ArcNews Online

Fall 2006

Beijing, China, Plans 2020 Growth with GIS

Meeting Population Growth Complexity and Uncertainty

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This is a "compact city" scenario in which all new development is contained, either at increased densities or at new growth centers along transit corridors within the existing urban area of Beijing.

As China's capital city, Beijing has been experiencing significant development parallel to the country's rapid economic growth. From 1991 to 2001, Beijing grew from a population of 10.8 million to nearly 14 million, a 22 percent increase. In the next 20 years, the population is projected to grow by as much as another 7 million. To address these changes and plan for even greater development in the future, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning (BMCUP) recently updated the Beijing Master Plan for a 2020 planning horizon. The revision sought to create new guidelines to accommodate the city's rapid urbanization expansion; reduce the land-use and infrastructure inefficiencies that have accumulated over the past 20 years; and address the social, economic, and physical development challenges the city has been facing.

There is a great uncertainty regarding Beijing's official population and employment forecasts, making future land-use patterns difficult to predict. The absence of external factors from official population predictions, such as economic growth and the relaxation of the household registration system, also makes accurate population predictions difficult. The Technical Assistance Project for the Beijing Urban Master Plan Revision, cosponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Beijing Urban Planning Commission, conducted scenario analyses to counter these problems. Chengri Ding, associate professor of Urban Studies and Planning and director of the Chinese Land Policy and Urban Management Program, was the principal investigator, and Gerrit Knaap, professor of Urban Studies and Planning and executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, was the co-principal investigator. One of the team's primary goals was to implement GIS analysis for scenario-based examination that would illustrate policy considerations and demonstrate the application of a new quantitative tool for the planning process.

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This scenario applies current BMCUP policies of creating north-south and east-west axes to preserve cultural and social identities of Beijing and two conservation greenbelts.

To determine all potential growth impacts and create the best plan of action, the team needed to analyze different scenarios and that depended on different factors in the region. "We demonstrated planning in a market/transitional system and assisted the group with three main tasks," says Ding. "The first one was to quantitatively plan scenarios and develop measures for plans that could be objectively evaluated. The second task was to provide planning and policy analysis, including forecasting, and the third task was to draw implications to China from international experiences and lessons on urban development and planning."

The team used the INDEX planning support application from Esri Business Partner Criterion Planners, Inc. (Portland, Oregon). INDEX is a GIS-based scenario tool that runs with ArcEditor and ArcView as a platform for benchmarking existing conditions and developing alternative future scenarios. The software was selected for its suitability to the task.

GIS was used to organize spatial input data, such as population and employment distribution, existing land use, transportation networks, environmental factors, and other variables. Using the different factors of growth, the group could begin to analyze the area and determine the best development plans.

"INDEX enabled BMCUP to blend the housing, jobs, and regional accessibility data with the street centerline network and the transit route network," says Eliot Allen, principal of Criterion and the GIS specialist for INDEX. "This enabled the committee to select the indicators from a menu to measure density, distance to jobs, jobs and housing balance, and a number of other crucial analysis components."

The ability to simulate multiple scenarios provided policy makers with a range of options to accommodate the uncertainties in Beijing's economic and population growth through 2020. Policy makers relied on Criterion's software to obtain an objective method of assessing different scenarios. Scenario development began with an examination of existing conditions and key variables affecting future growth. To evaluate different possibilities, the team of analysts uploaded Beijing data into ArcEditor, selected the type of factors to analyze from the indicator menu, and hit a calculate button. A table of tabular scores and maps of the spatial patterns from the inputted indicators were then created. The team used the information to map and analyze current population and employment conditions, transportation networks, and development capacities and accessibilities.

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The Forbidden City, home of 24 Chinese emperors during 500 years of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, is increasingly overshadowed by the city's rapid urbanization expansion. (Photo courtesy Milton Ospina).

Based on circumstances and forecasts of population and employment growth, analysts formulated three scenarios for the metropolitan Beijing region: compact growth, eastward-directed expansion, and outward expansion. Compact growth contained all new developments, either at increased densities or at new growth centers along transit corridors in Beijing's existing urban area. The eastward-directed expansion scenario incorporated many of the policies presently pursued by BMCUP. The final scenario, outward expansion, allowed for an outward expansion of growth in a continuous form from the current high-density zones and in all directions from the central city.

The scenarios contained varying spatial distributions of population and employment growth and new transportation facilities. The different indicators for the scenarios accommodated 21 million people and 8 million employment opportunities, each presenting different distributions of people and employment throughout the metropolitan area.

Using the indicators involved in the scenarios, such as employment density, automobile use, and gas emissions, the compact growth scenario was ranked as the most desirable. These results were integrated with additional team recommendations for upgrading data collection and maintenance and refining the scenarios in consideration of other policy priorities. "The project delivered a report that was expanded into a book and became one of the best-selling books of its kind in China," says Ding. "Many recommendations have been taken from the project. Planners realized the importance of being flexible because the market and future are uncertain. BMCUP adopted the adjustable population target for 2020. This kind of planning practice is the first of its kind in China."

GIS technology proved to be a valuable means of accommodating the region's complexity and uncertainty in population growth that market forces might produce.

More Information

A full report on the Beijing project, "Growth Scenarios for Beijing 2020," is available from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy at For more information on the project, contact Chengri Ding, University of Maryland (tel.: 301-405-6626, e-mail:, or Francis Ho, Esri China (Beijing) Ltd. (e-mail:, tel.: 86-10-6554-1618, fax: 86-10-6554-4600, Web: For more information about INDEX, contact Eliot Allen, Criterion Planners, Inc. (e-mail:; tel.: 503-224-8606, ext. 1; Web:

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