From Enclaves to Citadels: A Dynamic and Contested Transformation of Informal Settlements in Urban China

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:45 AM
Room: 311+312
Distributed Paper
Pu HAO , David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
The economic reforms of the late seventies led to a massive urban expansion in China as villages were swallowed by the urban sprawl. The most striking example is Shenzhen, an area with 300,000 inhabitants grew into a metropolis of 14 million people over a couple of decades. Today only 3 million are formal residents of the city, and the rest of the people without local residency are excluded from subsidized amenities like education, health care and social housing. Most of the people that move into the city find accommodation in one of the 320 villages that have become embedded in the urban fabric. These urban villages provide roughly half of the total residential floor area in Shenzhen, although they only cover 13% of the total built-up land. Over time, these multifaceted spaces of informality have shaped a landscape that is clearly different from the formal city; however, their transformation follows a logical trajectory which continuously contests social and market-driven demands. As the city further develops and infrastructure improves, the expected economic rents of urban village land will keep on rising. For those villages, market-led redevelopments are almost inevitable. Large-scale land acquisition and redevelopment are beginning to transform urban villages into upscale private apartments, luxury hotels and malls—citadels of the rich. This process diminishes a great deal of affordable housing stock in the central city, further marginalizing the low-income groups.  Moreover, this works as a domino effect where the redevelopment of one urban village drives the process for other urban villages in the proximity to fall on the same redevelopment path.