What is an Urban Village?
Urban villages (城中村, chengzhongcun) are rural villages that have been surrounded by the rapid outward expansion of China's cities. As their farmland was converted to new urban uses, the cores of these villages remained intact, as often did their systems of collective ownership and government. To survive in the city these farmers lacking farmland used their remaining land for housing rental and industry. In many Chinese cities, these informal housing rentals have come to provide a home away from home and space of operation for migrants from other regions, especially given the challenges of China's hukou household registration system, which regulates migrant's access to more formal markets.
Why are they being redeveloped?
Local governments see the dense, informal spaces of urban villages as a source of pollution and crime, an obstacle to the development of adequate housing and services to supply the city's legal residents and growing middle class, and a threat to the city's modern image and ability to attract investment. As villages are often on well-located land in cities where land for development is scarce, redeveloping them presents an opportunity for cities to change these percieved problems into a mechanism of city transformation. Strategies pioneered in the cities of Guangdong province are now being increasingly reproduced by cities throughout China. These chengzhongcun, literally "Villages in the City", are being rapidly rebuilt through public-private partnerships into gated apartment blocks and mixed-use "CBD" developments.
How are residents affected?
There are two types of urban village residents: renters who are often migrants from other regions, and villagers who share in the property rights of the village. The plans usually compensate the original villager-owners, leading to much discussion about the good fortune of these villagers, though they often have little choice in the matter and limited ability to negotiate with the government and development companies. However, as the urban villages disappear, so does their ability to provide housing and informal employment opportunity to migrant-renters.
What are the outcomes for China and its cities?
As this process is still underway, the outcomes are unclear, however two questions emerge. Firstly, with many aspects of the hukou system still in effect, to what extent does the elimination of the informal rental role of urban villages act as a further barrier to accessing the city for lower income migrants and what bearing does this have on rural-urban inequality? Secondly, what are the spatial implications of changing all of these low, dense, and naturally-formed spaces into planned often gated high-rises? The outcomes of this period of rapid development across Chinese cities (of which urban village redevelopment is just one aspect) will only be understood in time. This project hopes to create greater awareness and discussion outside of China about the vast ongoing transformation of urban villages by providing images, mapping, an accounting of transformation plans, and example transformation projects.