Urban Planning + Design + Research
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The Gobi: Infrastructure and Logistics Urbanism

The Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert lies at the boundary between Europe and China...at least, for now.

The Gobi Desert lies at the boundary between Europe and China...at least, for now.

Logistics Urbanism and Infrastructures of Planetary Urbanization

Urban Theory Lab Research Seminar,  Professor Neil Brenner, Spring 2016

Partner: Guan Min

The Gobi Desert is being remade into a space of flows between China and Europe. This is the result of two primary forces: 1. The geopolitical strategy of China to more closely integrate European, Central Asian, and ultimately Middle Eastern economies into its own with the goal of creating an integrated economic zone. 2. The calculations of multinational electronics and automotive companies that are beginning to ship products between China and Europe using overland rail routes that are now faster than sea routes. China is investing billions in new roads, rail, inland ‘ports’, logistics centers, and other infrastructure designed to realize this political project. Logistics companies and electronic firms are also partnering with state-owned rail companies in China, Russia, and Kazakhstan to reduce tariffs, customs processing times, and other bureaucratic obstacles to free trade.

These new infrastructures and associated urban nodes are facilitating increased trade flows in products between Europe and China, as well as the increased extraction of raw materials like oil and natural gas. Additionally, the growth of new connective infrastructures are facilitating plans for export zones at border ports and in certain Western Chinese cities like Xi’an, Urumqi, and Lanzhou. These new cities are predicated on attracting investment from high-tech companies and facilitating a transfer of manufacturing and industry from China’s East to China’s west. But until now, most of the growth of manufacturing in the West has been that related to extraction, including oil, coal, and mining. All of these processes mean that the economic opportunities in the Gobi region continue to be based on the shipment of products through the region at the detriment of developing local resources or capacity in the region itself.

Political Economy:  The Nexus of State-Owned Companies and Global Capital Mobility

This timeline shows the increasing political agreements both between Central Asian countries and within to improve connectivity across Eurasia. As you can see, integration efforts have expanded rapidly since the 1990s, a period in which China's economy and international trade began to grow rapidly.

This timeline shows the increasing political agreements both between Central Asian countries and within to improve connectivity across Eurasia. As you can see, integration efforts have expanded rapidly since the 1990s, a period in which China's economy and international trade began to grow rapidly.

Lanzhou New Area: An "Inland Port"

Infrastructure in the Desert:  Urbanization by Degradation

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Envisioning an Alternative Urbanization Process

Existing: Top-down policies

Existing: Top-down policies

  Proposed: Bottom-up development

 

Proposed: Bottom-up development

In this scenario, the global logistics networks that currently bypass nearby villages and nomadic communities can be re-appropriated by these communities and made to serve the development of small businesses, traditional manufacturing, and tourism in these regions.

In this scenario, the global logistics networks that currently bypass nearby villages and nomadic communities can be re-appropriated by these communities and made to serve the development of small businesses, traditional manufacturing, and tourism in these regions.

A more inclusive and sustainable development model for all: a Gobi for people and places.

A more inclusive and sustainable development model for all: a Gobi for people and places.