The Development of China’s Frontier: Ürümqi and Xinjiang Across Multiple Geographic Scales

Justin D. Stern (MUP)

Project Overview

The Development of China’s Western Frontier: Ürümqi and Xinjiang Across Geographic Scales

Project Information

Large, landlocked, and awash in natural resources, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region straddles the geographic/geopolitical meeting point between East Asia and Central Eurasia. Approximately 2,000 miles from Beijing, Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang, has emergent as the dominant city on China’s western frontier. With an urban population of over 2.8 million, Ürümqi is the most populated city in the country’s northwest interior and the largest metropolitan region in Central Asia.

Over the previous two decades, Urumqi and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have received significant political attention and financial investment from the Chinese government. A large, sparsely populated territory rich in hydrocarbon deposits and other natural resources, Xinjiang accounts for roughly one-sixth of China’s total land area. Once China’s strategic point of contact with the Soviet Union, the province is today bordered by a mix of newly independent, resource rich nations such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as well as less stable countries by the likes of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ürümqi is beginning to play an increasingly important role in China’s national development strategy at a variety of geographic scales, ranging from the city’s provincial significance as a central administrative and economic center, to Xinjiang’s role in supplying China with significant energy resources. On the transnational level, Ürümqi is beginning to position itself as a dominant commercial and transportation hub for central Asia. Organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a mutual-security institution initiated in 2001 that includes China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and other nearby countries, reinforces the significance of the region to China’s geopolitical agenda.

The purpose of this ongoing research project, generously supported by the Penny White Student Projects Fund at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is to assess the long-term cultural and environmental implications of Ürümqi’s ongoing development. The project is particularly focused on the history of architectural and urban form in Xinjiang in relation to contemporary patterns of urban development, morphology and spatial segregation. Significant attention is given to the larger national and global geopolitical logics that continue to impact the development of Ürümqi and Xinjiang.