27 Oct

Geographical Review Preview: Think locally, act locally: A critique of China’s specialty town program in practice

By: Xiaohui Hu, Wei Xu, Julie Miao

What is the main purpose of your study? 
The main purpose of our study is to examine how local states in China interpret and implement a top-down national policy on small-town development since 2015.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Our study offers important policy implications for national authorities in China to avoid making spatially less-sensitive policies and to generate fine-tuning and place-based instructions for future regional development.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Our work not only contributes to policy studies in economic geography, but also relate to the topic of small-town development in the fields of urban geography, political geographical economy, and public administration.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
1. Our study provides a critique of the Specialty Towns program, a key constituent of China’s current new-style urbanization campaign.
2. It provides evidence that there is a mismatch between national policies and local practices in specialty town development. The latter has its own logic of development shaped by history, geography, institutions and agency.
3. The study argues that without considering the specificities of places in a broader socio-economic context, the program may fail to work as effectively as expected in its local implementation.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
This study calls for understanding the geographies of regions by a more nuanced and long-term oriented policy toolbox. Theoretically, contextualized debates regarding how to confer more policymaking and policy evaluating autonomies to regions and places, while keeping their power in check by establishing evidence-based and place-sensitive public auditing system is much needed.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
In general, our study suggests three key building blocks for understanding regional development with industrial specialization: place dependence, embeddedness and locational advantage. Frist, regional specializations cannot be built from scratch, but are largely contingent on history. Second, varieties of local existing growth-led agglomerations/platforms underpin socio-economic institutions for regional development. Third, Locational advantage matters for entrenched environments, accessibility and externality potentials. It is a basic factor to understand the geographies of regional specializations.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.