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Effects of Plans on Urban Development in Beijing

Do They Contain Growth?

Shih-Kung Lai and Haoying Han

September 2014, English

The setting of urban construction boundaries (UCBs) through the imposition of comprehensive master plans (CMPs) is commonly practiced in Chinese cities. However, the effectiveness of UCBs in containing urban growth has been challenged. We argue that the failure of UCBs in China in containing urban growth can be explained by developers’ behavioral reaction to these policies, rather than for institutional reasons. In this paper, we first explain, theoretically and conceptually, why UCBs in general could cause urban sprawl, rather than stop it. Using the case of Beijing in particular, we further examine the effectiveness of the UCBs policy and conclude, as predicted by our analysis, that the urban growth in Beijing during the two planning periods from 1983 to 2005 took place mostly outside the UCBs. We argue therefore that a successful land control measure, such as CMPs in China, should take into account the developers’ behavioral reaction in order to stop effectively urban sprawl.