China has become one of the world’s largest economies in only a couple short decades. While the country’s average growth has slowed--its GDP grew by only 7.4% last year--it has established its place as a global economic superpower and will most likely maintain its ranking with a formidable economy estimated to be at $11.3 trillion in 2015.
However, this rapid growth has not come without its issues. China’s growth may have been rapid, but it has also been immensely sprawled. China became the world’s largest auto market, surpassing the United States’ 17 million car sales with 20 million car sales last year. While the country has taken measures to promote greener, more sustainable development, this auto-centricity has encouraged urban sprawl and devoured agricultural land. The destruction of agricultural land for development has in turn sparked worries over food production in China. With many farms being overtaken by airports and roads, food safety and food security are becoming increasing concerns.
This sprawl has also come with environmental costs. Many Chinese cities have become notorious for their smog levels, a consequence of its rapid urbanization which embraced cars, wide streets, and grandiose buildings. As the country developed, it welcomed foreign models of urban development, not accounting for the environmental effects that such development would have in an industrializing country with over a billion residents.
Not only that, as the country’s wealth has grown, its obesity rates have risen as well. Like other developed areas, China has seen a large influx of processed food and convenience stores. While malnutrition is no longer a big concern in urban China, obesity rates have risen quickly and dramatically. In 2012, an estimated 300 million out of 1.2 billion people were obese, making health care policy a growing priority.
China’s rapid development has been remarkable, but also challenging. It’s an opportunity for creative urban planning solutions and the development of growth policies that are more comprehensive, deliberate, and sustainable.