Sustainability Science

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 155–167 | Cite as

Managing the rural–urban transformation in East Asia in the 21st century

  • T. G. McGeeEmail author
Overview Article


This article explores the special features of the rural–urban transformation in East Asia in the last 30 years within the broader context of the development strategies of Asian governments. Despite an ongoing commitment to the rhetoric of concern with rural development, food security and the alleviation of rural poverty, these policies have emphasised the important role of urbanisation as the prime process influencing economic growth. This is supported by the economic argument that the economies of scale, the creation of mass urban markets and the higher productivity that occur in urban places make them crucial to development. This paper argues that this approach creates a false dichotomy between rural and urban areas, whereas development should aim to increase the linkages between rural and urban areas aimed at producing societal transformations rather than separate rural and urban transitions. The paper then explores the empirical evidence of rural–urban transitions in East Asia with a more detailed case study of China, which is considered to be a crucial example because of the size of its population, the special conditions of market socialism and its institutional capacity to manage the rural–urban transformation. The final section focusses on the importance of developing spatial sensitivity to the management of the rural–urban transformation in the 21st century. Old divisions between rural and urban sectors must be replaced by planning that integrates urban and rural activities so that they adopt sustainable management strategies which utilise concepts of eco-systems in which rural and urban activities are linked, so as to create sustainable urban regions, cities and societies.


East Asia Urbanisation Rural–urban linkages Spatial planning Desakota Eco-systems 



The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions that have been incorporated into the revisions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science and Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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