The Evolving Urban Form: Nanjing


Nanjing is one of China's most historic cities. It is one of the four great ancient capitals of the nation, along with Beijing, Chang'an (Xi'an) and Luoyang. Its name means southern capital (Nan=south, Jing=capital), while the name of the current capital, Beijing means Northern capital. Nanjing was the national capital at various times, however generally for periods of no more than a few decades. Upon the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the national capital was moved permanently to Beijing, where it had been for most of the previous five centuries.

Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu, which is China's fifth most populous province. It has twice as many people as California (80 million) and a land area the size of Virginia. Nanjing is also one of the "four furnaces" of China, a title derived from its humid summers. The others include Wuhan (Hubei), Chongqing and sometimes Changsha (Hunan) or Nanchang (Jiangxi).

Nanjing is reputed to have the world's longest, though not the oldest surviving city wall, which was built in the 14th century (Photo).  The city is also the site of the second bridge ever built over the lower Yangtze River (Photo), opened in 1968 (the first was at Wuhan). The bridge carries both automobiles and trains. There are now five Yangtze River crossings in Nanjing.

Nanjing City Wall

Yangtze River (toward suburban Pukou qu)

Yangtze Delta Megalopolis

Nanjing is a big city in one of the world's great urban mega-regions. It serves as the Western anchor of the Yangtze Delta region, a megalopolis (string of metropolitan areas) which consists of a string of sometimes adjacent urban areas, stretching through Suzhou to Shanghai and Hangzhou to Ningbo, with a population of approximately 60 million (plus additional millions in rural areas, outside the urban areas). This is at least a third more than live in the longer Washington-New York-Boston corridor, the original megalopolis.

A trip through the Yangtze Delta corridor demonstrates only comparatively short sections that are not urbanized. One of the longest is the 10 mile (16 kilometer) section from the eastern urban fringe of Nanjing to the western fringe of Zhenjiang (location of the Pearl S. Buck Museum). Further, Nanjing's southern fringe now meets that of Maanshan, in Anhui province (not a part of the Yangzte Delta).

The Nanjing Urban Area

Nanjing has grown rapidly. In 1950, the urban area population was approximately 1.0 million (see "Definition of Terms Used in the Evolving Urban Form Series"), a population some sources say was exceeded in the 15th century. The urban area has now reached 5.8 million. Nanjing is the world's 59th largest urban area and the 13th largest in China. It is projected to have a population of more than 8 million by 2025 (Figure 1). The Nanjing urban area (Figure 2) covers approximately 440 square miles (1,140 square kilometers). This results in a population density of approximately 13,100 per square mile (5,100 per square kilometer).

Consistent with the general principle that cities become less dense as they get larger, Nanjing's population density has fallen significantly over the last 60 years, even as its geographical size has more than quintupled (Figure 3). Older historic land area data is not readily available, but if it is assumed that virtually all of Nanjing's United Nations reported 1,000,000 population in 1950 lived within the 17 square mile (44 square kilometer) periphery of the city walls, the population density would have been more than 60,000 per square mile (more than 23,000 per square kilometer). The area within the city walls is indicated by green shading in the urban area representation (Figure 2).

By 1970, the population had increased to over 1.4 million and if this population was contained inside the city walls, the population density would have approached 90,000 per square mile (35,000 per square kilometer).Indicating a similar density, the 2010 population of the most densely populated district (Golou qu), much of which is located inside the Wall 86,000 per square mile (33,000 per square kilometer).

The Nanjing Metropolitan Area

Nanjing is a prefecture (regional municipality) with 11 districts, of which nine are in the metropolitan area (Note 1). The core of Nanjing continues to grow, from 2.5 million in 2000 to 3.4 million in 2010, an increase of 34 percent (Note 2). But in comparison, the suburban districts grew from 2.3 million to 3.8 million, an increase of 64 percent (Figure 4). For the first time, suburban Nanjing has a larger population than the urban core. The suburbs accounted for 64 percent of the metropolitan area's growth over the past decade, compared to 36 percent in the urban core (Figure 5).

Pukou, a suburban district across the Yangtze River from the historic location of Nanjing, was by far the fastest growing part of the metropolitan over the past decade. By 2010, the population had risen to 710,000 from 225,000 in 2000, when it was largely rural. Two metro lines are planned to connect Pukou to the rest of the urban area, which is likely to encourage further suburban development.

The Nanjing Economy

Nanjing, like other cities in China, has been a beneficiary of China's unprecedented poverty reduction, first launched by the economic reforms started by Deng Xiao Ping in the early 1980s. It is estimated that in 2012, Nanjing's gross domestic product per capita (purchasing power parity adjusted) was approximately $25,000 annually. Nanjing's GDP per capita is compared to that of other Chinese metropolitan areas and examples from the developed world in Table 6 (Note 3).

A Strong Future

Nanjing seems likely to continue its strong growth. This and Nanjing's geographic location in one of the most vibrant mega-regions in the world should guarantee a continuing and strong contribution not only to the development of the Yangtze Delta megalopolis, but also to economic progress of China as a whole.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.


Note 1: The districts (qu and counties) designated as urban by Nanjing prefecture (regional municipality) authorities Entire peripheral districts are designated when they begin to receive urban development. The "urban" designation in China, however, does not indicate continuous urbanization and is thus not an urban area in the internationally defined sense. The Chinese urban definition is thus similar to a metropolitan area (labor market).

Note 2: The urban core includes the following districts (qu): Xuanwu, Biaxia, Qinhaui and Gulou.

Note 3:  Estimated the Brookings Institution Global Metro Monitor, and other sources. See "World's Most Affluent Metropolitan Areas: 2012" including the "Note."

Top Photo: Zifeng Tower (all photos by author)

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