Mega-Regionalization and Urban Reconfiguration: The Spatial and Wider Economic Impacts of China's High-Speed Rail System

PI: Jinhua Zhao (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT)


Among the most powerful forces shaping China’s urban transition is a new High-Speed Rail (HSR) network, an ongoing investment project that dramatically improves inter-urban accessibility. HSR will spur the creation of multinucleated urban mega regions.

Although project-level studies of HSR have been conducted to justify investment costs, no integrated spatial and economic studies of HSR have analyzed the network’s local, regional, and country-level impacts on population distribution, economic activities, and land use and price. This has left key questions about the HSR-influenced urban development process unanswered. What are the nature, magnitude, and spatial distribution of HSR’s wider economic impacts? Are these benefits generative, redistributive, or both? What is the direction of redistribution: convergent, distributing resources more equally to all cities, or divergent, distributing resources more towards existing growth poles? To what degree does HSR stimulate urban land development, and how does this affect the real estate market? This project addresses these knowledge gaps with a three-part investigation of HSR’s new patterns of accessibility, its wider economic benefits, and its effects on land and real estate development. Case studies of HSR corridors will be used to compare these effects in cities that vary by size, economic structure, and HSR connectivity.