In the 1980s, 20% of people in China lived in the city. Today, it's 53%. By 2025, the country's leaders wants 70% of the population to be city-dwellers—about 900 million people. How do you do that? Bulldoze the villages and build new cities from scratch, reports the New York Times. Farmers sell their land to corporations and municipalities, and move into big apartment towers rent-free—a change that's exciting for some, and worrying for others, as the newly built towns don't necessarily offer many opportunities for employment. And many farmers say they are not actually given a choice in surrendering their land.
Theoretically, more urbanites means more consumers and tax-payers and thus greater growth. But the move is still a risky one. It will cost China an estimated $600 billion a year, as it builds new infrastructure and pays for education, health care, and pensions for the former farmers. And while the urbanization is already well underway, the government has still not finalized its actual blueprint for the plan. If the strategy fails, there are fears the new urbanites will just become a new urban underclass. "There’s this feeling that we have to modernize, we have to urbanize and this is our national-development strategy," says a rural development expert. "It’s almost like another Great Leap Forward."