Over its many years, HERE! has covered the colorful and eventful history of Dongguan. To wrap up the turbulent year of 2020, let’s see how the city plans to grow and expand in the next decade.
Not only is Dongguan home to more than 10 million residents, it is also one of the world’s largest contiguous urban cityburbs located in between two even larger neighboring cities (Guangzhou and Shenzhen). This so-called “strategic squeeze” has a significant effect on the overall planning process, especially regarding Dongguan’s unique advantages. So, what should foreigners look forward to as planners slowly unveil their plans for Dongguan’s future?
SMALL TOWNS CREATING A BIG CITY; UNITED YET UNIQUE
From the planning point of view, Dongguan is the perfect setup with its combination of several large and small towns. However, some of these towns, like the rich Chang’an, Humen and Houjie, have a distinct approach towards their development plans, leading to challenges in integrating as a city.
If you pay closer attention, some of these developments are quite interesting: Houjie, for instance, is putting an effort to recreate a mini-Manhattan around the Liaoxia metro station, implementing a new landmark tower across the road from Wanda Plaza. Is this a signal for the menacing black Hilton tower up the main road to finally open?
In Humen, you’ll finally see the Humen High Speed Rail station looking better than a desolate patch of land, with the addition of a massive new central business district (CBD) surrounding it. Under construction now, the first parts will be open to the public in three years. If you want to frequently commute to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou or even as far as Changsha, this may be an ideal starting point for city-hopping.
Opportunity Of A Century
THE CENTREPIECE OF GREATER BAY AREA MEGALOPOLIS
The Pearl River Delta Greater Bay Area megacity is by far the world’s largest megalopolis. In terms of the area, population size and income as well as the financial, industrial, technological strengths and even cultural impact—it aims to be an overall leader on a global scale.
Looking at the Greater Bay Area map, you’ll notice that Dongguan sits near its geographical center. In fact, its Binhai Bay New Area in Humen and Chang’an shares the actual geographical center title of the area with the Nansha district of Guangzhou right across the river.
At the northwest side, Dongguan’s lowland town sprawl smoothly continues into Guangzhou’s massively-redeveloping Huangpu port district, including a new CBD of its own next to the boundary between two cities. A string of other CBD developments along the Pearl River continues up to Zhujiang New Town, the main new center of Guangzhou.
On the south, Chang’an is fused with the Shajing and Songgang parts of Shenzhen’s Bao’an, while Binhai Bay has its twin in Shenzhen, 200 meters across the Dongbao River. The string of those waterfront zones continues all the way to Qianhai Bay and beyond. Other Dongguan towns, such as Dalang and Fenggang, are also well linked or integrated with the immediate neighboring Shenzhen districts to the south.
CONNECTING THE CBDS
Road, rail and water are key spines linking three main CBD clusters and several smaller centers.
Of course, any CBD is worth little if it’s difficult to access, from within the city or from the outside. Today, the Dongguan Metro only has two-thirds of the Line 2 alignment running; the other critical spine, Line 1 (linking Guangzhou and Shenzhen metro systems) is still nearly three years away from opening. The Nancheng central Hongfu Lu interchange station between these two lines is ready, with all the surrounding developments awaiting the Line 1 launch.
By 2026, the full Line 2 (to the Binhai Bay New CBD), Line 3 and Line 4 should be up and running, completing the original core Dongguan Metro blueprint. Important: the core lines will link to multiple Shezhen and Guangzhou metro lines, allowing smoother short cross-bay daily commute. Or, if in for an urban rail adventure, you can take an all-metro trip between Hong Kong, Dongguan and Guangzhou, then all the way to Foshan, Zhongshan and Zhuhai/Macau!
However, you’ll see an even faster way of traveling around the bay—the maglev train. Together with Shanghai-Hangzhou link, this will be the first major megalopolitan area in China endorsed to have high-speed maglev up to 600 km/h. Depending on the alignment, type (underground in tunnels or elevated on existing highways or rails) and cost, expect two major lines: Airport Express and CBD Express.
The first one, Airport Express, is likely to connect Shenzhen Bao’an Airport with Binhai Bay, Guangzhou Nansha, Guangzhou South, old Guangzhou Center and Baiyun Airport. The nonstop express should take less than 20 minutes between the two airports at 600 km/h maximum speed, allowing easy transfers as if within one gigantic airport. The “slower” trains with multiple stops will help integrate the Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou townships into the “one hour life and work circle.” On top of it, future southern extension to Hong Kong Airport is a possibility too.
The second line, CBD Express—to start either in Shenzhen Futian (if underground) or Luohu Checkpoint New CBD (if elevated)—would stop in Nancheng New CBD (between Gedi and Xiping stations). Then, it will continue towards the current main Guangzhou CBD at the Guangzhou East Station in Tianhe District. It will link all the well-developed CBDs with 10-minute trips from central Shenzhen to central Dongguan, and then another 10 minutes to central Guangzhou. So, trains are expected to be full of passengers from day one. In the future, that line may even extend to Hong Kong Kowloon East!
Now imagine living around Nancheng New CBD. A short pleasant morning walk through the new Dongguan Central Park or the underground mall brings you to the maglev train. You take a quick 10-minute ride to your workplace in Guangzhou CITIC Tower next to the Guangzhou East Station. Or, the same 10-minute ride south for a morning business meeting at the top of Shenzhen Kingkey 100 St. Regis Hotel. That’s what the new generation commute will look like.
Maglev isn’t the only fast transit option coming. In the city south, Guangzhou Line 22 and Shenzhen Line 18, both express metro lines, will meet in Chang’an near the Binhai Bay New Area. The Guangzhou Line 28 will also link northern Dongguan with central Guangzhou.
LINKING 3 FOCUS CBD AREAS
While living here, you would have encountered—or got stuck on—the two regularly jam-packed trunk highways. One of them is the G107, which is part of a free nationwide trunk road, heading through Chang’an, Dalingshan and Songshan Lake, then turning towards Nancheng and all the way to Guangzhou Huangpu.
The other one, the S256 provincial highway, snakes its way through Chang’an, Humen, Houjie and Nancheng. As it passes through each town, its look and feel changes; in parts of Houjie and Nancheng, it feels like a modern, pleasant avenue while elsewhere it returns to being an industrial throughfare.
These two roads are the real main spines of Dongguan from the days before tolled expressways, linking its most developed towns and districts on each side of the Dalingshan “Central Hills.” With better building quality, design and pedestrian-friendly features, they have immense potential to be transformed into boulevards and more. As always, government “encouragement” is needed.
Main Dongguan Center
PRESENT AND FUTURE OF NANCHENG CBD
Since the last planning round nearly a decade ago, the “center of the center” of Dongguan has had its masterplan finalized, and the last sections of land were cleared earlier this year. The huge area is centered at the Xiping metro and intercity rail station, facing Dongguan Avenue. It will have the new, uniquely designed Dongguan Central Park in the middle, flanked by a spread of new high-rise towers—one of which can go up to 500 meters high, the new national height limit without special approval from Beijing. Around half a dozen of 200 to 350 meter tall buildings may join that tower and the current DG Metro towers towards the existing One Mall complex on Dongguan Avenue. They’ll be the socalled “finance center” portion.
On the other side towards Gedi, a “corporate HQ” center with smaller clusters of towers will be built, flanked by an up to 450-meter tall landmark to be opened by 2027. Behind all of them, a long line of residential high-rises up to 50 stories high—together with cultural, sports and endless retail complexes, both above and under ground—completes the picture.
The new CBD will bridge the current Nancheng center and the UCC CBD at the Gedi station into a truly large city center. It’s likely that you’ll be able to walk from one end to another in airconditioned comfort just like Shenzhen’s Futian center or the Taipei Zhongxiao Fuxing downtown core.
All in all, the new Nancheng CBD is the key area I’d look at if I wanted to plan a long term life here. It’s a suitable place for work and recreational activities considering the combination of new world-class content with the existing city center surrounding it, the combined Nancheng/Dongcheng/Guancheng urban whole, and the abundance of attractions and resources.
Twinning with Hong KongA Special Concept Idea
BINHAI BAY NEW AREA
If you thought Nancheng was big, you haven’t seen it all. Binhai Bay New City is a whopping 84 km2— nearly Manhattan-sized—with its development stretching from Humen’s famous Weiyuan Island across the Humen and Chang’an coastal area, up to the Dongbao river, and towards the border between Dongguan and Shenzhen Bao’an District.
Their showcase center along the S3 highway displays a futuristic Dubai-like marine downtown with multiple districts, such as corporate headquarters (Oppo City is already being built there), living (mostly at the current southern Humen area), educational and scientific areas at Weiyuan Island, including a brand new Bay Area University. These ares are all connected by a plethora of both existing and new roads, bridges, metro and rail lines, as well as the new dedicated ferry port to Hong Kong and Macau.
While the Binhai development isn’t really targeted at an international audience, it very specifically targets local and Hong Kong partners. In fact, HK MTR is the partner for the gigantic new railway station and transit-oriented development (TOD) here in Binhai.
Now, the time factor: besides the new HQ developments like the Oppo City, the rest will take time. We’re talking about year 2035 here. Although 2035 may seem too far away for anyone to contemplate at present, it may be a realistic timeframe since, unlike in Nancheng, there are no clear final zoning, height limitations and other approvals, and the mass land parcel sales are still far off according to the sources. Yet, the most important obstacle—there’s a lot of existing land that needs to be expropriated and cleared from the current owners, especially in the Humen part.
A Special Concept Idea
BINHAI BAY NEW AREA UNIQUE FOREIGN COMMUNITIES IN DONGGUAN TOWNS
With “stormy weather on the western front” and China being a safe haven of sorts, the question is inevitable: will Dongguan’s future plans embrace an expanded, diverse foreign community across its many towns, including Western “high-quality refugees” considering to move here?
Let’s take this case into perspective: a typical middle-class “laowai” in STEM or an arts field, likely the desired type to settle down in China, would normally prefer either a small town or a city of one to two million people maximum. At that scale, in the west, you normally get all the bells and whistles in the urban quality of life.
Now, Dongguan is a puzzle board of towns and small cities . The more developed ones to the west of the Dalingshan “Central Hills” match the size we’re talking about. Moreover, the new ones to be developed—whether it is the Nancheng and Songshan Lake CBDs in the mature areas or the Binhai Bay New Area down south—are comfortable for the foreigners to embed and create small communities of the right scale. So, a melting pot at the Dongguan city scale with small unique communities across specific towns—preserving food, culture, art and such— could be a valuable proposition for Dongguan city planners.
The new plans, which you can also see in the Planning Gallery next to the Qifeng Park Metro station, portray a modern and efficient yet sustainable and green future for Dongguan.
That future Dongguan could also be very foreigner friendly, and living here—in the center of the world’s largest megalopolis—would also give you access to the conveniences of adjoining giant cities with Hong Kong and Macau just a hop away