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Ren, Xuefei, Michigan State University



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Ren, Xuefei, Michigan State University

April 12, 2015 University of Waterloo, Infrastructure Workshop

Infrastructure and Mobility in Urban China: The Case of Beijings Metro Network

I would like to use the case of Beijings ever expanding metro (subway) system to discuss some of the key components regarding the politics of suburban infrastructure laid out in the concept paper by Filion and Keil. Specifically, I will discuss the financing, constituencies, and ramifications of stateled largescale public transit infrastructure projects in the Chinese context. My main argument is that in rapidly urbanizing China, infrastructure investment in mass public transit is often a deliberate tool for the state to capture rising land values and to promote property development on the urban periphery. A related observation is that in contexts such as China (and also India), where suburban does not existas a legal, administrative, and geographic entity distinguishable from “the city”, it is perhaps more useful to adopt the Lefebvrian framework of “extended urbanization to think about infrastructural development on the urban edge.

First of all, I would like to point out the great variations of infrastructural networks in cities in the global South. In the concept paper, it makes frequent references to the deficiency and informality in the provision of infrastructure and services in the global South. There is a wide spectrum of infrastructural development in the global South and extra caution is needed when we attempt to generalize, such as on informality and deficiency. China is a premier example: it is a developing country with stateoftheart transportation infrastructure that is mostly formally” provided by the local state; in other words, it is a typical case of stateled authoritarian “splintering urbanism. On the other end of the spectrum, there are Indian and many African cities, where public transit infrastructure on the urban periphery is almost nonexistent, and citizens have to rely on private (and often more expensive) services to get around. At the middle of the spectrum, there are some Latin American cities, which have over time developed a mixed portfolio of affordable, lowtech public transit systems that serves residents living on the metropolitan edge, such as the much celebrated BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system in Bogota.

In short, there is so much variation in the quality, quantity, technology, funding sources, and constituencies in the transport infrastructure sector in the socalled global south cities”, so that we should not overgeneralize in our comparisons with North America and West Europe.


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