This is the second in a three part series on Smart Cities. Best to start with Part I.

Urbanization in China Sets the Stage by Defining the Need

According to the World Bank, China's urban population was 191 million in 1980. By 2007, it was 594 million, excluding migrants. About half of China's population now lives in cities, and that trend looks likely to continue particularly as the government relaxes restrictions on internal movement institutionalized in the strict hukou system of residential registration.

And, bigger cities face bigger challenges to meet the needs of their burgeoning populations:

  • Infrastructure and jobs. Between now and 2025, it's likely that another 200 to 250 million people will migrate to China's cities, adding to an existing mobile or migrant population of about 155 million. Providing infrastructure – housing, roads, hospitals etc. – and jobs for this anticipated inflow of people poses major challenges. With new changes to the hukou system, this migration into cities could be even greater.
  • Energy. Urban residents use 3.6 times as much energy as rural residents; suggesting that energy use is far from its peak. In China, energy intensity (consumption of energy per unit of GDP) is 7 times that of Japan and 3.5 times that of the United States, and over 70% of electricity use is coal-produced.
  • Motorization. Car sales in China have risen in the double digits month over month, throughout most of 2009 following tax cuts and car subsidies designed to spur consumer spending. The true cost of such measures however, must be measured also in higher energy consumption, pollution, and urban sprawl.
  • Land for agriculture. Urban sprawl also impacts the amount of arable land in China for agriculture, a concern given high commodity prices and rising consumption.
  • Map of water scarcityWater. China suffers from water scarcity, with just over 2,100 cubic meters of water available per person—one-third of the world average. In northern regions where climate change may worsen arid conditions, the situation is more precarious. Over pumping is causing the water table in Northern China to drop by a meter a year.
  • Climate change.Climate change will affect heavily populated low-lying areas. There are likely to be major infrastructure requirements to protect these areas from sea-level rise and flooding.

Urban issues and the pressure from increased urbanization are at the forefront of the policy debate in China, and in other emerging markets. Urban planning and development will address these issues, and smart cities initiatives provide solutions.

Read more in the next installment Two Approaches to Making Smart Cities.