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Date Posted: 10:34 30/06/2004

Millions more to move to Shanghai shock

More astonishing population stats emerge

AS MOST PEOPLE are aware, China has a lot of people. Having to deal with the hopes and needs of 1.3 billion is an insane prospect by anyone's standards. Having to move a quarter of them to the cities in a few decades is even more terrifying. Of course, the government doesn't want to leave them stewing in rural or rustbelt squalour any longer than necessary. After all, they keep rioting.

China's population website told us last week about predictions that 70% of the population could be living in developed urban regions within 20 to 40 years, a remarkable statistic considering that the developed urban regions in question – the city belts of the Yangtze and Pearl deltas, and in the Bohai region - cover only 10% of the country's total area. The remaining 30% will, presumably, be asked to produce all the food on arable land that grows worse by the year.

Further astonishing statistics reveal that by the end of 2003, urban buildings covered 14 billion square metres in China, with 63% of that occupied by ordinary housing. 4.467 billion square metres in the developed eastern region is used for homes. Average per capita residential space in China stood at 23.67 square metres by the end of last year.

Meanwhile, the government population bureau tells us that Shanghai already has a 'mobile population' (ie. not registered citizens of Shanghai) of 4.99 million, almost a quarter of the permanent resident population. Only 4.3% of them have already bought houses in the city.

With the city governments also committed to boosting the amount of space occupied by grass and trees, one wonders where all the extra space is going to come from. Polder reclamation? The Senkaku and the Spratleys?

But we do hear stories that both Beijing and Shanghai are trying to expand their underground space. The capital can, of course, take further advantage of the labyrinthine system of tunnels and bunkers that Mao Zedong built to protect himself from nuclear attack. Shanghai, according to rumours, is actually thinking about turning the entire stretch of the Bund, along the Huangpu River, into a pedestrianized area and then building an underpass for the traffic, a prospect that seems utterly implausible. Still, implausibility has never apparently been an issue in the minds of Shanghai's urban planners, as any visitor to the space-age towerblock dystopia known as Pudong will know.

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