Cities in Mind
Cities in Mind
Episode 12 - Making Sense of China’s Urban Future 🇨🇳

Episode 12 - Making Sense of China’s Urban Future 🇨🇳

Learn why the future of urban China is more tortuous than ever: the return of the Central power, Xi Jinping's plans for a new emblematic city and the bumpy Belt and Road Initiative.
Shenzhen, China’s dynamic southern metropolis that President Xi Jinping calls on to become a world-class innovation powerhouse and model for economic reform. Credits: Robert Bye, Unsplash

Hello everyone!

China has long been a blindspot for me and I decided to educate myself more about its growing and undeniable importance. China is at a critical moment in its history and current events might have long term consequences on the country’s future.

From the Evergrande real estate crisis, Xi Jinping’s current crackdown on capitalism to an acceleration of climate change-related events (dramatic summer floods), China’s urban development model is under the spotlight. The conflict between marketization and state control has never been so strong in the country.

How do these tensions translate in the urban environment? Where is urban China going? Will China manage to escape the “middle-income trap”? How could iconic initiatives such as the BRI accelerate the diffusion of China’s urban model?

I reached out to Andrew Stokols, an urban planner and researcher, currently PhD researcher at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. His research explores the intersection of urban planning and infrastructure, state power and geopolitics and mostly focuses on East and Southeast Asia. 

Previously, Andrew has been involved in various research projects, in China, Singapore and the US, investigating the different facets of global urbanization, particularly in China and Asia.

Together, we discuss the different phases behind China’s urbanization and how President Xi Jinping is currently making the state more central in all aspects of life in China. We take the example of a new planned city, called Xiong’An New Area, about 100 km south of Beijing in the Hebei Province. 

The development of Xiong’an has several goals, chief among them to relieve pressure on Beijing by relocating “non-capital functions” and to stimulate new innovative industries. It has been labeled as a “1000-year project of national importance” and it is supposed to be China’s version of “city of the future”, promoted as an engine for innovation growth.

🇨🇳 China’s urban future and why it matters for the world. That’s our topic for this week. Enjoy the episode!

-- This episode is a bit longer than usual (50 mins) but trust me it’s worth listening till the end --

🧐 Some resources I have used for this episode

China and Evergrande Ascended Together. Now One Is About to Fall

‘What can we do?’ Chinese discuss role of climate crisis in deadly floods

Debunking China’s debt-trap diplomacy myth China’s Belt and Road Initiative Is a Mess, Not a Master Plan

Mapping the Belt and Road Initiative by the Leiden Asia Centre, one of the best and most updated visualization of China’s infrastructure corridors and trade routes

Xiong'an: Designing a "modern socialist city" - by Andrew Stokols - The Space Between

Aerial photo taken on March 31, 2021 shows the construction site of Rongdong area in Xiong'an New Area (Xinhua/Xing Guangli)
Key elements of Xiong’an (

That’s it for today. As usual, a small 🧡 at the bottom of the page goes a long way.

Thanks for your support and see you next week for a new post. Stay tuned.

Cities in Mind
Cities in Mind
Cities in Mind is your go-to destination to learn about cities, technology, innovation and the people behind them. All that through an Asian perspective. My name is Fabien and I am an urbanist who has been living in Singapore since 2015. Welcome!