Xiong'an Tour 雄安游记
Part II. Examining large-scale "supporting" infrastructure and main planned districts of China's ambitious new city
In last week’s post, I explored how the planning and design of Xiong’an New Area reflects the ideological turn towards state control promoted by Xi Jinping. Here, I explore a few more emerging elements of the city in more detail.1
In my previous post I indicated some obvious differences from Shenzhen, the city that symbolized Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up. Housing in Xiong’an will apparently be heavily subsidized, unlike in Shenzhen where private developers built much of the city’s housing. However, if this is the case it begs the question of how China Xiong’an Group will recoup its massive debt. There was some indication in a recent Financial Times article that China Xiong’an Group, the specially created conglomerate tasked with developing the city, is massively indebted and may encounter trouble generating cash flow to pay off these debts.2
In this post I will:
Highlight recent construction progress of “supporting facilities”
Describe the overall plan of the city and its main districts
As in any large mega-project, the issue of financing is crucial. As Professor Richard Peiser and I wrote in a book analyzing new towns worldwide , over-investment in infrastructure before achieving significant cash flow is a common reason for financial failure of large projects—although the central government’s unique commitment to Xiong’an probably means that such short-term financial goals are less important.
“Financial success requires careful balancing of investment in infrastructure and amenities with accurate demand forecasts and sales to generate sufficient cash flow to withstand economic downturns and ultimately generate a profit"3
Xi’s apparent desire to fully plan and develop the city in its entirety means that without quick land sales (either to private developers or to corporations) the developer may find itself unable to pay off its debt. Not surprisingly, large engineering works have been highlighted in news posts about the city as evidence of the city’s rapid progress and China’s engineering prowess.
Recent Construction Progress
Recent announcements of construction progress show some of the large water channels that are being constructed as part of an intricate hydrological system that will weave through the entire city. This system will treat water from the North-South Water Diversion project4 as it enters the city.
As part of an effort to integrate all parts of the city’s physical and digital infrastructure, there is extensive tunneling to create underground corridors beneath the city’s roads that will house infrastructure such as cables, sensors, and other equipment. While it is normal for cities to put infrastructure beneath roads, the idea behind Xiong’an is to build all of these “supporting facilities” first. Some of these underground corridors will have several levels, part of which may be dedicated to “logistics” such as deliveries, while others will be for electric, gas, and water lines. They are also being built at a scale that would allow addition or changes to infrastructure as technologies or needs adapt. But of course its hard to predict how future technology will evolve in 10, 20 years so the goal of planning Xiong’an’s infrastructure to be perfect will inevitably fail to fully anticipate future changes.
Construction of Shijia Elementary School
Providing high-quality amenities is crucial to the effort to relocate key state-owned enterprises and attracting highly educated workers to Xiong’an. Education is an important part of that. To that end, one of Beijing’s most “prestigious” elementary schools Shijia Elementary, is constructing a campus in Xiong’an, alongside Beijing Number 4 High School and Beihai Kindergarten. 5
Construction of Xuanwu Hospital
Medical institutions from Beijing are also opening up “branches” in Xiong’an, including Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University. 6
Overall Map of Xiong’an and Districts of the City
Rong Dong Section 容东片区
The first section of Xiong’an to be nearing completion is the Rongdong Section, a large primarily residential district that is actually situated to the north of the main planned urban area of Xiong’an (called Qibu District), and East of the existing county seat of Rongcheng. The plan calls for a population of 170,000, most of which seems to be described as 安置房 or “resettlement housing”, suggesting that this area will be populated with residents of villages that have been demolished to make way for the new construction in Xiong’an. The construction underway here has been called a “forest of cranes”, and there are 600 tower cranes currently operating in the area.
Rong Dong Section 容东片区
Another planned residential community to the West of Rongcheng City.
Xiong’an Railway Station Area
Another distinct development area surrounds Xiong’an Station, which was completed in 2020. A separate transit-oriented commercial district is being developed alongside the station. The station is sited on the North-South HSR line that links Xiong’an to Beijing and to recently completed Daxing airport. The Xiong’an Station then allows HSR passengers to transfer to East-West subway lines that will take passengers into the Qibu District, 24 km away from the station.7 Tianjin is also extending part of its urban rail network to Xiong’an, in addition to the national HSR service. The station itself is open, but the commercial district surrounding it has yet to be built.
The Qibu or “start up” district is the main area of the city, laid out along an East-West axis and by a North-South central axis, as in Beijing and other imperial Chinese cities. The layout thus follows traditional Chinese urban planning principles. This area in turn is divided into 5 sections, one of which called in the plan Qidong “takeoff district” 启动区 will contain the core commercial areas: “financial island”, an “innovation district”, and a “college park” containing a university. Detailed plans for the rest of the 4 districts have not been published yet.
Neighborhoods within the city are envisioned as “15 minute clusters”, with each neighborhood cluster having facilities for childcare, elderly care, and elementary, middle, and high schools, and neighborhood cultural centers. There will also be community centers at the core of each of these clusters (see image below). In general this layout is a spatialization of China’s Shequ, or residential community system, that has replaced the Danwei, or work unit, as the primary level of neighborhood governance.
Many of China’s existing cities are characterized by large blocks, a legacy of Soviet urbanism. During the 1950s, urban space was reorganized along lines of “work units” or Danwei, so that residents lived and worked within the same compound of their employer.8 Xiong’an’s urban plan has smaller open blocks. Following on the earlier calls to open up China’s gated neighborhoods9, Xiong’an embodies a more open and more walkable urban form. Given the research showing links between small blocks and accessibility and walkability 10, this is certainly an improvement to the standard practice in Chinese cities. However, in terms of the individual building types the construction underway suggests the repetitive tower-podium format that has become standard in many Chinese cities.
Note also that these are primarily translations of posts from a variety of Chinese WeChat and other online accounts, official or otherwise.
Peiser, Richard and Andrew Stokols, “Why is it so hard to develop commercially successful new towns?” in Peiser, Richard, and Ann Forsyth. 2021. New Towns for the Twenty-First Century: A Guide to Planned Communities Worldwide. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Bray, David. 2005. Social Space and Governance in Urban China: The Danwei System from Origins to Reform. 1 edition. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
Sevtsuk, Andres, Raul Kalvo, and Onur Ekmekci. 2016. “Pedestrian Accessibility in Grid Layouts: The Role of Block, Plot and Street Dimensions.” Urban Morphology 20 (2): 89–106.