chapter  8
17 Pages

The implications of the rise of China for planning in urban Switzerland

WithSwitzerland ANGELO ROSSI

Introduction In Lugano, a Swiss city of around 50,000 inhabitants, in the autumn of 2005, 40 people initiated a course in Chinese at the Adult Educational School of the Migros, the largest retail distribution chain in Switzerland. Most of these people were businessmen and women, who were either actually trading with China, or wanted to. In Lugano today, there are other groups of people learning Chinese. If we take all these people as a proportion of the managers’ population in the Lugano region, they represent some 2 per cent of the total, a percentage which is surely significant. This new interest in the Chinese language in a mediumsized Swiss town like Lugano testifies to the increasing presence of China in one of the smallest European nations. The fact that the Swiss population takes a growing interest in Chinese and in some other aspects of the Chinese culture does not mean, however, that today’s China is very well known in Switzerland (Hugger 2005). When one looks at publications on the development of the relationship between China and Switzerland, one still finds more historical than contemporary studies. The chinoiserie fashion waves of the eighteenth century or the selling success of the montre chinoise in the nineteenth century have certainly been better analyzed by Swiss students, than, for instance, the link between the present imports of goods from China and the foreign direct investments of Switzerland in that country (Boerlin-Brodbeck 2005; Voire 2005; Chapuis 1923). As far as the future development of these relationships is concerned, there are practically no analyses, with the exception of the increasingly frequent newspaper articles depicting the incredible economic and welfare targets that China could achieve if the average growth rates of the last decade should continue for another decade or two, or illustrating the devastating consequences that the rapid rise of China to the rank of global economic power could have for the European economies and, in particular, for that of Switzerland. The Swiss urban system, as with most of the national urban systems of Middle Europe, has developed in three successive periods. The oldest towns have a Roman antecedent. Then there were the numerous city foundings of the Middle Ages. The third urbanization surge came with the industrialization of

the nation and, above all, with the construction of the railway network between the middle of the nineteenth century and the First World War. It is not easy to anticipate whether a fourth urban development period will take place in the twenty-first century. However, if this were to happen, the major factors determining it will certainly be of an economic nature. The international flow of goods, services, capitals and manpower, as well as changes in the economic base, which are determined by the progression of the international division of labour (globalization), will certainly be among the most important determinants of the next urban development bounce. Contrary to the picture presently circulating, which shows Switzerland as a country with tendencies toward isolation, the small nation in the centre of the Alps mountain chain, has always been, at least from an economic point of view, a very open country. This is especially true of the period since 1975. As a matter of fact, with the onset of globalization tendencies, the share of exports in the Swiss GDP has constantly increased. From 24 per cent in 1975, this ratio has risen to 33 per cent in 2004. And, there is no reason why this share should not grow over the next two decades. Taking this background into account, what are the implications of the rise of China as a global economic power for the urban regions of Switzerland? The diagram in Figure 8.1 tries to give an abridged answer to this question. The future economic growth of China will probably influence:

• The growth rate of aggregate demand and therefore also the speed with which the Swiss economy is going to develop.