Impacts of Economic Restructuring of Export-Oriented Industrialization on Urban Development in the Pearl River Delta – A Case Study of Dongguan

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI)

Funding body: Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme (37002617)


China’s urbanization and economic development have been tremendous since the adoption of economic reform and open door policy in 1978.  Because of the national urbanization policy of China, in addition to industrialization in the cities, industrialization was occurring in the rural areas as well. Rural urbanization is fueled by the growth of industries of village and township enterprises (VTE) in the once rural areas of China, especially areas in the coastal areas. However, in past few years, there is a trend of economic restructuring in China. With the rapid increase in wages and land prices in the coastal areas, the rise of China to become the second largest economic system after USA, and the decline in the European and North American markets, industrial products except those high-tech industries, were no longer as competitive as before. There has been difficulties in recruiting cheap labour and decline in the export-oriented industries, especially in the Pearl River Delta. There is also a rising trend of the development of producer services in the large cities of the Pearl River Delta with economic restructuring from manufacturing, to services and then to producer services industries.  The study aims to examine the soico-economic and land use impacts of economic restructuring on urban development in the Pearl River Delta, one of the early success of export-oriented industries.  The study will enhance our understanding of the impacts of economic restructuring on urban development, especially on the once boom towns and cities in the era of export-oriented industrial development. It will help other cities in China which have similar characteristics as the PRD to be better prepared to deal with the problem of industrial decline and the concomitant derelict industrial buildings and land.

The Development of New Central Business Districts (CBDs) in China: Development Model and Dynamics

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI)

Funding body: General Research Fund (17603617)


Since economic reforms in 1978, China’s economy has transformed from industry, to services, and now to producer services. As a result, the urban landscape has changed significantly. Central business districts (CBDs) have been one of the most visible new urban landscapes in many Chinese cities. Different from those in Western cities, many recently developed CBDs have been built in new business districts rather than developed in the old city propers. For the development of a new CBD, how to fill the office spaces is often a major problem worldwide. However, in China, the state plays a significant role in the planning and development of these new CBDs. State Own Enterprises (SOEs) are often used as pioneer firms to be first located in the new CBDs for attracting other firms to be located subsequently in them. The objective of this study is to examine the development dynamics of new CBDs in China by testing a proposed Public Enterprise-Led Model which uses SOEs as catalyst for attracting other firms in their early years of development.  A quasi-experimental staging time-series research design will be used in the study by examining whether there is a development pattern of succession of ownerships, types, sizes, and investment sources of producer service firms in the new CBDs that were developed in different periods of time. It will use Chinese economic census at multiple years to reconstruct the profile of producer service firms in the new CBDs to examine the process of spatial concentration and succession of firms. The research will help to identify the role of SOEs in triggering off the spatial concentration process. It will examine the development process, characteristics and dynamics of firm succession. The project will study four cities that developed new CBDs in different time periods, namely Shanghai (Lujiazui financial and trade zone in the 1990s), Guangzhou (Pearl River New Town in the 2000s),  Nanjing (Hexi new business district in the 2000s), and Shenzhen (Qianhai in the 2010s). Besides using economic census to examine the proposed Public Enterprise-Led Model and business succession,  in-depth interviews with government officials and managers of SOEs and non-SOEs will be conducted to understand the planning process and development dynamics of these new CBDs. The study will contribute to our understanding of the development of post-industrial spaces in China and rethinking of the role of the state in constructing new CBDs in other countries.

A Study of Urban Living and Employment Compactness Based on Multi-source Spatio-temporal Data

Project Team: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI), Dr. Weifeng Li (Co-I), Dr. Zhixin Qi (Co-I)

Funding body: National Science Foundation China (NSFC) General Program


Rapid urbanization in China has led to a set of urban problems such as traffic congestion, energy consumption, which may affect sustainable development. One of the problems is mismatch between activities and spatial structures. Urban planning in China has been promoting compact city characterized as high-density and mixed land use development for many years. However, compact urban form, compact land use and facilities are not real goals of fulfilling a compact city. Achieving high quality and compactness of urban living and employment are the key issues of sustainable development. The availability of big data from mobile phones and smart cards enable us to have better knowledge of travel pattern and behaviours. To recognize and extract residents’ living and commuting activity pattern from big data is one key scientific question. The other scientific question is how to demonstrate the evolving dynamics of urban systems by integrating the big data with the traditional land use and transportation data. This project examines the analysis of big data for the investigating the compactness of urban living and employment and to find the relationships between the measurement of compactness from traditional land use analysis and actual people’s activity space from big data. The project will further advance the theory of compact city, filling in the research gap that traditional urban planning practice cannot match spatial structure and urban micro-economic activities. It will develop the bottom-up activity based urban planning theoretical framework by the use of big data which is of great significance to sustainable urban spatial development and smart urban planning.

Unsupervised Short-term Monitoring of Human-Induced Land Cover Change Using Repeat-Pass RADARSAT-2 Polarimetric SAR Images

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI), Zhixin QI (Co-I)
Funding body: GRF


Timely detection of construction land expansion is essential for urban planning and management. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which is not affected by clouds, is therefore a promising tool for extracting timely information on land development for construction. However, seasonal growth of crops results in land cover changes that can be mistakenly interpreted as changes induced by land development, and creates considerable difficulties for the detection of construction land expansion using two Polarimetric SAR (PolSAR) images. A comparison is made between monthly construction land expansion detection with two successive images, that with three successive images, and that with the crop phenology-based approach.


This study proposes a crop phenology-based approach that uses polarimetric SAR imagery to detect construction land expansion every month and reduce the disturbance from seasonal crop growth.


High Speed Railway Accessibility and the Spatial Restructuring of Producer Services in China

Principal Investigator: Anthony G.O. YEH (PI), Fan YANG (Co-I)
Funding body: GRF


China is building the world’s largest HSR network to improve inter-city accessibility. Many Chinese municipal governments have reformulated urban development strategy to make use of this new way of transportation to develop producer services and central business districts (CBDs) to enhance their competitiveness in the era of globalization. However, relatively less is known about how the operation of HSR has affected the spatial development of producer services in China. This proposed research will investigate the process and pattern of China’s producer service development since 2008 when HSR was introduced. It will advance theoretical enquiry in the existing literature and benefit decision-making on China’s urban planning and economic and urban development.


  1. Identify the process and pattern of producer service development in the Chinese urban system since 2008;
  2. Investigate the relationship between HSR development and the change in  producer service distribution; and
  3. Analyze the location considerations and operation strategies of producer services in the context of HSR development.