Entry Date:
September 23, 2015

Mega-Regionalization and Urban Reconfiguration: The Spatial and Wider Economic Impacts of China’s High-Speed Rail System

ong the most powerful forces shaping China’s urban transition is a new High-Speed Rail (HSR) network, an ongoing investment project that dramatically improves transit accessibility for China’s urban population. By reducing intercity travel times to intervals equivalent to those of municipal subway networks, HSR will spur the creation of multinucleated urban mega regions. Within this macro-level reorganization, rail construction will amplify economic activities around HSR stations, creating new land and real estate markets to serve these major transit interchanges. Together, these regional and local reconfigurations of economic geography will have persistent effects on urban form, investment patterns, and population mobility in Chinese cities.

Although project-level studies of HSR have been conducted to justify investment costs, no integrated spatial and economic studies of HSR have analyzed the network’s local, regional, and country-level impacts on population distribution, economic activities, and land use and price. This has left key questions about the HSR-­‐influenced urban development process unanswered. What are the nature, magnitude, and spatial distribution of HSR’s wider economic impacts? Are these benefits generative, redistributive, or both? What is the direction of redistribution: convergent, distributing resources more equally to all cities, or divergent, distributing resources more towards existing growth poles? To what degree does HSR stimulate urban land development, and how does this affect the real estate market? This project addresses these knowledge gaps with a three-part investigation of HSR’s new patterns of accessibility, its wider economic benefits, and its effects on land and real estate development. While guided by prior comparative studies and models of transport investment, accessibility, and land use, it also utilizes recently developed methods to account for capacity constraints endemic to many HSR lines, particularly in China’s mega regions. Case studies of HSR corridors representing China’s three major regions of HSR investment -- eastern, central, and western—will be used to compare these effects in cities that vary by size, economic structure, and HSR connectivity.