• Shelley Tsang 曾雯海

Small Cities, Big Future - the cultural development of new urbanisation

Updated: Jun 11, 2020


Urbanisation is an inevitable need to promote overall social progress. As a product of the development of human civilisation, urbanisation can improve not only the efficiency of production activities, but also affluent farmers, benefit the people, and comprehensively improve the quality of life. With the prosperity of the urban economy, the improvement of urban functions, the increase of public service levels and the quality of the ecological environment, people's livelihood will be more substantial and abundant, and their spiritual life will be more enjoyable. China's urbanisation development is advanced against the background of a large population, a relative shortage of resources, a relatively fragile ecological environment, and an uneven development between urban and rural areas. These difficulties determine China's urbanisation development must follow the law of urbanisation development, and pursue a path of people-oriented, synchronisation of the four modernisations, optimised layout, ecological civilisation, and cultural inheritance.


Image: Urbanization is an inevitable need to promote the overall progress of society, and it is the product of the progress of human civilization (Internet)



New urbanisation development in small cities


China's urbanisation has achieved remarkable achievements in the past 40 years. The permanent urban population increased from 170 million in 1978 to 830 million in 2018, and the urbanisation rate in terms of stable population reached 59.58%. Large cities and megacities are the primary inflows of floating population and the main driving force for China's economic development and technological innovation.


Nonetheless, the base and foundation of the pyramid of China's urban system are small cities with large areas. Small cities are the key nodes to communicate urban and rural areas, relieve pressures in large cities, and promote rural revitalisation. According to the "Small and Medium-sized City Green Paper" and "China's Small and Medium-sized City Development Report (2018)", as of the end of 2017, the area directly affected and radiated by small and medium-sized cities has an administrative area of ​​9.34 million square kilometres, accounting for 97.3% of the total land area. The entire small and medium cities population reached 1.17 billion, accounting for 84.67% of the total population of the country.


This situation fully shows that small cities have a crucial position in China's social and economic development and people's lives, have national strategic significance and are an essential carrier of China's new urbanisation. Because the development of small cities involves the well-being of the vast number of people, new urbanisation must be urbanisation with urban-rural integration, urban-rural integration, industrial interaction, economical intensiveness, ecological livability, and harmonious development as the essential characteristics of urbanisation. Towns and new-type rural communities coordinate the development and promote mutual progress.


Image: Small cities play an extremely important role in China's social and economic development and people's lives (Internet)



New urbanisation and construction of humanistic city


Regarding the cultural development of new-type urbanisation, I visited Mr Wang Yuefeng, director of the steering committee of China's new urbanisation construction. Wang Yuefeng believes: "Chinese traditional culture is a kind of national culture that reflects the characteristics and style of our country and evolves from our long history of civilisation. It is an overall representation of various ideological cultures and ideological forms in the history of China. With the influence of globalisation, the representation of Chinese traditional culture is gradually dimming in the city, but it is persistently preserved in the vast countryside. The countryside inherits more traditional cultural resources such as folk culture, customs, craftsmanship and art. In today's emphasis on protecting the diversity of ethnic culture, the self-confidence of the national culture should be strengthened, and the self-confidence of the rural culture should be rebuilt. The village should not be a cultural representation of feudalism, ignorance, backwardness, and pollution. The understanding of the relationship between man and nature, man and society, man and self has rich values ​​in rural culture. These concepts are with great values ​​that respect nature, love, life, and be responsible to society."


"We should maintain the simplicity and sincerity of the local society, prevent wastefulness and indecency, and explore the values ​​of the unity of man and nature, etiquette and benevolence. The rural lifestyle combines nature with the values of common wellness. Hence the creative modern lifestyle implements comprehensive development are more harmoniously integrated. During the urbanisation process, we must pay attention to protecting the characteristics of traditional architectural culture and try to protect the intangible cultural heritage. Intangible cultural heritage is playing an active role in protecting the cultural concepts and its spiritual energy so that traditional culture can continue to survive in the new environment."


Wang Yuefeng pointed out, "The value goal of new urbanisation is people-oriented, fair and harmonious. People are the most important factor for sustainable urban development. Human spirit and value ultimately determine the future of the city. New urbanisation emphasises cultural and customary change, emphasising that people's behaviour is in harmony with the requirements of urban civilisation and market economy. With the advancement of urbanisation, the original rural order pattern has been broken, and the newly-migrated urban residents who have gathered cannot adapt to urban life for a while, which is psychologically difficult to gain recognition. Here, we need to play the role of the community. In the process of continuously enriching the political, economic and cultural life of the new immigrants, reconstructing the community culture and acquaintance circle of the new immigrants, the people will gradually rejoin the urban society, enter the urban mainstream, and integrate into the new urban life. But at the same time, new urbanisation does not mean that urban and rural culture is unified. Both of the two cultures are beautiful, different, symbiotic and complementary. New mechanisms should be created regarding both cultures. We should let urban culture interact with rural culture. Hence, urban culture draws nutrition from the countryside, and rural culture depends on urban culture to drive it forward."



The construction focus of the future humanistic city


In the "National New Urbanisation Plan (2014-2020)" of China, it is specifically mentioned that we should pay attention to the construction of humanistic cities: "Explore public cultural resources, strengthen cultural inheritance and innovation, and turn urban construction into a cultural charm space with rich historical heritage and distinctive characteristics of the times. Pay attention to the protection of historical and cultural heritage, national cultural styles and traditional styles in the transformation of old cities, promote the combination of functional enhancement and the protection of cultural relics. Pay attention to the integration of traditional cultural elements in the construction of new cities and new districts, and coordinate with the natural and human characteristics of the original city. Strengthen the cultural resources excavation and overall protection of cultural towns and historical towns, historical and cultural blocks, and ethnic towns, inherit and promote unique traditional culture, promote the development of local cultural characteristics, and preserve the cultural memory of the city. Cultivate and practice the core of socialism values, accelerate the improvement of the cultural management system and cultural production and operation mechanism, establish and improve the modern public cultural service system and modern cultural market system. Encourage the diversified development of urban culture, promote the integration of traditional culture with modern culture, local culture and foreign culture, and form a pluralistic opening modern urban culture."


Image: Looking into the future of the city (Internet)



In the "Planning", we can see that the future construction of humanistic cities is rich and diverse. The critical construction points of the next humanistic city include:

  1. Cultural and natural heritage protection: Strengthen the development of protection facilities for major national cultural and natural heritage sites, national archaeological parks, governmental key cultural relics protection units, historical and cultural cities, towns and villages, and strengthen the protection of famous historical buildings and historical and cultural blocks in the city. Construction of facilities for security and utilization of material cultural heritage.

  2. Cultural facilities: construction of urban public libraries, cultural centres, museums, art galleries and other cultural facilities, each community is supporting the creation of cultural activities facilities, development of small and medium-sized city theatres.

  3. Sports facilities: build urban sports venues and mass outdoor sports fitness venues, and each community has convenient and practical sports fitness facilities.

  4. Rest facilities: construction of urban ecological leisure parks, cultural and leisure blocks, leisure trails, and suburban relaxation zones.

  5. Open public facilities for free: Gradually open public libraries, cultural centres, museums, art galleries, memorials, science and technology museums, youth palaces, and general welfare urban parks for free.



Small cities with cultural and ecological livability


A small city is a rural distribution centre, an important gathering place for urban and rural people, logistics, capital, and information flow. It is a vital link connecting the urban and rural economy and a new growth point for the regional economy. The development of urbanisation that is truly valuable to the people is not only a simple increase in the proportion of the urban population and an expansion of the metropolitan but also changes in technical support, human settlements, social security, and lifestyle.


Image: Small cities are an important link between urban and rural people, logistics, capital, and information flow (Internet)



New urbanisation is not de-ruralisation. The construction of small cities must have cultural characteristics and recognition. In the process of promoting new urbanisation, local humanities and customs must be fully considered. If rural culture disappears, then urbanisation will be monotonous. Ancient villages are a manifestation of the cultural diversity of the Chinese nation and need to be protected. The promotion of urbanisation must not come at the cost of disintegrating rural civilisation and sacrificing cultural heritage. It is destructive to clone existing building designs blindly and put into a city regardless of the original cultural context. Without cultural regard and features, the advantages of new urbanisation cannot be brought into play and will lead to a terrible result of all cities look alike.


The newness of new urbanisation is to focus on the pursuit of urban space expansion and scale expansion in the past and to transform the city into a high-quality, livable place centred on improving the connotation of urban culture and public services. As a strategic node for urban-rural coordination, small cities must promote cultural height in the overall construction. To encourage the development of new urbanisation as a whole, we should build beautiful cities with cultural and ecological livability, and be more forward-looking and creative in terms of living and environmental planning, which will genuinely evolve new small cities to a future with rich humanities, green, low carbon and wisdom.



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