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Kunming City Planning

GeogramattGeogramatt (202 posts) • 0

"Is there any kind of legitimate planning that goes on in the development of this city?"

Yes, Kunming has city planning. If it didn't, then it would be a far more chaotic place than it is (compared to most developing world cities Kunming really is fairly orderly and planned out).

However, I sense that the operative word in your question is "legitimate". Seeing as this is a highly subjective concept, it seems you're looking for fellow commiserators to corroborate what you feel is poor city planning.

I have friends in Kunming's City Planning and Transportation Planning departments. They are smart people with good ideas, and they have worked in conjunction with city planners from Switzerland for years. The problem, they tell me, is that in the end, they merely occupy an advisory role. Party officials all too often ignore their good advice and make decisions that are contrary to good planning. When this happens, the good folks at the planning department have no choice but to wring their hands and shake their heads.

"It seems like it is just "let's tear up the whole thing at once". Has anyone lived in other cities in China or elsewhere and seen anything like this before?"

Um, yeah, like pretty much every city in China!

One of the main things city planners do is make zoning rules. Kunming does have these. You can't build a factory in the middle of the city. Kunming has something that most American cities lack: mixed use residential and commercial land use (i.e. stores on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors of most buildings). This is very much the result of planning (which also touches on the rules of the permitting process for business) and it is an example of good city planning. Mixed use development means that people can shop for groceries and daily goods without having to drive to a shopping center. It reduces traffic and is more environmentally friendly.

Another good example of city planning in Kunming is the subway system. While we have obviously yet to see its benefits, and have only suffered the inconvenience caused by its construction so far, it will definitely make Kunming a better and more livable place once it is open. Also, in conjunction with the subway system, the city planning department is carrying out transit-oriented development policies, concentrating high density development along transit corridors.

I don't mean to sound like a booster for Kunming CIty Planning. There's a lot of nonsense, too.

The wide boulevards and huge blocks facilitate added car traffic at the expense of the more pedestrian friendly fabric of older neighborhoods. Kunming is too preoccupied with trying to make life easier for cars, when it should be doing the exact opposite. Building more roads never solves traffic problems; it only creates more traffic (it's like what Kevin Costner said in "Field of Dreams"..."If you built it they will come"). The only way to curtail traffic is to actively disincentive car use by making driving a car expensive, cumbersome, and inconvenient. Ways of doing this include new fees and taxes on gas, vehicle registration, and car purchases, narrowing streets and reducing the number of car lanes, more strictly enforcing traffic laws and punishing violators, limiting parking, and traffic calming measures such as speed bumps.

I would add another problem in Kunming's urban planning is that all of the new development is aimed at upmarket clientele. There is not enough affordable housing for the working class, for new urban migrants. This is where city planning overlaps with larger socioeconomic policy and is not the under the purview of the city planning department. Any changes in this regard will have to come from the city government itself.

chris8080 (226 posts) • 0

How do you know that the plans are not coordinated - I thought most of this is done behind closed doors. I think you're probably right, but I don't see how it's possible to know this for a fact.

Just putting in my two mao.

Ouyang (243 posts) • 0

Kunming has plans, but I have yet to see them followed. The original plans for the North had lots of green parks, and the goal was to reduce population density... you can see how well that turned out.

Oh, and Kunming tried parking meters many years ago. They were all stolen just like the poles intended to stop cars from driving on the sidewalks. Usually I see them slowly disappear one by one over a few weeks, and then all replaced every month or two...

GeogramattGeogramatt (202 posts) • 0

Reducing population density is a terrible idea. Population density needs to be increased. The population densities of Chinese cities are amongst the lowest in Asia. China has the largest population in the world, and it is a population that is rapidly urbanizing. At the same time, China has one of the lowest amounts of arable land per capita of any large country. Most recent expansion in the footprints of Chinese cities has been horizontal whereas it needs to be more vertical. Most Chinese cities are located in valleys surrounded by prime arable land. It is that prime arable land that is being lost to development as city officials finance urban construction with land sales.

The new parking meters are metal disks that look like hockey pucks, embedded in the asphalt. They have sensors inside that read a prepaid parking card carried by the driver. They are more difficult to steal.

tigertiger - moderator (5096 posts) • 0

Here is an alternative view, that may or may not be worth considering.

The problem with population is the concentration of associated problems. Social and environmental. Especially if the local infrastructure/services cannot handle them. Pollution in cities in Asia is generally much worse than those in Europe and America, so are the problems of urban poor.

It depends what principle you want to apply for pollution. Dilute and disperse, or concentrate and contain. There are large areas around Kunming that are not prime arable land.
At the moment China's food production is going down as people leave the land, most going to the city. Food then has to be transported in, with its associated traffic and pollution problems.

If there are fewer dense cities, with more suburban areas, and people have a garden to grow food, and many Chinese love growing stuff if they have a garden, this can help.
If there are more satellite towns, that are closer to the source of food production, this also helps. People can work on the farm and in town (common in Europe).

Slowing the shift to urbanisation will slow the progress towards huge agri-businesses that have their own problems, both on the local economy and environment.

I have forgotten the time-scales (sorry) but recent study estimated that 51% of China's population will soon be urban. Currently it is about 40%.
When I did my Bachelors and Masters in Environment, many years ago, urbanisation in developing countries was viewed as a major challenge to both the environment and the society. This was years ago, but I don't think this view has changed much.

I am not saying I am right, and anyone else is wrong. This is just a counter position to consider.

Sorry for the long post.

Liumingke1234 (3297 posts) • 0

Right. Also all those hi-rise going up is not helping. Too many people in a small space of land.

tigertiger - moderator (5096 posts) • 0

High-rise is an issue. Although the population density of Kunming is only 300/km2 overall, the urban density is 1500/km2, in Panlong District 2380/km2, and in Wuhua 2150/km2. I live in the relatively quiet XiShan 950/km2.

Chenggong is a relatively low 570/km2. This will rise, but they will have the modern infrastructure to cope with more people.

The only thing I like about high-rise is that you can escape the smog and mosquitoes on the upper floors.

GeogramattGeogramatt (202 posts) • 0

@tigertiger Having studied urban planning in the United States, urban density is the holy grail of the field. Every planner wants to increase density. The benefits of doing so are tremendous. Not just in preserving peripheral arable land (and I'm not sure why you say the undeveloped land around Kunming is not prime arable land - the fields of Chenggong are amongst the most valuable agricultural land in the China).

Other benefits include the efficiency of pairing density with urban mass transit. When there are enough people concentrated along transit corridors, it makes investments in subways and light rail much more logical. It also reduces the need for private automobiles. Low density suburban development, on the other hand, increases dependency on private automobiles, which in a knowledge-,tech-, and services-based economy are the primary contributors to urban pollution. It's true that Kunming is still transitioning from an industrial- to a services -based economy, and that in this type of economy factories still contribute significantly to pollution. But this would be the case regardless of urban density. And this will change, as China's cities move up the economic ladder.

Tiger, you're right that high density urban development has to be accompanied by sufficient investment in infrastructure, sewer, water treatment, etc. If its not then the density will become a liability.

The idea of urban gardens is a nice one, and in low density places like the United States and Australia it can work quite well. I'm not sure that China's urban population is culturally ready for that, however. These are people who only recently have left the countryside and probably think of farming as something they want to avoid. Besides, Chinese urbanites work such long hours I'm not sure when they would find time to tend to urban gardens. That said, if food prices do continue to rise, maybe this idea will become more popular. A lot of Kunming apartments grow flowers on their balconies. They could just as easily start growing vegetables.

Also, the statistic I have seen is that China has already reached 51% urbanized population. However, the definition of what is "urban" and what is not can lend itself to some distortion, so maybe we'll never know the exact answer.

By the way, I'd like to recommend an excellent report by McKinsey's Economics Research Unit on this very topic of urbanization patterns in China. In it, they analyze five different urbanization models, from highly concentrated to highly dispersed, and their effects on all different aspects of the economy and the environment. The PDF is available for free here:


@Liumingke1234 Couldn't disagree with you more! Those hi-rises ARE helping. The people are going to continue coming to the cities, and the cities aren't going to be able to continue gobbling up land forever. This is China. This is Asia. Hi-rises are the natural state of things.


That 300/km2 overall density is a useless statistic. That is based on the 21,473 km2 that are technically defined as the "city of Kunming", but which in actuality mostly consist of farmland, mountains, and wilderness, stretching all the way up to Dongchuan and Lüquan counties along the Sichuan border. China calls these "Prefecture-Level Cities". I think this is a flawed nomenclature. They should reverse it to read "City-Level Prefectures". Even the densities you report for Wuhua, Panlong, etc are not truly representative of the urban density of Kunming. Wuhua and Panlong districts also include large chunks of farmland, mountain, and wilderness. Other Asian cities achieve densities in the range of 5000-10,000/km2. Kunming still has a long way to go. Now that it's building a subway system, it has every reason to concentrate density along those subway lines in TOD.

bluppfisk (398 posts) • 0

What people always forget when complaining about anything in China (democracy, pollution, human rights ...) is that _is_ a developing nation. Don't stare yourselves blind on technology, fancy cars, high-rises and the ubiquitous use of concrete. If Kunming was built out of wood and clay, most would accept the situation as it is.

The beautification project has made my life easier every day now since the western ring road and xichang road can now be used properly without risking metal fatigue on my bike.

Things are being done: gatekeepers with booms trying hard to keep people from crossing, parking tickets being handed out and cars that really are in the way are being dragged away.

Many more things are on the list:
- revising China's insurance system to allow parties in a car crash to go to the side and let traffic flow freely
- dealing with cars driving on sidewalks/bike lanes
- teaching buses not to squeeze (e)bikes off the road when halting
- dealing with the horrible turning left and right whereby bike lanes are crossed
- more parkings where you can attach your (e)bike to something anchored in the ground
- re-allowing motorcycle taxis
- adding to the taxi fleet (in progress)
- clean buses
- getting rid of those traffic control barriers so people don't have to go against the flow of traffic all the time

AlexKMG (2385 posts) • 0

Kunming beautified the pinyin "out of" the bus stop names. But the smooth riding makes up for that. Also, the lit road signs at night are good eye candy.

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