• PhD Candidate. Xueli LIU Tongji University
  • Prof. Dr. Mi Diao Tongji University


Land development Mechanism, decision making and interactions, High-speed-rail new town in China




China has built the most extensive high-speed rail (HSR) network in the world over the past decades. To leverage the accessibility benefits of HSR, numerous HSR new towns have been initiated around newly constructed HSR stations. The primary objective of HSR new town is to facilitate economic growth and contribute to the ongoing urbanisation. Notably, only 32% of HSR stations are located in existing urban agglomerations (Loo and Huang, 2023), highlighting the critical role played by the land development patterns of HSR new towns in shaping China’s urban landscape.

Although previous studies have studied certain facets of HSR new towns, such as station location settings(Loo and Huang, 2023), land coverage changes(Xiao et al., 2024), and the potential transformation of some HSR new towns into ghost cities(Dong et al., 2021), a comprehensive understanding of the decision- making process and the underlying mechanisms remains unclear. Moreover, most existing studies heavily rely on quantitative statistical modelling, often overlooking the nuanced insights provided by qualitative data including words and discourses. Elements such as interviews, meetings, political talks, published policies, newspapers and so forth play an integral role in the interactions among participants involved in urban development. Despite their potential significance, the utilization of such qualitative data in the land development processes of HSR new towns in China has been largely limited.

To fill this gap, this study examines the decision-making processes and interactions shaping HSR new town development in China through a multiple case study utilizing discourse analysis. We concentrate on three key aspects: the interactions between stakeholders in station locationing, the powers in planning formulation and implementation, and other governmental promoting actors. By exploring these dimensions, we aim to contribute valuable insights into the intricate processes driving the development of HSR new towns and their broader implications for China’s urbanization trajectory.

We adopt Fairclough’s Three-Dimensional Framework for Analyzing Discourse (Fairclough, 1992). Based on published policies, newspapers, printed plannings, interviews, and other materials collected from field trips, we unfold through three sequential lenses, including describing the characteristics of textual data, interpreting the dynamics of decision-making interactions, and explaining the underlying mechanisms.

We find four noteworthy insights. Firstly, when multiple location options exist for an HSR station, a negotiation process often ensues among stakeholders. The final decision on locationing emerges as an outcome of intricate negotiations involving various interest groups, as well as a compromise between engineering principles and political considerations. Secondly, there is evidence of a ‘local growth machine’ in host cities, which clearly define the development goal of the HSR station area as HSR new town. This coalition comprises government officials, local developers and media while excluding ordinary citizens and external developers. Thirdly, the planning system, including strategic planning as a macro policy guide, city planning as the localized manifestation of strategic planning, and planning implementation, assumes a ‘lubricating’ role in the land development in HSR new towns. It imparts legitimacy to the local growth machine, enabling its operation to be more stable. Moreover, a group of organisations bearing names associated with HSR play a ‘catalytic’ role in the development, facilitating the accelerated functioning of the local growth machine. Those include the Management Committee of the HSR New Town, Railway Office, Command Headquarters for HSR New Town Construction, Joint Meeting System for HSR Construction, HSR Industry Guide Fund, etc.

This study shed new light on the significance of considering the local context in the land development of HSR new towns, offering a complementary perspective to literature based on quantitative modelling. The findings can provide useful insights for future sustainable urbanisation around HSR stations in China and the globe.


Author Biography

  • Prof. Dr. Mi Diao, Tongji University


    Ph. D in Urban Studies and Planning
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Cambridge, MA, USA
    Master of City Planning
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Cambridge, MA, USA
    Master of Architecture
    Tsinghua University, School of Architecture, Beijing, China
    Bachelor of Architecture
    Tsinghua University, School of Architecture, Beijing, China


    Tongji University, China
    Professor, College of Architecture and City Planning, September 2020-Present
    National University of Singapore, Singapore
    Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies, January 2019-August 2020
    Assistant Professor, Department of Real Estate, December 2010-December 2018
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
    Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, September 2010-December 2010
    Shandong Provincial Architectural Design and Research Institute, China
    Architect, July 1996-July 1999


    1. M. Diao, Q. Li, T.F. Sing, C. Zhan, “Disamenities of Living Close to Transit Tracks: Evidence from
    Singapore's MRT System”, Regional Science and Urban Economics, 2023, volume 100, 103894.
    2. F. Dai, M. Diao*, and T.F. Sing, “A Two-Dimensional Propensity Score Matching Approach to Estimating
    the Treatment Effect of Urban Rail Transit Lines on Vehicle Travel”, Transportation, 2022.
    3. Y. Zhu and M. Diao*, “The Local and Network Effects of Rail Transit Network Expansion on Retail
    Property Values”, Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2022.
    4. Z. Wang, H. Jia, F. Dai, and M. Diao*, “Understanding the Ground Access and Airport Choice Behavior of
    Air Passengers Using Transit Payment Transaction Data”, Transport Policy, 2022, volume 127, pp. 179-
    5. C. Zheng and M. Diao*, “Inter-city Transport Infrastructure and Intra-city Housing Markets: Estimating
    the Redistribution Effect of High-Speed Rail in Shenzhen, China,” Urban Studies, 2022, volume 59, issue
    4, pp. 870-889.
    6. M. Diao, Y. Fan, and T.F. Sing, “Rational Pricing Responses of Developers to Supply Shocks: Evidence
    from Singapore”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 2021, volume 190, pp.802-815.
    7. Z. Chang, M. Diao, K. Jing, and W. Li, “High-Speed Rail and Industrial Movement: Evidence from
    China’s Greater Bay Area”, Transport Policy, 2021, volume 112, pp. 22-31.
    8. S. Song, M. Diao*, and C.-C. Feng, “Effects of Pricing and Infrastructure on Car Ownership: A Pseudo-
    Panel-Based Dynamic Model”, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 2021, volume 152,
    pp. 115-126.
    9. Y. Zhu, M. Diao*, and J. Li, “Examining Indoor Air Pollution in a Large-scale Integrated Transportation
    Hub in Shanghai”, Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 2021, volume 97,
    10. M. Diao, H. Kong, and J. Zhao, “Impacts of Transportation Network Companies on Urban Mobility,”
    Nature Sustainability, 2021, volume 4, 494–500.