China’s Characteristic Towns – A New Path for the Development of Small Cities
In March this year, the 2018 Chinese Characteristic Town Development Report was officially released, highlighting existing problems and discussing the future development of “Characteristic Towns” (zhongguo tese xiaozhen).
Rather than being an administrative unit, the Characteristic Town is a spatial development platform with both an industrial orientation and cultural connotation; a multifunctional area integrating industrial production, tourism and residence with its own characteristics. The concept aims to promote the economic transition of small cities or villages and break down the urban-rural dual structure. Zhejiang Province pioneered the idea, with numerous small towns with a specific set of characteristics developing rapidly, such as the Internet Town of Wuzhen or Lishui Photography City. The concept was then recognized and promoted by the central government from 2016 onwards, and has become a new pattern for the New-type Urbanization (xinxing chengzhenhua).
As the number of Characteristic Towns continues to increase, however, problems have emerged, such as excessive growth of real estate construction and speculation, risk of government over-indebtedness etc. According to researchers, the PPP model might be a preferred choice to expand the supply of public services without increasing taxes or debts.