How China is preparing to build the world’s largest ‘supercity’

130 million. That is the projection for the number of people who will live in the world’s largest city, a “supercity,” combining Beijing and neighboring Tianjin. The Beijing government wants to remain competitive with the other megacities of the Shanghai/Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta/Guangzhou zone.

Its new “supercity” will cover an area the size of Kansas. It seems impossible until you see the hundreds of cement apartment towers dominating the skylines outside Beijing in every direction. These are Beijing’s satellite cities that will become part of this planned megalopolis.

Yanjiao is one of these cities and is only 20 miles east of central Beijing. Like many of the capital’s neighbors it was a small village but its population has now swelled to over 750,000. I photographed new apartment complexes going up, one consisting of over a dozen buildings at 34 floors each. I met Zhang Shuying who spent the first 60 years of her life on a small farm, typical of the region. Now she lives in a 25-story tower built on the exact spot where her family grew grapes.

In the nearby countryside, agricultural workers tend to grape vines in the shadow of the oncoming urban development and residents escape the urban chaos in the bed of the Chaobai River. Further south, in Jing Jin City, a name that is a combination of Beijing and Tianjin, gardeners rake a manicured garden filled with Romanesque statues outside a hotel that, at least for now, sees few guests. The plan includes a new ring road, the capital’s seventh, currently under construction. Parts of the road are in an adjacent province over 100 miles away from the city center.