How Polycentric is Urban China?

Polycentric urban development refers to different forces causing multiple previously close-by but independent urban sub-divisions to become a larger and more integrated urban system. Polycentricity is oftentimes deemed a desirable urban form, generating greater agglomeration externalities as well as facilitating the achievement of social, economic, and environmental goals. Polycentric urban development has been observed and analyzed at various geographical scales, including the intra-urban (e.g., Central Business Districts (CBDs), edge cities, and satellite towns within a city), and inter-urban (e.g., the ‘Pearl River Delta’ mega-city region) scales.

Despite much insightful work on polycentric urban development in China, there is a lack of systematic comparison at either scale. Therefore, in this project, we identified polycentric urban structure and quantified the degree of polycentricity in China at both intra-urban scale (i.e., 318 Chinese cities) and inter-urban scale (i.e., 22 City-Regions) using detailed gridded population data, U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)’s LandScan dataset.

Intra-urban Polycentricity

Chinese cities at prefecture level and above. Chinese cities at prefecture level and above.

  • Over 90% of cities have four or fewer intra-urban (sub)centers. hist_N

  • Higher degree of polycentricity is found in mountainous cities.

  • Polycentricity is positively associated with GDP per capita in Eastern China.

  • Identified patterns of centers in a number of cities are largely consistent with corresponding master plans, for example, Shanghai and Beijing. shanghai beijing

Inter-urban Polycentricity: Polycentric Urban Regions (PURs)

Polycentric Urban Regions (PURs) in China

PUR Full Name Major Cities Area*
BTH Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Beijing, Tianjin 18.27
CSX Central Shanxi Taiyuan 2.79
CIM Central Inner Mongolia Hohhot 13.19
LDP Liaodong Peninsula Shenyang, Dalian 12.76
HAC Harbin-Changchun Harbin, Changchun 18.53
YRD Yangtze River Delta Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou 10.05
CAH Central Anhui Hefei 8.63
EFJ Eastern Fujian Fuzhou, Xiamen (Amoy) 5.5
NJX Northern Jiangxi Nanchang 5.78
SDP Shandong Peninsula Jinan, Qingdao (Tsingtao) 7.39
CPL Central Plain Zhengzhou 5.68
EHB Eastern Hubei Wuhan 5.09
EHN Eastern Hunan Changsha 2.81
PRD Pearl River Delta Guangzhou, Shenzhen 5.47
SGX Southern Guangxi Nanning 4.26
CHC Chengdu-Chongqing Chengdu, Chongqing 26.65
CGZ Central Guizhou Guiyang 10.46
CYN Central Yunnan Kunming 9.45
GZP Guanzhong Plain Xi’an 5.54
LAX Lanzhou-Xining Lanzhou, Xining 6.85
NNX Northern Ningxia Yinchuan 4.07
TSM Tianshan Mountains Urumqi 9.56

Area is in 10,000 sq. km

  • A typology of Chinese PURs is presented based on the average intra-urban polycentricity and inter-urban polycentricity, where there is only limited levels of association between inter-urban and inter-urban polycentricity. scatter

  • The Yangtze River Delta (see below) and Pearl River Delta have high levels of both intra-urban and inter-urban polycentricity. YRD

  • Most PURs in Central and Western China are characterized by a primate urban system and low levels of inter-urban polycentricity, for example, the Central Guizhou (CGZ) PUR: CGZ