area catch up to China’s more prosperous economic belts: the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and Nanjing in central China, and the Pearl River Delta around Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern China. But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States. And unlike metro areas that have grown up organically, Jing-Jin-Ji would be a very deliberate creation. Its centerpiece: a huge expansion of high-speed rail to bring the major cities within an hour’s commute of each other.
High-speed rail has a central role in this grand plan,
Chinese planners used to follow a rule of thumb they learned from the West: All parts of an urban area should be within 60 miles of each other, or the average amount of highway that can be covered in an hour of driving. Beyond that, people cannot effectively commute. High-speed rail, Professor Zhang said, has changed that equation. Chinese trains now easily hit 150 to 185 miles an hour, allowing the urban area to expand. A new line between Beijing and Tianjin cut travel times from three hours to 37 minutes. That train has become so crowded that a second track is being laid. Now, high-speed rail is moving toward smaller cities. One line is opening this year between Beijing and Tangshan. Another is linking Beijing with Zhangjiakou, turning the mountain city into a recreational center for the new urban area... “Speed replaces distance,” Professor Zhang said. “It has radically expanded the scope of what an economic area can be.”
It is no surprise that the two central pillars of this strategy are relocating existing activity clusters (like the administrative center to the Beijing suburb of Tongzhou, and over 1200 polluting businesses outside city centers) to spread growth to newer areas and using high-speed rail to connect population centers within the large region. Both these are logistical interventions, in which Beijing has already demonstrated excellence. And with everything the Chinese do, the sheer scale is staggering. Amidst the recent gloom surrounding China, this may represent a reasonably sound potential economic opportunity for sustaining the country's investment driven growth model.