Why build, and not expand?

By Lynsey Mengchen He

I have always imagined a city being an organic entity that is shared and nourished by people initially sharing the same culture and way of living. A city is a consequence of society development, not a cause. Many “new city” projects had high hopes to share urbanization burdens on existing economic centers, but later turned out to be empty infrastructures that wasted huge investments from both public and private sectors.

I agree with some of the previous posts and bullet points discussed in class regarding the importance of people and culture for a city’s development. Therefore, I think that instead of building a city out of nothing, it could be a better idea to expand a city and relocate a portion of its central business district to the newly expanded area. The new area, which exists in the name of the city, would allow for easy commute, culture extension, and at the same time be include in the city’s overall future planning. Since it contributes to the city’s GDP, the new extension would grow with the expansion of existing infrastructure and later transit into a new central economic zone that releases the population and resource tension within the old central areas, to a good extent.

Beijing is planning to expand its central economic district and establish an equally important business zone in Tongzhou, a new area 13 kilometers to the east of the old economic center in Chaoyang district. The new business zone will be approximately 48 square kilometers located at the convergence of three rivers. It will comprise high-rises, residential areas, recreation centers and all necessary infrastructures. Tongzhou used to be a less developed suburb of Beijing with long lasting culture. The city developers have been exploring this area for quite a few years. Many high end or middle class residential real estates have been built, which laid a foundation for the new plan and for Tong Zhou to transform into a new business center. Beijing plans to extend its east-west line further east to allow easy commuting via subway. In addition, there are already four highways and three railways passing through Tongzhou area.

No matter whether establishing or expanding, I think it is critical to reasonably position the city and make sure that the incremental value offsets the initial costs in the long-term perspective. Going back to the KAEC case, on one hand, the city planners want to attract high -end investors and residents and create a luxurious life style. On the one hand, it is cited that the largest revenue and job generator is the port, where most workers do not belong to the target social class. Therefore the dilemma comes down to how to allocate the limited funding to both achieve the city’s high-end prospects and also to secure the main economic drivers. The dilemma will always be a dilemma.

* here is a link to more detailed descriptions of Tongzhou, the new business district of Beijing, check it out if you are interested.