What matters to complex commuting patterns in Beijing? Individual attributes vs spatial factors

Blog by Cecilia Wong, Wei Zheng and Miao Qiao

5 Dec 2019, 12:33 p.m.
Cecilia Wong, Wei Zheng and Miao Qiao



Like many other cities in China, Beijing has abandoned its compact urban form featuring the socialist danwei (work unit) system with planned co-location of work and residence to take up major reforms in its land and housing markets. The rampant urban expansion over the last few decades  included formal commercial housing through the legal appropriation of rural land and informal housing developments initiated by local villagers, such as ‘small property housing’ and illegal housing in ‘urban villages’, without legal approval. Economic development and sweeping institutional reforms of land and housing markets, facilitated by urban master planning, have become the de facto drivers in re-shaping home-work spatial relations in Beijing.


Since neighbourhoods in a mega city such as Beijing have undergone different spatial and temporal contexts of urban expansion, it is important to understand the gravity between spatial impact and individual factors in shaping commuting patterns. Four neighbourhood types (inner metropolitan, suburban established, suburban isolated, and transient) in the Beijing metropolitan region (BMR) were first derived through cluster analysis by combining traditional built environment measures and variables measuring inherent neighbourhood characteristics and development time periods. Commuting flows from different neighbourhoods and their relationship with main employment centres in the BMR were then mapped by GIS analysis. By innovatively applying multi-level modelling approaches, variations in commuting time and distance over the neighbourhood types were examined to establish how individual socio-economic attributes and neighbourhood factors, as well as their interactive effects, explain the varied commuting patterns.


The research findings show that spatial outcomes and commuting dynamics in Beijing are inherent products of spatial policies and market forces under the context of rapid urbanisation and development. The lack of comprehensive and integrated urban planning has accelerated the separation of home-work locations and lengthened work journeys and commuting times in the suburban neighbourhoods located in the outer metropolitan area, particularly those in the eastern and southern parts of the BMR. The cross-level interactions of variables, in particular, shed new insights to our understanding of complex commuting patterns, in terms of the predominant influence of individual attributes which also interact with locational conditions of neighbourhood with differential explanatory power.


As commuting patterns are dynamic and subject to the evolving urban spatial structure, it is crucial to develop a long-term, integrative spatial planning strategy. The latest 2016 Beijing Master Plan has sketched out Beijing’s polycentric spatial structure with very specific principles. This new plan also elevates Tongzhou new town as Beijing’s sole sub-centre and reduces the number of satellite towns from eleven to five. Three of the new towns are indeed located in the southern area of Beijing, connecting to the newly planned Beijing New Airport and Xiong’an New District, to develop strategic regional integration with neighbouring Tianjin and Hebei. The BMR will thus continue to be a fertile ground for future research to monitor the impacts of master planning to realise the objectives of new type of sustainable urbanisation.


Read the accompanying article Urban expansion and neighbourhood commuting patterns in the Beijing metropolitan region: A multilevel analysis on Urban Studies OnlineFirst.



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