25 April 2010

China's Urbanization

For frequent visitors to China, it will be no surprise that the country is now home to one quarter of the world’s largest cities. According to a new United Nations report, there are now 236 cities in China with a population of over half a million. Over 100 more are expected to be added by 2025. The report, 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, issued last month, says that China’s urban population more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, rising from 19 to 47 percent. By 2025, it is expected that 59 percent of China’s population will live in cities.

China is transitioning from a centralized planned economy to a market economy, from egalitarianism to individualism and competition. Within one generation China is making the transition from a developing nation to a developed one.

Urbanization has led to staggering economic growth but it had also caused massive inequalities.

China has been able to lift half a billion people out of poverty in the last 30 years and improved the quality of life of hundreds of thousands, particularly in urban areas. But the disparities between urban and rural areas are stark with urban per capita incomes three times those of rural areas according to UN reports.

Although regional inequalities remain a major problem, it is not just in China’s megacities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing where the quality of life is improving for ordinary Chinese. On a visit last year to the coalmining city of Datong in China’s Shanxi Province, one could not but be impressed by the quality of housing going up all over the city at a phenomenal pace (photo above).

China’s transition is unprecedented. The consequences are still unfolding, both at home and abroad.

7 April 2010

The African World Cup

I am vaguely concerned about the World Cup that starts in South African shortly and I am not sure why. Maybe it is the disruption and incongruity of the fantastic stadiums that have risen in the larger cities?
We, by the way, call it soccer and play on fields that do not conform to world standards. Grass is nice as it hurts less when you fall but I really don't know the need for the cow dung that normally lies scattered on the informal fields. Perhaps the dung add excitement to falling, you know it is soft but you would rather not land in it?
Port Elizabeth has a new stadium and it is magnificent! It rose in the northern end of town in a tired area that has a few factories, a large polluted lake and some cheaper housing. The lake seems strange in its urban setting but it still has a few fish that people try to catch (although I would not eat them) and it is used for power boating and any other water activity where you don't have to spend too much time in the water. Let us called the lake interesting, there are a few birds and occassionally and otter will pop its head out of the reeds.
Then you have the stadium. There are a few aspects that I really enjoy like the fact that the rain which falls on the roof is collected and can be used to water the pitch. I hope it is a tough African grass like Kikuyu that does not need too much water and is not scared of soccer boots. I hope it is not too hard for international knees but I am sure that some committee has approved it.
The stadium made the local newspaper headlines a few weeks ago. We are in the throes of a drought (living memory stuff) and an antelope driven from the veld by the drought tried to break through the glass doors of the stadium. Maybe the view of the green grass was too much?
In any case it is great to feel as though the world is looking and coming to visit. Entrepreneurs are excited although the cooked sheep head (called "smileys") sellers are not allowed near the stadiums (too strange for you) and the beverages being sold are American (and not the one we are used to). I am sure vuvuzelas (loud trumpet-like things) are being tuned although the idea of tuning one is a paradox and you must see the traditional decorative soccer hats that are being made from safety helmets that you normally see on construction sites.
It is, despite all the committees and rules and change and cows and taxis (they don't like the mass transport systems) and grass and dung, going to be very exciting. I just hope that you can see the Africa beneath all the FIFA polish. Look for Africa if you come - the people, the nature and the way of life.