Suzhou Industrial Park as a Landscape for Urban Growth

China’s growing importance as a global business partner and industrialized nation has spurred a migration movement of its own. People are moving eastward from the countryside and hometown villages to sprawling coastal cities. About 60% of Chinese people live in urban settings. To service this demand, the Chinese government has constructed several new towns to attract domestic and foreign investments. But what do these towns look like? And how are they hoping to inspire urban growth?

Zhongjie Lin, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the case of Suzhou Industrial Park to ascertain the tenets of contemporary Chinese urban growth and development. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping took his famous tour of southern China and declared that the country ought to cooperate with Singapore to import their model of socioeconomic order; agreements between the two countries were signed in 1994 to jointly develop land east of Suzhou. The acquisition of land to the west of the city, Suzhou New District, along with the development of Suzhou Industrial Park allowed the city to become an aspiring metropolis. 

Lin explained that the new city’s master plan, software transfers, and urban design were significant features in characterizing China’s growing urbanization movement. Within China, Suzhou Industrial Park was the first master plan of a whole city by a foreign agency. Until 2000, the Singaporean government actually had 65% stake in the project. This truly was an effort to mimic Singapore’s development experience in Chinese society: administrative bureaus were established to transplant Singapore’s social and economic model of China. The new city sought to reshape China’s model of local administration by simplifying management procedures, reducing corruption, increasing efficiency, and emphasizing the role of the legal government. Although not without its critics and competitors, Suzhou Industrial Park served as an experiment that tested new ideas of societal order while using its intentionally urban design to attract partners to the city.

Lin’s talk today stems from parts of his ongoing book project about the emergence of new towns in China in the past three decades. To learn more about his other research, please click here and here.


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