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Urban China Seminar 2013 abstract Forms of the Chinese New Town: Exploring models of community and neighbourhood

in Shenzhen Stephen Read, Qu Lei, Diego Sepulveda TU Delft, Department of Urbanism

The Chinese miracle has since the 1990s been made in its largest urban regions and centres and on the back of strongly urban-centred and urban favouring policies. Nevertheless as many questions as answers have been raised by the development path followed, with some warning other fastdeveloping nations against following the same course (Ren 2013) and others doubtful about the rightness of this course for China itself going into the future (Friedmann 2005). There are different lenses through which one can view Chinas development, but while it is clear the Chinese leadership have not adopted the Washington consensus in formulating a development path, there has been a tendency to see this development path and its outcomes and logics in terms of a neoliberal world-view albeit with Chinese characteristics (Harvey 2005). But the neoliberal lens is not the only one that could have been or indeed has been used, and even when we consider a broadly neoliberal path of development, this may be only a macro part of the whole of contemporary Chinese development and urbanisation. In fact Chinese development is complex and multi-layered and looking at it through different lenses, one is confronted with different simultaneous and interacting trajectories of development and urbanisation. While urban-centred development is the contemporary policy concern, other more local concerns and strategies focus on communities and social environments, contributing to the totality of development and urbanisation and, in their relations with this totality, these are an under-researched component of the larger development picture. Lower levels of scale slip under the radar of the major policy agendas, while it is here that a considerable integration at the level of public sphere, urban amenity, public space and community governance takes place, with under-researched consequences for the success and continuing viability of the development process itself. While Feis fundamentally rural China (Fei 1948) has become todays urban China (Ren 2013), a foundation for much of that urbanisation is, even today, in local, urbanised but often originally rural places and processes. Arrighi (2007) and Huang (2008) find alternative foundations for the Chinese miracle not in classic neoliberal policies of privatisation, marketisation and economic restructuring, or in Special Economic Zones and massive infrastructure projects, but in some basic human capital factors that are a legacy in the main of the socialist period and some socialist and post-socialist institutional arrangements like the Peoples Communes and Township and Village Enterprises. These include good health and education levels founded in socialist programmes, and organisational and management skills founded in relatively small-scale rural and small-town entrepreneurship. We could add to these another human capital factor of the social, family and business

networks that extend into the Chinese diaspora. Under the radar of macro level economic processes, and without being in necessary or determining relations with this level, the viability of more local communities and their spaces depends to a considerable extent on local abilities to leverage political power and funds for the provision of basic urban services. The state is for the most part unwilling or unable to guarantee universal basic services so that the provision of these and their standards can be a contingent and patchy affair. These services include, besides social welfare, health care and education, the housing and other social and commercial infrastructure that make up viable local living environments. Such an interpretation of contemporary Chinese urbanisation in terms of its actual living environments, and out of a direct determining relation with macro economic processes or even a national space of governance, finds commonalities with a long and varied history of Chinese local community, social spaces and urban systems. We see for example how in the Qing era local societies, along with local services and local economic productivity, were dependant on local conditions, and local social amenity, governance and a public sphere were intimately tied up with local initiative and economic success (Rankin 1990). Rural agricultural and craft production played a large part in this till the socialist era with hierarchies of villages and small and medium sized towns integrating regions into agricultural and craft market structures from the bottom up while imperial and national administrative structures did or tried to do the same from the top down (Jun 2013). At the same time, an imperial or national space in governance, economic and even administrative terms was something that evolved through multiple processes and projects of integration and a national economic space was not achieved in any real measure till the arrival of the railways and governmental modernisation in the 19th century (Ren 2013). Modernisation continued in multiple phases and projects through republican, socialist and reform periods. This fluidity and multiplicity of economic and political conditions generated an a-la-carte (Faludi) patchwork of opportunities and responses which is a continuing factor of the Chinese urban landscape today. High levels of integration of services and institutional structure across the national state, regarded as a norm in the West at least in Europe was only achieved under highly centralised socialist policies, and then only at the cost of the hukou system, in the much larger and more diverse national space of China (see CCP policy paper). Sub-national (founded in river basins, canals) and regional structure (founded in urban systems though the hierarchies embedded in agricultural market structures have clearly changed) was and remains important, and high levels of rural-urban integration were a feature of these regional spaces until, in the socialist era, central planning, systematised industrial and agricultural production and the hukou system (designed to control urbanisation) divided them. There are still two Chinas today (Huang 2008) and part of the legacy today is the collateral effects and problems of the massive urbanisation of a still formally rural population. However the nature of these two Chinas is also open to question: how rural were Peoples Communes after all? It is also possible to argue that the urbanisation of the Chinese countryside in terms

of skills, human capital and networks of production in a national space is a major legacy of the socialist era if not earlier. Contemporary development is characterised by the use, reuse and adaptation of structures inherited from the past (both the formal and land-ownership structures of rural villages for example, or the spatial and governance structures of socialist danwei, or regional urban systems as the foundation of metropolitan or megacity development) to frame possible solutions. From a western perspective, our urban theory and models do not always help in the different conditions and alternative civilisational background we find in China. Structures of governance for example, originating in the relatively recent history of the European nation state, and too often presented as if they were natural in western originating urban theory, are different in the more variegated conditions pertaining to the much larger nation state of China, so that we often have to rethink and reassess not the Chinese cases, but our presumptions of the naturalness of the western models. The basis of differences are the different historical, regional, social and political-economic conditions in which they have developed so that we are thrown back on the cases themselves and the specific conditions prevailing. This factor of historical social and human legacies and capital has been associated with a first phase of Chinese reform in the 1980s in the form of rural urbanisation. However we can see that urban development closer to the ground is still bound into transitional dynamics in which what emerges is of necessity tied, by the path-dependencies of the process of transition itself, to what it emerges from. The questions we ask are open-ended: questions of community and citizenship for example are asked and possible answers tested in the field. Forms of community and neighbourhood are tied to the forms they emerge out of and this concerns not just the major cities; also tens of thousands of villages and towns in China are experimenting with different strategies to find roles for themselves and a living for their populations. The role of the village or danwei, for example, in shaping and constraining the possibilities of transition to other local spatial and governance forms is expected to be considerable (Bray 2005). Also, new forms of citizenship are likely to emerge out of the effects of rural-urban migration and the urbanisation of rural populations on the strict division of rural and urban classes in the hukou system (Ren 2013). Meanwhile, the connection between macro-economic processes and more local manifestations of community or quality of life has been theorised either in terms of creative cultures or appropriate scenographies to attract footloose capital. Local communities are thought to benefit from a trickle down of prosperity produced at higher, more abstract levels. We propose that rather than a trickle down from the macro level, urban economies and cultures have always been characterised by different interacting levels, tied to different levels of the locality and translocality of societies and productive systems. Urbanisation has cultural (Wirth 1938) as well as economic and spatial dimensions, and lives are changing from past and existing social and cultural forms, into new forms at multiple levels of locality and translocality. The processes we are concerned with steering and planning to desirable

outcomes are those involving the forms of local and translocal communities, the regions, cities and neighbourhoods and the political forms that go along with these. New Towns and regional development are an established strategy for achieving these aims but the forms of New Towns in a contemporary Chinese context are a question still being answered. Our paper will review and draw conclusions from an MSc project involving eight students and a number of teachers at the TU Delft, exploring questions of urban development, community and neighbourhood in the context of rural-urban migration and issues of land rights, public space and social justice in Shenzhen. We will draw a few generalisations, in particular regarding Chinese New Towns as a mode of urbanisation and framing for issues of governance and citizenship, from these explorations. We locate these explorations theoretically against a call for locally-based studies of the dynamics of urban socio-spatial development as a way past the abstractions of planning and planning thinking (Friedmann 2004). Ethically, and of necessity, cities are more than profit-making machines for local governments and private investors (Ren 2013) and need to be considered as practical places for living.

References: Arrighi, G. (2007) Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (London: Verso). Bray, D. (2005) Social Space and Governance in Urban China: The Danwei System from Origins to Reform (Stanford: Stanford University Press). Fei, X. (1948) Xiangtu Zhongguo (Shanghai: Guancha she). Friedmann, J. (2004) Strategic spatial planning and the longer range. Planning Theory & Practice, 5(1) pp. 49Friedmann, J. (2005) Chinas Urban Transition (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press). Harvey, D. (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Huang, Y. (2008) Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Jun, Y. (2013) The historical transformations of small towns and their roles in regional development: the case of the Yangtze Delta in China before 1949. Forthcoming in Geoforum. Levy, Jack. Power Transition Theory and the Rise of China. In: Ross, Robert S, and Feng Zhu. Chinas ascent: power, security, and the future of international politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.

Rankin, M.B. (1990) The origins of a Chinese public sphere: local elites and community affairs in the late-imperial period. Etudes Chinoises 9, 2 (Fall): pp. 13-60. Ren, X. (2013) Urban China (Cambridge: Polity Press). Wirth, L. (1938) Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology XLIV(1).

Shift in world hegemony? Uncertainty about a world centre is interpreted in Global Cities as a fundamental change in the world economy. What Arrighi would say is this is a product of financialisation and a precursor to a change in world hegemony (see Slater). Industrialisation in the west is associated with a wide-ranging modernisation. The industrial era was a time of new sensibilities and a new understanding of the way the world was ordered. It was a time of radically new ideas as in the arts and sciences and in philosophy new ground was broken. Economically, industrial innovation and colonisation worked hand in hand to create the conditions of the first globalisation from 1850 to 1914. The industrial city expanded massively in a wave of rural-urban migration and urbanisation that has only been equalled recently in Latin America and today in Asia. This new city became the engine of industrial output and the centre of the new networks of globalisation. But the industrial city became also the site of spiraling social inequalities, and the resulting social unrest threatened to derail the modern project in the late nineteenth century. It seemed to many that that the social world was in need of reform in line with the changes in ideas and a new scientific social science and social reform movements emerged in the nineteenth century. Then, initially from municipal bases throughout Europe, visions of a more social and equitable city were born. These were formalised in concepts like town and country planning, planologie, Raumplanung, and City Beautiful. New urban components like the social neighbourhood, the neighbourhood unit, the woonwijk, and the microrayon were born, and a wide-ranging, rationally based form of spatial planning was emerging that would dictate western rebuilding after the devastations of the Second World War (Boelens). The city we deal with today is a product of these developments. Planning in its different forms has been central to its production. But the modern project of industrialisation and social reform has been overtaken by new developments. We sometimes see this as a failure of modern planning but some like David Harvey see it a little differently. What happened, according to him, was that a new set of conditions, practices and ideas in a sense a new modernity appeared that modern planning in its original form was not equipped to deal with (Harvey 1989). A sea-change has occurred, bound up with the emergence of new dominant ways in which we experience space and time (Harvey 1989:vii). Harvey links these changes to a reorganisation and to a new round of time-space compression at a global scale in capitalism.

Things have changed again. According to some, technology and new business and production practices, including a new global division of labour, have radically altered the organisational structure of the world so that we have to think about it in radically new ways. Today we are encouraged to adopt network approaches and to understand space and time in terms of the flows which characterise a network society in a radically new information age (Castells). The network society is characterised by: 1. An increasing worldwide interdependence (Strange); 2. A blurring and redefining of borders (Ohmae), and; 3. A world of flows, alongside the world of geography and places (Castells). According to most, increasing interconnectedness means on the on hand we can communicate across the world in seconds, but it means also increasing inequalities between rich and poor nations; it means borders blur, shift and even disappear at all scales from those of global regions to nation states and municipalities, and; it means a world of terminals, transfers and transport networks that dominates and secedes from (Reich; Spivak) the everyday world of places. Others are more sceptical. While acknowledging that things are more connected and that some structures in global production and business have shifted to take advantage of fast communication, they point out that the borderless nature of contemporary business and economic space is overstated. National markets are still dominant precisely because of the legal and institutional clarity that trading within national borders brings (Hirst and Thompson 1996). The ideas of a free flow of information and that social and business organisation has freed itself from a structure of places is simply implausible. The world is organised around its knowledge structures, but as many have argued before, the structures are revealed by knowledge communities (Haas) and knowledge cultures (Knorr Cetina) that are emplaced and networked in place structures. There is true global knowledge; for example a global trader from London could, provided he adjusted his language settings, start work immediately on a correctly configured terminal in Tokyo. The community and culture of global trading is shared through the network and at global dimensions. However his knowledge structures are likely to start breaking down once he leaves the terminal and starts interacting within which he works is It was not just sensibilities that changed, the structures of our territories changed. We forget that the territorial units we regard almost as natural today were an invention of this period. Both the nation state and the neighbourhood are products of the modern sensibilities and the processes of modernisation that also made the industrial city. Things have changed again but it is in the context of this colossal building boom that we still work in almost every region of the world.

In the recent past Chinese development policy has tended to overlook local conditions of community and site. Policy has tended to be rolled out as if the existing conditions were a clean sheet. Much of the criticism of this policy and implementation has seemed to regard this as an oversight as a

consequence of nave and thoughtless modernisation and a over-hasty and over-enthusiastic implementation of over-simple ideas. However a case could also easily be made that the clean sheet is a considered and integral, if brutal, part of a policy whose aim is to transform territory as quickly as possible into real estate and to the calculative logics of the land market. The strategy has been built into planning practice due to the way it serves to finance local planning initiatives, locking local authorities and their development partners into its self-justifying practices. Implementation of the tabula rasa strategy can be seen most clearly in the straightforward clearing of land of pre-existing built fabric and communities. In addition however, much of recent infrastructure building has been designed to make territories as uniformly accessible as possible to ports, airports and central business districts, and as available as possible to developers whose strategies are constrained by the logics of real estate and the land market, and the logistics of accessibility, and to whom the social and environmental conditions of locality are a unwanted complication. Modernity in all its many manifestations has some of this character of subjugation of the logics of what exists to others which are more modern, efficient, calculable and profitable. However modernity has also never entirely seceded from the ground on which it has been built and has always been connected back to it and relied on it for labour and other resources. It has often succeeded however in shifting its supply of these resources, or to new supplies of these resources. Shifting the demand for labour to other jurisdictions, where one no longer has to be accountable for the social costs of labour in terms of housing, education, health and welfare, is of course part of the strategy of the new global division of labour.