Urban Transition Dynamics in the Regional Rescaling of the Pearl River Delta Area: a Qualitative Approach

Yang Fu (Shenzhen University)


The Pearl River Delta region has been the hub of urban vibrancy and boom ever since the country’s opening up and devolution reforms. However, the political and economic institutions of the cities in this region are so different and complicated that they pose great challenges to the integration of the whole region. This study takes one prominent experiment of urban expansion, Hengqin in Zhuhai, as a case study to investigate how institutional innovations are forged and managed to boost urban development and transitions towards sustainable growth and regional integration. We adopt a multi-level perspective framework to analyze Hengqin’s urban transition. Government archives, master plans, various documents and interviews with government officials, planners, residents, and businesses from Zhuhai, Hong Kong, and Macau are chosen as sources of the analysis, which delineates the complex interactions from a variety of stakeholders. Despite difficulties in the early days, Hengqin is now transitioning quickly, although still confronted with inter-scalar challenges. A better understanding of the governance and economic innovations that have taken place, and the investment-driven development strategies involved, will help shed light on the urban transition of other similar city regions.


Urban transition; Multi-level perspective; Governance transition; Niche management; Urban rescaling

Full Text:



Wang, Y. P.; Wang, Y. L.; Wu, J. S., Urbanization and Informal Development in China: Urban Villages in Shenzhen. Int. J. Urban Reg. Res, 2009, 33 (4), 957-973.

Fu, Y.; Zhang, X., Trajectory of urban sustainability concepts: A 35-year bibliometric analysis. Cities, 2017, 60, 113-123.

Fu, Y.; Zhang, X., Planning for sustainable cities? A comparative content analysis of the master plans of eco, low-carbon and conventional new towns in China. Habitat International, 2017, 63, 55-66.

Bosman, R.; Rotmans, J., Transition governance towards a Bioeconomy: A Comparison of finland and the Netherlands. Sustainability-Basel, 2016, 8 (10), 1017.

Geels, F., From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: Insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Research policy, 2004, 33 (6), 897-920.

Verbong, G.; Geels, F., The ongoing energy transition: Lessons from a socio-technical, multi-level analysis of the Dutch electricity system (1960-2004). Energy Policy, 2007, 35 (2), 1025-1037.

Tabara, J. D.; Ilhan, A., Culture as trigger for sustainability transition in the water domain: The case of the Spanish water policy and the Ebro river basin. Reg. Envir. Chang, 2008, 8 (2), 59-71.

Gaziulusoy, A. I.; Boyle, C.; McDowall, R., System innovation for sustainability: a systemic double-flow scenario method for companies. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2013, 45, 104-116.

Butler, C. D., Food security in the Asia-Pacific: climate change, phosphorus, ozone and other environmental challenges. Asia Pac. J. Clin. Nutr, 2009, 18(4), 590-597.

Brown, J. H.; Burnside, W. R.; Davidson, A. D.; DeLong, J. P.; Dunn, W. C.; Hamilton, M. J.; Mercado-Silva, N.; Nekola, J. C.; Okie, J. G.; Woodruff, W. H.; Zuo, W. Y., Energetic Limits to Economic

Growth. Bioscience, 2011, 61 (1), 19-26.

Smink, M. M.; Hekkert, M. P.; Negro, S. O., Keeping sustainable innovation on a leash? Exploring incumbents' institutional strategies. Bus. Strateg. Environ, 2015, 24 (2), 86-101.

Brown, H. S.; Vergragt, P.; Green, K.; Berchicci, L., Learning for sustainability transition through bounded socio-technical experiments in personal mobility. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 2003, 15 (3), 291-315.

Schandl, H.; Fischer-Kowalski, M.; Grunbuhel, C.; Krausmann, F., Socio-metabolic transitions in developing Asia. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Chang, 2009, 76(2), 267-281.

Schaffartzik, A.; Mayer, A.; Gingrich, S.; Eisenmenger, N.; Loy, C.; Krausmann, F., The global metabolic transition: Regional patterns and trends of global material flows, 1950-2010. Glob. Environ. Change-Human Policy Dimens, 2014, 26, 87-97.

McMichael, A. J.; Smith, K. R.; Corvalan, C. F., The sustainability transition: a new challenge. Bull. World Health Organ, 2000, 78 (9), 1067-1067.

Paredis, E., Sustainability Transitions and the Nature of Technology. Found. Sci, 2011, 16 (2-3), 195-225.

Grimm, N. B.; Faeth, S. H.; Golubiewski, N. E.; Redman, C. L.; Wu, J. G.; Bai, X. M.; Briggs, J. M., Global change and the ecology of cities. Science, 2008, 319 (5864), 756-760.

de Jong, M.; Joss, S.; Schraven, D.; Zhan, C. J.; Weijnen, M., Sustainable-smart-resilient-low carbon-eco-knowledge cities; making sense of a multi-tude of concepts promoting sustainable urbanization. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2015, 109, 25-38.

He, S. J.; Qian, J. X., From an emerging market to a multifaceted urban society: Urban China studies. Urban Stud, 2017, 54 (4), 827-846.

Turnheim, B.; Berkhout, F.; Geels, F.; Hof, A.; McMeekin, A.; Nykvist, B.; van Vuuren, D., Evaluating sustainability transitions pathways: Bridging analytical approaches to address governance challenges. Global Environmental Change, 2015, 35, 239-253.

Moss, R. H.; Edmonds, J. A.; Hibbard, K. A.; Manning, M. R.; Rose, S. K.; Van Vuuren, D. P.; Carter, T. R.; Emori, S.; Kainuma, M.; Kram, T., The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature, 2010, 463 (7282), 747.

Liedtke, C.; Baedeker, C.; Hasselkuß, M.; Rohn, H.; Grinewitschus, V., User-integrated innovation in Sustainable LivingLabs: an experimental infrastructure for researching and developing sustainable product service systems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2015, 97, 106-116.

Lachman, D. A., A survey and review of approaches to study transitions. Energy Policy, 2013, 58, 269-276.

Markard, J.; Raven, R.; Truffer, B., Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects. Research policy, 2012, 41 (6), 955-967.

Geels, F. W., Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research policy, 2002, 31 (8), 1257-1274.

Geels, F. W.; Schot, J., Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy, 2007, 36 (3), 399-417.

Smith, A.; Voss, J. P.; Grin, J., Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: The allure of the multi-level perspective and its challenges. Research Policy, 2010, 39 (4), 435-448.

Wells, P.; Nieuwenhuis, P., Transition failure: Understanding continuity in the automotive industry. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Chang, 2012, 79 (9), 1681-1692.

Yammarino, F. J.; Dionne, S. D.; Schriesheim, C. A.; Dansereau, F., Authentic leadership and positive organizational behavior: A meso, multi-level perspective. Leadersh. Q, 2008, 19 (6), 693-707.

Kern, F., Using the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions to assess innovation policy. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Chang, 2012, 79 (2), 298-310.

Lawhon, M.; Murphy, J. T., Socio-technical regimes and sustainability transitions: Insights from political ecology. Prog. Hum. Geogr, 2012, 36 (3), 354-378.

Berkhout, F.; Verbong, G.; Wieczorek, A. J.; Raven, R.; Lebel, L.; Bai, X. M., Sustainability experiments in Asia: innovations shaping alternative development pathways? Environ. Sci. Policy, 2010, 13 (4), 261-271.

Liang, Y. T.; Jiang, C.; Ma, L.; Liu, L.; Chen, W. S.; Liu, L. L., Government support, social capital and adaptation to urban flooding by residents in the Pearl River Delta area, China. Habitat International, 2017, 59, 21-31.

Lin, G. C. S., The growth and structural change of Chinese cities: a contextual and geographic analysis. Cities, 2002, 19 (5), 299-316.

Xu, J.; Yeh, A. G. O., City repositioning and competitiveness building in regional development: New development strategies in Guangzhou, China. Int. J. Urban Reg. Res, 2005, 29 (2), 283-+.

Ma, L. J. C., Urban administrative restructuring, changing scale relations and local economic development in China. Political Geography, 2005, 24 (4), 477-497.

Huang, X. J.; Li, Y.; Hay, I., Polycentric city-regions in the state-scalar politics of land development: The case of China. Land Use Policy, 2016, 59, 168-175.

Zhang, Q. W.; Su, S. L., Determinants of urban expansion and their relative importance: A comparative analysis of 30 major metropolitans in China. Habitat International, 2016, 58, 89-107.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.30564/mmpp.v1i1.709


  • There are currently no refbacks.
Copyright © 2019 Yang Fu Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.