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China's fastest-changing cities

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Hong Kong Skyline

 

MATT WOOLSEY

Forbes.com

November 5, 2008 at 2:09 PM EST

 

Ten years ago, the Minnan Hotel dominated the skyline in Xiamen, a special economic zone on the Taiwan Strait. At 168 metres tall – about the size of the skyscrapers that abut New York's Central Park – it was a conspicuous outlier in a developing city.

 

Now, it's beginning to look like a tree in a forest, as buildings just as tall have popped up across the waterfront and in the city centre.

 

But development in Xiamen hasn't been nearly as rapid as in Shenzhen or Guangzhou, two cities on the Pearl River Delta. With dynamic economies based on industry, service, shipping and logistics, they are China's fastest-changing cities by our measures.

 

Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing round out the top five. They're followed by Dalian and Nanjing, two cities that have emerged as factory-based growth centres, but are also turning into vibrant markets for consumer goods.

 

Behind the numbers

 

These rankings are based on three measures of China's 20 most populous cities.

 

To gauge recent change, we looked at economic growth using indexed data from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a state research agency. Smaller industrial boomtowns like Hefei and Suzhou scored particularly well by this measure.

 

We also examined the growth of each city as a market, which symbolizes the changing of cities from industrial centres to service-driven economies. For this measure, we looked at data from CASS as an indicator of where growth and change would continue. With global growth slowing, Chinese cities are going to become more reliant on domestic spending.

 

“In the global slowdown, China's domestic market is the key linchpin,” says Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, economic adviser for MasterCard Worldwide. “There's a lot of government spending right now on social welfare programs to try and unlock households' savings.”

 

Finally, we looked at the most obvious and aesthetic indicator of change in China: the cities' skylines.

 

The government that didn't officially use the word “urbanization” until the late ‘90s and that was founded on Mao Zedong's agrarian principles now rules a country more than 50 per cent urban in its population distribution. Skyscrapers and cranes may be the best marker of globalization's effect on China.

 

Using data from Emporis, a global builder based in Germany, we ranked each city by the aggregate height of its skyline.

 

What the future holds

 

If industrialized expansion was the tale of the last 10 years, consolidation will be the story of the next decade.

 

Shenzhen, once a fishing village, has been competing for logistics, financial and technology services with Hong Kong ever since the 1997 changeover. Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong to its north, has grown at an annual clip of 18 per cent since the 1997 changeover, according to the Asia Development Bank.

 

Shenzhen was the mainland Chinese rival to Hong Kong before that city became part of China, but has only recently decided to move toward economic co-operation, instead of competition, with the special administrative region. That means ceding financial services to Hong Kong and enhancing logistical and shipping services in Shenzhen, says Yan Xiopei, vice-mayor of Shenzhen.

 

“We want to connect Shenzhen and Hong Kong,” says Xiaopei. “We will make endeavours for building Shenzhen and Hong Kong into a world-class metropolis.”

 

Not far from Shenzhen, a massive railway and port expansion development across the Pearl River Delta, slated for completion in 2010, will connect the east- and west-bank factory facilities, which manufacture everything from Apple electronics to Wal-Mart products, to the deep-water shipping ports on the east bank.

 

“Factories on the western bank have always been at a disadvantage, because they don't have access to the deep-water ports on the east bank,” says Andrew Ness, executive director of C.B. Richard Ellis, an international commercial real estate firm. “The railway will change that.”

 

Even more obvious in the next decade will be the economic integration of small villages and cities into major metropolises in parts of the Yangtze River Delta outside of Shanghai and in the periphery of the Beijing-Tianjin corridor in the north. Of course, keep in mind that China's idea of a small village can have a population close to one million.

 

“Five-hundred thousand to 800,000 [resident] towns aren't even considered cities, but small townships,” says Fan Gong, director of the National Economic Research Institute in China. “We will see several regions grab together on the river areas and form large metropolitan areas.”

 

According to Mr. Gong, the government is abandoning past policies like the urban registration system, which kept farmers in the country, and is instead encouraging urbanization. Mr. Gong estimates that by 2050, 75 per cent of China's population will live in cities.

 

The rapidly changing nation may no longer be recognizable to Mao, though reformer Deng Xiaoping might enjoy the 92 cities with one-million-plus people.

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am I seeing a guy in briefs as tall as a skyscraper?? geeez chinese champions of bad taste.

 

If you look closely, it says "Calvin Klein" above the picture. I wonder if that's part of the ad, or is it the Calvin Klein building? Anybody been to HK lately?

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If you look closely, it says "Calvin Klein" above the picture. I wonder if that's part of the ad, or is it the Calvin Klein building? Anybody been to HK lately?

 

I would believe this is just an ad as this is a quite common way of advertising all accross asia.

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