Study on Characteristics and Policy Recommendations of Small Towns in View of Regional Development Strategy in the Coastal Area of Jiangsu Province, China

  • Shuping CuiEmail author
  • Wei Fu
Part of the GeoJournal Library book series (GEJL, volume 122)


On the background of new-type urbanisation, a method that solves the problem and accelerates the development of towns still requires further discussion. This study analyses the state of central towns in the coastal area of Jiangsu Province, China during the implementation of the coastal development strategy, based on the framework of a sustainable city. Results indicate that small towns have experienced improvements in the economy, society, and the environment to different degrees during the past years and have faced the challenges of a lack of comprehensive planning, unreasonable industrial structure, and low capacity and attraction. Some towns have even shrunk during the rapid urbanisation process at the regional level. Thus, this study suggests that (1) systematic planning is necessary to provide guidance to different towns; (2) high-input and polluting enterprises should be avoided in exchange for economic development; (3) coastal region features should be identified and highlighted in the space design; (4) an urban infrastructure system should be established and improved to enhance the capacity of the city; and (5) reform should be explored under the strategy framework for coastal development of the country.


Regional planning Coastal development strategy Central towns Shrinking towns Jiangsu province 

1 Introduction

As important parts of an urban system, small towns influence the conditions of cities and countries (Fei 1996). In the past 30 years, urbanisation in China has attracted attention from the world for its high speed and quality. However, compared with the development of central cities and metropolises, that of small towns lags behind, thereby lessening the appeal of small towns. According to a survey in the rural area of Jiangsu in 2012 (Zhou et al. 2012), only 10.70 % of rural respondents were willing to live in small towns, and only 5.43 % of them wished their children to live in small towns in the future. In recent years, discussions on the mode and path to accelerate the development of small towns have drawn considerable attention, not only from academic circles (Li 2012; Xu and Zhang 1990) but also from the government of China. The New Urbanisation Plan (2014–2020) indicates that focus should be given to developing key small towns, combined with the decentralisation of large cities, the activation of characteristic industries, and the improvement of services in rural areas. However, in practice, the paths and strategies of development for key small towns still require deeper exploration.

2 Study Area and Methodology

2.1 Study Area

The study area is located in the coastal land in the eastern Jiangsu Province, which includes the domains of Lianyungang, Yancheng and Nantong cities, with a land area of 32,500 km2 and a total population of 20.81 million. This study area has good environment and industrial base. The sea area with a water depth of less than 30 m is 70,000 km2, with a coastline of 1000 km. The area features prominently in regional development. The Development Plan for the Coastal Area of Jiangsu was promoted as one of the national strategies in early 2009. In the process of regional development, the issue of small towns is emphasised by the local government. The incubation of coastal cities and towns is included as one of the Six Action Plans for the development of coastal areas. This study selected 261 towns listed in the action plan as samples (see Fig. 1) to evaluate and to guide the further development of small towns.
Fig. 1

Distribution of the key coastal towns

2.2 Methods

The capability and potential for development are often equivalent to the sustainability of a city/town. According to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements Sustainable Cities Programme, the concept of sustainability integrates social, economic, and physical development [United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) 2002]. Likewise, a sustainable city is defined as including economic, social, and environmental achievements in the Habitat Agenda of the United Nations (1996). To sum up, the concept of sustainability involves economic, physical, environmental, and social aspects. Thus, this study used the framework of the four pillars mentioned above to analyse the status of key small towns. In the analysis of specific issues, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) model was applied to identify the advantages and disadvantages of towns in a particular aspect under the framework. The opportunities and challenges should also be predicted in the macro environment.

3 Results

3.1 Status of Towns

3.1.1 Industrial Economy

The strategic deployment and support of policies from the government, the construction of the fast track between Jiangsu and Shanghai, the rapid development of harbours, the swift expansion of large-scale regional infrastructure, and the completion of a series of large projects for the past five years have resulted in the accelerated progress of socio-economic development and urbanisation in coastal areas. In 2013, the gross domestic product (GDP) of coastal areas surpassed the threshold of 1 trillion RMB to an unprecedented 1.03 trillion, representing a 12 % growth compared with the previous year, which was 2.4 % higher than the average of all the towns in the province. The gross regional product per person was 54,401 RMB, which was an 11.8 % improvement, 2.5 % greater than the provincial average. The added value of industrial enterprises experienced an increase of 13.8 %, which was 2.3 % greater than the average of Jiangsu Province. The income of the public finance budget was 108.6 billion, which was a 15.3 % increase, 3.2 % greater than the average level for the province. All prefectures of Nantong City, Dongtai City, Dafeng City, Jianhu County and Yandu District of Yancheng reached the indices of the province for a moderately prosperous society. The coastal area has been considered one of the regions with the fastest growth, greatest growing capability, and highest potential in the past few years. With the increasing development of the area, the key small towns also exhibited good performances in urbanisation, population growth, and employment. Data showed that the average growth rates in developed land area, population, and employment for the key small coastal towns in 2013 were 1.55, 1.34 and 1.07 times higher than those of all the small towns in the Jiangsu Province, respectively (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Comparison of economic and social indicators between key coastal towns and small towns of the entire province (Data source Statistic Yearbook of Jiangsu 2014, Annual Report and Statistics of Towns and Villages in Jiangsu 2014)

Given that the coastal area is almost entirely muddy land, continuous sedimentation from the sea has led to the expansion of the coastline. As a result, the small coastal towns are located beside neither the city nor the harbour (see Fig. 3). The small coastal towns consequently had weakened capacity for expansion. Compared with the urbanisation of the land, the urbanisation of the population, the integration of industries, and the expansion effects on the region still require further improvement. The industry of small coastal towns was composed mainly of primary and secondary industries. The majority of enterprises could be classified as labour-intensive with low technical content. The core business of companies focused on the processing of foods, machinery, chemistry, textiles, and building materials (see Fig. 4). However, the development of modern producer services and the commercial industry lagged behind the industrial system. Industrial structure sustainability remained a serious problem. Facilities supporting industrial development were also lacking. New companies and high-level talents rarely settled in coastal areas.
Fig. 3

Location of key coastal towns and the coast

Fig. 4

Number of key coastal towns featuring different industries. Data source Field survey

3.1.2 Physical Space

The key small coastal towns have shown significant improvements in planning and construction during the past years. By 2013, all towns had completed their general planning; some of the local governments invited top planning institutions in China to design and create plans for towns. With the guidance of planning, the level of public utilities and services increased. In some towns, the living environment was significantly improved. For example, the coverage ratio of the water supply of Huangshagang and four other towns reached 100 %, the ratio of non-hazardous disposal of municipal solid waste in Duigougang and six other towns reached 100 %, the disposal rate of sewage water in Lysigang reached 95.63 %, and the greening rate of Jiaoxie in built-up areas reached 30.46 %.

Although physical space is improving in different aspects, this achievement could not resolve problems such as the lack of coordination between planning and economic development and between the time and method of construction. As for planning, the master, land use, and development plans had not been integrated. The issue of homogeneous competition and waste of resources also existed because of the unclear orientation of towns, developed zones, and harbour areas. As for construction, the ‘project-oriented’ idea was generally carried out, thereby causing staggered land use. Furthermore, the area has had insufficient supply of public services and comprehensive capacity for limited investment from public financing for a long time. The indices all fell below the average for the province, including the water supply rate, greening rate of built-up areas, and non-hazardous disposal rate of garbage (see Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

Comparison of construction indices between key coastal towns and towns of the entire province. Data source Annual Report and Statistics of Towns and Villages in Jiangsu 2014

3.1.3 Ecological Environment

The coastal area was listed as a core protection zone of the ecosystem and wildlife for its superior ecological environment. The area has a high-level ecosystem service, i.e. the seaside wetland regulates the microclimate, eases the damage from storm surges, and purifies the atmosphere. The area also has abundant natural resources, such as wind energy, plentiful land, fishery resources, and rich species. The land area and agricultural acreage were 1.26 and 1.44 times greater, respectively, than those of the average of towns in the province. The Lyusi Fishery Ground in Lyusigang is one of the most important fishery grounds in China. The town of Sanlong is located near the national natural reserve for rare birds.

The relationship between development and environmental protection remained a problem. According to the survey, of the 26 coastal towns, 11 (42.31 % of the total) featured polluting industries, such as the chemical industry and silica products. Some of the small companies in the towns still applied lagging, coarse production and non-standard operational procedures, which posed barriers to the protection and improvement of the environment. Pollutants from the industry cannot be neglected in environmental management.

3.1.4 Social Administration

As ‘the head of the country and the tail of the city,’ towns played important roles in urbanisation and urban–rural development. However, the government of towns took on huge responsibilities but actually had limited power, weak functions, and low efficiencies. They could be qualified in organisation, operation, and allocation during the integration of urban and rural areas.

The coastal areas of Jiangsu have recently made institutional innovations, such as ‘strengthening the towns and increasing the power of the governments.’ For example, since 2013, Nantong has propelled the integration of districts and counties. In this way, the party working committee of the industrial park, the management committee, and the communist party were placed in a co-working environment, which provided institutional guarantees for the general coordination and planning of the coastal area. This innovation helped coordinate resource allocation between the harbour area and towns, increase interest of coastal towns, improve the functions of cities, and facilitate interactive development.

3.2 Situation of Towns

3.2.1 Opportunities

In 2013, the Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening the Reform was passed on the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC. The Decision made it clear that

We should adhere to the new road to urbanisation with Chinese characteristics, as well as promote human-centred urbanisation and coordinated development of large, medium and small cities and small towns. Towns should attract much population with economic strength. We should also establish and perfect coordination mechanisms for regional urban development.

The relevant ministries of the State Council have issued a series of policies and advices in recent years. They aimed to clear the barriers for people to settle in small towns. The pilot project of ‘strengthening the towns and broadening their authorities’ was also carried out to reiterate the important roles that small towns play in the new-type urbanisation. After the conference for promoting the development of the coastal area, the Jiangsu Provincial Committee and the Provincial Government issued a new decision concerning coastal development and deployment. The official document proposed ‘six actions’ as a breakthrough to promote scientific development and upgrade the economy and society of the coastal area. Later, the Jiangsu Provincial Government announced the ‘six action plans for coastal development.’ The document placed the cultivation of coastal towns in the regional plan. Specifically, the improvement of the functions, features, and charms of the towns was emphasised in the development strategies. The promulgation and implementation of such policies provided considerable opportunities for the development of small towns along the coastline.

3.2.2 Challenges

However, four barriers were found to constrain the further development of towns.
  1. (1)
    The expansion of the central city is limited. The three coastal cities and their counties presented low levels of urbanisation and economic and social development. They were still in the middle and late stages of industrialisation, making it difficult to attract resources, capital, and labour from external markets. Having a significant spill-over effect and expansion to the small towns around them also proved difficult. The GDP, PGDP, and rate of urbanisation of the three coastal cities in 2013 were all much lower than those of the five cities in southern Jiangsu Province, which are located in the most developed region (see Table 1). As the first batch of coastal cities chosen for opening up, Nantong and Lianyungang still ranked in the middle or lagged behind in terms of GDP, compared with other opened cities in 2013 (see Fig. 6).
    Table 1

    Level of economy and urbanisation of the three coastal cities


    GDP of 2013 (100 million RMB)

    PGDP of 2013 (RMB)

    Urbanisation rate of 2013 (%)













    Average of the five cities in southern Jiangsu




    Data source Statistic Year Book of Jiangsu 2014

    Fig. 6

    Comparison of the GDP of the first batch of opening up cities in 2013 (100 million RMB) Data source The website of the city

  2. (2)

    The development of towns, small cities, and harbour areas was divided. Emphasis was given to the development of harbour areas. As a result, preferential policies for land and other resources often gave priority to large cities, developed zones, and harbour areas, thereby leading to weakness in the development of small cities and towns.

  3. (3)

    Towns lacked investments in construction. On the one hand, towns had low populations and development levels across the province; on the other hand, the government of towns had no independent financial rights in the existing financial allocation system, in which most of the taxes from towns were turned over to higher levels of government and the funds returned to small towns were matched with the authorities. Issues such as the scarcity of financing funds and the unitary subject of investment increased dependence on the financial allocation and resulted in a shortage of construction funds.

  4. (4)

    The development of towns was not planned and implemented systematically. Some cities had insufficient awareness of the importance of the development of small cities and towns. Some counties did not focus on the key small coastal towns and did not give priority to their cultivation. For example, the towns of Punan, Sanlong, Jiaoxie, Goudun, Sanyu, and Jinhai were not listed in the catalogue of the national or provincial centre towns. Great changes often took place in the goals and directions of the development because of the adjustment of the county–rural layout planning and the frequently changing leadership of the town.


4 Discussion

With the rapid development motivated by regional strategies, towns in the coastal area of Jiangsu Province were also confronted with a series of problems and challenges. Under favourable policies for towns, the cultivation of towns still required further innovations and reform. Cultivation should start from a reform of the administrative system and the running mechanism to create an environment beneficial to the scientific development of small towns, including transforming the roles, functions, and ways of working. The development of small towns should be boosted by following the principles of different developments and fully upgraded based on the conditions, scales, and potential of towns. The systematic philosophy of regional planning should be established to promote synergic development of industries and towns by coordinating the different demands of areas, cities, and towns. The principle of ecological priority and sustainability could not be disregarded in the development of the coastal area. Arrangements should be made for further development of towns in terms of planning, industry, characteristics, capacity, governance, and so on.

4.1 Innovation in Urban and Rural Planning

The reform and innovation for planning should be vigorously advanced by introducing the idea of regional planning and increasing the integration of planning in order to accelerate the development of towns. The towns listed in ‘the cultivation action plan of the coastal towns’ should work together and formulate their specific function orientations, development priorities, and industrial distributions depending on their differentiation. A planning system of towns should also be formed, with the general plan as the leader and the short-term construction, project, and regulatory plans as supplements. In the system, the compilation and implementation of district, regulatory, rural, construction, and subject plans should be emphasised. Based on the current development situation and conditions, the current revision of the general plan should be undertaken by promoting plans that blend with one another to provide a guide for the scientific development of towns.

4.2 Transformation and Upgrading of Industry

The principle promoting the integration of industry and city and the interaction between ports and towns should be promoted to make towns more liveable, ecological, and appropriate for work. The choice of industries for small towns should meet the demands of the adjustment for urban industrial structure. Therefore, industrial policies should be created, rather than promoting only low-level industrial diffusion. The ecological environment should also be preserved by making full use of local resources, but controlling the sensible exploitation and use of resources. Technological progress and lower technical barriers should be set up to attract considerable numbers of low-quality workers. Small towns should learn from city industries but avoid the deterioration of demand and supply of the market caused by duplicated construction. Hence, the development of non-agricultural industries in small towns should be promoted while maintaining their relationship with agriculture.

Amongst the different industries, tertiary industries may be a good choice for industrial structure adjustment for small towns. The tertiary industry has broad prospects for its pollution-free and labour-absorptive capacity. With the industrialisation of agriculture, the modern service industry related to agricultural production would undergo steady development. Therefore, the internal structure of the tertiary industry in towns should be optimised and upgraded. The service industry should be transformed from the traditional low-level retailing and dining services into services for the people’s production and living. Several coastal towns could also develop tourism and recreational agriculture depending on whether their conditions will allow it.

Towns should improve the urban scale and quality to serve the development of industry. Industrial performance would promote the concentration of population. Cooperation with other cities should be strengthened at a large scale, such as occurs in the Yangtze River Delta area. The opportunities for industrial transformation from the developed areas of Shanghai and Suzhou-Wuxi-Changzhou should be seized. However, the industry to be established should be beneficial to the industrial cluster and amenable to upgrading. The behaviours in pursuing economic growth with high input, emissions, and pollution should be avoided.

4.3 Identification and Manifestation of Characteristics

Policies should focus on the mining and moulding characteristics of towns. The advantages of towns in the marine and coastal wetland landscape should be manifested. Local art, folk customs, traditional crafts, and other intangible cultural heritage should be fully exploited and perceived as precious cultural resources to develop the leisure and tourism industry in the region. Architectural culture should be enhanced and developed by protecting historical relics and through the careful planning and design of new buildings. The pleasant scale and style should be considered in the plan or design of new districts, streets, and public spaces. Traditional elements should be applied discreetly and creatively to satisfy the needs of people. Land resources saving should not be neglected. Large squares, large lawns, broad roads and inappropriate ‘European-style’ buildings should be avoided.

4.4 Improvement of Comprehensive Capacity

The development of infrastructure and public facilities should be promoted to enhance the overall carrying capacity of small towns along the coastline. Based on the Action Plans, efforts should be made in the following areas: green coverage and green areas in parks should be increased to build a garden town; full coverage of sewage-processing facilities and water supplies should be achieved in urban and rural-integrated regions; rates of water quality of the concentrated drinking water sources should reach the 95 % level; concentrated recycling rates of garbage should be improved to 90 % or above; commercial networks should be prepared to promote the business, dining, tourism, and other consumption service industries; and public service system should be optimised and improved, especially in medical treatment, social security, employment service, and so on.

4.5 Systematic Reform and Innovation in Governance

According to the spirit of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, social funds should be fully mobilised for investment into the construction of towns. The methods of government-led and market-domain investing and financing mechanisms should be explored and established. The mode of Public-Private-Partnership should also be considered and applied. Following the requirements of the Notice on Improving the Assessment of Achievements of Local Party and Government Leading Bodies and Cadres, the old GDP-oriented government assessment mechanism should be reformed. Assessment should focus on the quality and benefit of sustainable economic development, improvement of livelihood and social economic harmony, cultivation of ecological civilisation, and the building of the party. The weight of factors like resource consumption, environmental protection, security, and stabilisation should be increased, thereby emphasising the importance of technological innovation, education, culture, employment, income, social security, and public health. Policies on household registration should also be reformed to create conditions for the settlement of migrant workers from rural areas. The land and taxation systems should be transformed to allow for breakthroughs in certain areas, such as ‘transforming the towns into cities’ and ‘integrating districts with towns.’ Related projects should gain support from the comprehensive reform of the coordinated development of land and sea.


  1. 1.

    According to The Six Action Plans for the Development of Coastal Areas and the Key Points for the Work of 2014 [S. Z. F (2014) No. 62], 27 towns are on the list of coastal towns. Considering that the new town of Lianyungang is considered a built-up area of the city, this study analysed 26 small towns, and excluded the new town of Lianyungang.


  1. Fei Xiaotong, On the development of small towns in China. Chinese Rural Economy, 1996 (3): 3–10.Google Scholar
  2. Zhou Lan, Liu Dawei, et al. Investigations into rural areas of Jiangsu in 2012. Beijing: Commercial Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  3. Li Mingchao, Review and analysis of studies on small town in China’s urbanization. Contemporary Economy & Management, 2012, 34(3): 67–73.Google Scholar
  4. Xu Shaojun & Zhang Xukun. Review on the research of the small towns and cities in China since the 1990s. Urban Planning Forum, 2004, (3): 79–83.Google Scholar
  5. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Sustainable Urbanisation: Achieving Agenda 21. Nairobi: UN-Habitat; London: Department for International Development. 2002.Google Scholar
  6. United Nations. Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), Istanbul, 3–14 June 1996. Sales No. E.97.IV.6. Chap. I resolution 1, annex II (Habitat Agenda).1997.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jiangsu Provincial Urban Development InstituteNanjingChina
  2. 2.Jiangsu Provincial Urban Development InstituteNanjingChina

Personalised recommendations