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Landscape Urbanization and Economic Growth in China: Positive Feedbacks and Sustainability Dilemmas

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journal contribution
posted on 16.12.2015, 20:38 by Xuemei Bai, Jing Chen, Peijun Shi
Accelerating urbanization has been viewed as an important instrument for economic development and reducing regional income disparity in some developing countries, including China. Recent studies (Bloom et al. 2008) indicate that demographic urbanization level has no causal effect on economic growth. However, due to the varying and changing definition of urban population, the use of demographic indicators as a sole representing indicator for urbanization might be misleading. Here, we re-examine the causal relationship between urbanization and economic growth in Chinese cities and provinces in recent decades, using built-up areas as a landscape urbanization indicator. Our analysis shows that (1) larger cities, both in terms of population size and built-up area, and richer cities tend to gain more income, have larger built-up area expansion, and attract more population, than poorer cities or smaller cities; and (2) that there is a long-term bidirectional causality between urban built-up area expansion and GDP per capita at both city and provincial level, and a short-term bidirectional causality at provincial level, revealing a positive feedback between landscape urbanization and urban and regional economic growth in China. Our results suggest that urbanization, if measured by a landscape indicator, does have causal effect on economic growth in China, both within the city and with spillover effect to the region, and that urban land expansion is not only the consequences of economic growth in cities, but also drivers of such growth. The results also suggest that under its current economic growth model, it might be difficult for China to control urban expansion without sacrificing economic growth, and China’s policy to stop the loss of agricultural land, for food security, might be challenged by its policy to promote economic growth through urbanization.