Urbanization in Sichuan is lower than the national average, but with accelerating progress. Since the late 1970s, Sichuan’s urbanization has been developing rapidly. Till the end of 2007, Sichuan has 32 cities in total, among which 1 is of sub-province level, 17 are municipalities and 14 are county-level cities. Urbanized population accounts for 35.6%, 1.3% up compared with 2006.
There have been dramatic changes to the grade and scale of cities and designated towns. Such core cities as Chengdu, Zigong, Panzhihua, Mianyang and Deyang have become larger and stronger, and the rates of urbanization of such cities as Suining, Leshan and Neijiang have exceeded 30%. Chengdu is taken as a metropolis, and Mianyang, Panzhihua, Deyang and Zigong are regarded as large cities; Guangyuan, Suining and Dazhou are labeled as medium-sized cities, and Guanghan, Jiangyou and Langzhoung are small cities.
Though there has been some progress in urbanization, the hierarchy of the scale of cities is incomplete. Among the 32 cities, only one city has a population of over 2 million, and the rest are mostly medium and small sized cities. Cities with population of 1 million to 2 million and of 500 thousand to 1 million are just a few. There is obvious incoherence in the hierarchy. Besides, the spatial distribution of cities is not reasonably arranged. There are considerably more cities in the east than in the west of the Province, with cities in the east accounting for 93.75% of the total in the Province. The east of the Province together with Chongqing Municipality constitute the most densely-populated region in west China as well as the fourth city group following the Yangtze River Delta, the Peal River Delta and the Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan region. There are only two cities, Panzhihua and Xichang in the west of Sichuan.
The role of core cities is outstanding. Chengdu is the capital city of the Province and also one of the 15 cities of sub-province level. Chengdu is at the same time the center of economy, culture, science and technology and education as well as transportation and communications in the Province. Population, industry, capital, technology and information and professional talents in Sichuan are extremely concentrated in Chengdu. Polarization effect is rather remarkable. The land area of Chengdu takes up only 2.6% of the total area of the Province, but the population and GDP of Chengdu account for 15.48% and 31.64% respectively of the Province’s total. Thus Chengdu plays a vital part in Sichuan. In addition, it is also a very important core city in the west China region.
Cities in Sichuan have their own features. Except for Chengdu which is a comprehensive metropolis, other cities have their own functions. Mianyang is a “technological city” in the western region. Xichang is a base for satellites. Panzhihua is a city of steel. Zigong is known as a “salt city”, while Nanchong is famous for its silks. Deyang is a critical city for the manufacturing sector. Yibin and Luzhou are not only good at making wines, but also are water and road transportation hubs. Leshan, Dujiangyan, E’meishan City and Langzhong are popular tourism cities. (Data provided by Sichuan Yearbook Press. See the Sichuan Yearbook 2008 for details.)