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Sun, "Population and employment distribution and urban spatial structure: An empirical analysis of metropolitan Beijing, China in the post-reform era," 2009

USC Dissertation in Urban Planning.
August 30, 2009

Tieshan Sun, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
From a comparative international perspective, this dissertation explores the spatial distributions of population and employment in the Beijing metropolitan area in the post-reform era. This study aims to extend the literature on urban spatial structure, with special reference to the pattern and process of urban decentralization and restructuring from a developing and transitional economy context, and to offer further understanding of the spatial organization of contemporary urban areas that departs from the North American or European experience.

Beijing is a transition city that has experienced dramatic urban growth and spatial restructuring since the reforms in China, and its experience sheds light on how the urban spatial structure changes within a hybrid of an evolving market economy with a central government that retains significant control. This study focuses on the distribution patterns of population and employment in metropolitan Beijing, and employs more flexible techniques, such as nonparametric analysis, geostatistical techniques and demonstrates more nuanced dynamics than those discussed in previous studies.

Our study finds that the spatial pattern of the Beijing metropolitan area is becoming alike to that of large Western cities in the post-reform era, with the compact urban form in the pre-reform era replaced by a more dispersed and polycentric spatial pattern. The overall trend toward the decentralization and polycentrification of both population and employment is evident in the Beijing metropolitan area since the reforms. However, compared with the decentralization of large Western metropolitan areas, the extent of the decentralization of metropolitan Beijing is quite limited. We show that both people and jobs that moved out of the inner city tend to re-concentrate in the near suburbs adjacent to the central area instead of dispersing throughout the metropolitan area. The rapid growth of the near suburbs has expedited the expansion of the central city, with a larger central agglomeration emerged dominating the whole metropolitan area. In this broad sense, the spatial pattern of the Beijing metropolitan area is still highly centralized, and the tendency toward decentralization at the level of the metropolitan area is questionable. Besides, although both people and jobs have decentralized in the Beijing metropolitan area, jobs tend to more concentrate in the central city, and employment has been shown to be less decentralized than population.

Even though the spatial structure of Beijing is largely characterized by monocentricity, our study does provide the evidence that significant population and employment subcenters have emerged in the suburbs of Beijing. However, the number and size of subcenters are small, and the pattern of the subcenters in metropolitan Beijing is highly related to the planned development scheme of the city, so the polycentricity emerged in the Beijing metropolitan area is very different by nature from that observed in Western cities, and has different origins. Although the common features of spatial pattern and trend broadly analogous to those of Western cities have been observed in post-reform Beijing, the driving forces and the process involved still need be understood with reference to the peculiar Chinese context, and the similar factors that caused the suburbanization in the West have taken their effects on the suburbanization of Beijing in a totally different context.

An interesting finding of our study is the similar distribution patterns of both population and employment in the Beijing metropolitan area, with the coincidence of population and employment subcenters in space. The comparison of the distributions of people and jobs in the Beijing metropolitan area shows that the suburban areas adjacent to the central area are the most balanced with people and jobs, corresponding to the emerged subcenters in the near suburbs. This result might be used to argue that jobs-housing balance occurs as part of the urban development process, and the decentralization of both population and employment in the Beijing metropolitan area from the inner city to the near suburbs has induced jobs-housing balance in the near suburbs. At last, the relationship between jobs-housing balance and urban commuting is tested through regression analysis. The results show that balancing people and jobs by configuring land use patterns seems not quite relevant to shortening commuting durations in our case, so this may suggest that it is more promising to integrate transportation planning and land use planning to address the transportation problems in Beijing.

Advisor: Redfearn, Christian L.
Committee members: Giuliano, Genevieve,  Moore, James