Updated: 2013-12-17 07:15
For the first time, China's urbanization has a clear direction to follow thanks to a central conference at the weekend.
This direction will pull China's continued urban development, which is essential for its modernization, out of the unsustainable rut it was in and divert more resources to the less-developed central and western parts of the country.
The top authorities know that it is unsustainable for the existing megacities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, to further expand. Neither is it sustainable and environmentally feasible for hundreds of millions of surplus rural laborers to swarm into the big provincial capitals.
So the decision has been made that while the population size of megacities will be tightly controlled, household registration in small cities or townships will be lifted and restrictions on household registration in medium-sized cities will be eased in a gradual and reasonable manner.
It is natural for the emphasis to be placed on the development of small cities and even townships to attract rural surplus laborers, and for several city clusters to be developed in the central and western areas, as these are underdeveloped compared with the eastern coastal region.
But as the decision emphasized, the role local governments play must be reasonably combined with the role of the market in this process to avoid the mistakes that have brought problems to the eastern region along with its development.
Clearly the development of small cities and expansion of medium-sized ones should never copy what has been done in eastern China, where environmental degradation and the loss of local cultural identities have been a drag on human-oriented development.
And the importance of rational urban planning that takes into consideration the impact of urban development on the environment should never be underestimated when urbanizing the country's central and western regions, as this is where the country's major rivers originate and where the ecology has become increasingly vulnerable.
Haste makes waste, and all the problems the eastern region faces can be attributed to hasty development plans.
Long-term planning and thoughtful design is needed for balanced development of small cities and the central and western regions. But this is easier said than done. A lot remains to be done in the process of reform for the urbanization drive to go in a healthy manner.
Fortunately we now know where we are heading.