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This study is driven by the emerging phenomena in China’s urbanization: shrinking cities, rapid land urbanization of “ghost cities”, and high-debt cities. How do cities shrink in rapidly urbanized China? Why are local governments in China actively engaging in land development even if the population is shrinking to generate “ghost cities/towns”? Why do cities keep borrowing and accumulating high debts? The market-demand based theories can hardly explain these unique urban phenomena. Therefore, this study focuses on the “supply-side” stories, which is the core piece in China’s “state-led” urbanization. I draw theories from state rescaling and develop it by examining its asymmetric features in policy domains and territorial dimensions in China’s context. The first paper uses a new technique, Dynamic Time Warping clustering, to identify cities into different growing and shrinking typologies based on their urban population and economy trends from 2006 to 2015. Considering the asymmetric rescaling in terms of state spatial selectivity, the multinomial logistic regression shows different shrinking mechanisms between the south and the north. Shrinking cities in the south are losing their population due to their proximity to the state-selected high-level cities and the pulling effects. They sustain economic growth with more local debt and state funds for fixed assets investment. This may result in potential “ghost” phenomenon in these high-debt cities. In the north, shrinking cities are mining and resource-based and lack of competitiveness to attract investment by state and market. Some of these left-behind cities have to rely on their own by cheaply leasing land to finance urbanization. This also could generate the oversupplying issue of “ghost” cities. State fund for urban maintenance on facilities and service is found to be very critical to divert population into shrinking regions. The second paper focused on the land transactions of all city governments from 2006 to 2015 to explore why they are so passionate about land leasing, especially in the shrinking regions. Under China’s asymmetric rescaling in policy dimensions, the paper first examines the institutional incentives from fiscal, political and economic aspects to drive local land transactions. The Geographical Temporal Weighted Regression disaggregates these incentives and shows they are particularly strong to drive land urbanization in the less developed northern and western inland regions. This is harmful to these cities since their populations are shrinking or slowly growing, and the land is leased at a lower price. Thus, the “ghost” phenomenon is expected, and land and public resources are used in an inefficient way. State funds need to be spatially designed and allocated carefully. The state fund for urban maintenance can reduce the incentives of such fiscalization of land use while state fund for fixed assets investment is found to promote more land competition. The third paper dives into the high local debt in China’s urbanization and examines the spatially variegated stories of China’s debt with a self-developed Geographical Weighted Panel Regression for all cities from 2006 to 2015. By exploring the institutional incentives of China’s asymmetric rescaling, this paper finds different reasons for local bond issuance besides just development by borrowing. These include fiscal management by borrowing, debt-repayment by borrowing, capitalization of land resources by borrowing, inter-city competition by borrowing, state fund-promoted borrowing. Cities in the inland regions of the north and the west are likely to playing the “hunger game” to issue bonds to ameliorate their budgetary fiscal stress, pay the existing debt and capitalize more land resources. This hunger games with debt feeding debt can be reduced by more state fund, especially for the maintenance purpose. Cities in the more developed coastal region are playing a “competition game” to use local issuance as a policy tool to compete with peers by showing more development effort for future state fund in investment. These findings provide a multilevel institutional perspective to explain local planning and development trajectories. These “supply-side” stories can better explain the phenomenon of shrinking cities, ghost cities, and high-debt cities. This dissertation advances a theory of asymmetric state rescaling. It first highlights the uneven spatial selectivity of the state in terms of its rescaling of powers and resources and links it with diverse development outcomes. It next emphasizes the institutional incentives embedded in the asymmetric rescaling process across different policy fields, and how they shape local policy and planning making. Thirds, it shows the important roles of state policy to reduce the incentives and spatial disparities. The state needs to combine funds and transfers with spatially targeted regulation and scrutiny in land transactions and debt issuance, as well as regional and spatial plans that clearly layout functions of cities and promote collaboration between cities.

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shrinking cities; Public policy; Regional studies; Urban planning; Asymmetric State Rescaling; Land Urbanization and Finance; Spatiotemporal Weighted Modeling; Time-Series Clustering
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Warner, Mildred E.
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Donaghy, Kieran Patrick
Wallace, Jeremy Lee
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City and Regional Planning
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Ph.D., City and Regional Planning
Degree Level
Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
dissertation or thesis
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