China has been undergoing a remarkable level of growth and urbanization over the past few decades, with just over half of China’s population now urban.
Urbanization in China is predicted to continue to about 70% of the population, so there is a lot of urban growth still to come.
The Economist Magazine in a recent article looked at this growth in Chinese cities, and the urban sprawl that has developed as part of the very fast urban growth.
As a result of the rapid growth, urbanization and road building for connectivity and economic efficiency, the Economist Article notes that China has been spending a massive 8.5% of national income on infrastructure compared with 2.6% in Europe and the USA, and 3.9% in India.
It is a very interesting article, and has a long list of issues that have developed:
- Traffic congestion
- Apparent miss-alignment of industrial areas with labor resources
- Relatively thinly spread urban populations due to urban sprawl and land availability drivers
- Massive growth in-car use
- Still developing urban mass transit systems that may not be in the right places
- School and hospital provision behind the growth curve – not enough for actual populations in rapidly growing cities
- Lack of affordable housing
This, of course, is not a new list of problems, or unique to China. Rapidly growing cities worldwide have all experienced a similar list of problems – I can remember similar discussions around the big US cities decades ago, and we still have the same discussions around the bigger faster-growing cities in Australasia.
Building good quality infrastructure
From an infrastructure management point of view, a very rapid building phase like China is experiencing means that all available resources are committed to the task of building out infrastructure.
The main issue in this phase is making sure you acquire good quality infrastructure.
Looking at the problem list, the solutions to this that have developed in Western practice have been around urban planning disciplines, urban densification policies, and re-examining the range of infrastructure built out and optimizing infrastructure to match developing needs and changing requirements and policies.
Once the basic infrastructure is in place urban livability becomes the focus.
Future infrastructure management challenges that result from construction booms
North America and Australasia experienced rapid urban growth booms in the 1950s and 1960s, which lead to peaks in infrastructure acquisition during the same period.
Many of these infrastructure peaks are now entering renewal phases, which need to be managed carefully.
We have also found that renewals inbuilt and constantly in use environments are significantly more complex to manage than ‘green fields’ new builds.
The combination of these developing renewal peaks and complexity is what has been driving the development of infrastructure asset management practice.
Managing infrastructure renewals
What is relatively easy to predict is that in 40-60 years time China will also have a huge ‘bow wave’ of infrastructure renewals that need to be managed alongside continuing urbanization and growth.
It will be a complex infrastructure asset management challenge.
Although it is usually the last thing to do, and often falls off the list during rapid construction phases, keeping high quality and accurate as-constructed records is hugely important.
When you enter the very complex infrastructure renewal phase these records become invaluable.
China is in the enviable position of being able to observe, learn and adapt from the bitter lessons and mistakes the west made in their urbanization journey.
The Economist article has a long list of problems and issues, but equally, there is a mix solution available that I am sure the Chinese will have been analyzing and applying already.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bustling Beijing by Trey Ratcliff via Flickr Creative Commons License