Towards a new model of Asian edge city? Measuring the functional evolution of towns in cross provincial-border areas in metropolitan Shanghai, China.


  • Zhanyi Luo Tongji University
  • Chen Chen Tongji University


Metropolitan areas, Cross provincial-border areas, Functional evolution




Under the wave of globalization, certain megacities in China are undergoing or have already undergone post-suburbanization. In contrast to the United States, where "edge cities" were primarily driven by market forces and developers, the development of towns on the outskirts of China's metropolises has been largely influenced by the government. Despite China's unique administrative system, which prioritizes resources for the higher-ranking central city, towns on the Shanghai metropolitan area have recently absorbed functional spillovers from the central city, encompassing industry, commerce, public services, and technological functions, and have evolved into new centers with integrated functions. This indicates that the ongoing functional evolution of China's metropolitan edge towns is transcending geographical constraints and has become a valuable experience for China in advancing 'new urbanization', while also offering a new model for the examination of Asian edge cities.

This paper seeks to elucidate the distinctive characteristics of the emergence of towns in China's metropolitan area during the post-suburbanization stage and to investigate the emergence of towns with metropolitan-like functions by delineating the stages of their functional evolution. In order to reveal this process, our study examines towns in the cross-provincial-border areas of Shanghai-Suzhou-Jiaxing as a case study to analyze their functional evolution. We have devised a classification standard and evaluation index system for the functions of the towns and have conducted an analysis by integrating statistical yearbook data from 2008 to 2022 with ArcGIS.

The functional differentiation of the study area can be delineated into two stages: ① The initial stage (from 2008 to 2018) witnessed towns dominated by industrial parks gradually assuming additional functions, with the development of functions surpassing spatial connectivity, yet still being characterized as "subsidiary" and "marginal" in terms of function and space. ② The subsequent stage (commencing in 2018) represents the comprehensive promotion of integrated functioning in towns within the metropolitan area. Following the national adoption of the 'Strategy for integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta' (YD Integrated Development) as a national strategy in 2018, towns in cross-provincial-border areas within the metropolitan region received increased investment attention and resource allocation, leading to further enhancement of the layout of commercial, residential, and public service functions under the adjustment of national policy. These towns have successfully transformed their marginal disadvantage into a resource-accepting advantage, achieving rapid development and, to a certain extent, replacing the metropolitan function.

This study offers insights into understanding the fundamental elements of development in China's metropolitan area during the post-suburbanization stage, as well as examining regional disparities in this transition process to enrich the theoretical study of edge cities or metropolitan areas in the Chinese context.


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