Awaiting Urbanization

Urban Village Redevelopment in Coastal Urban China

Leslie Shieh

AWAITING URBANIZATION

Urbanization describes the shift from rural to urban and is often expressed as percentage increases in urban population, urban land uses, and nonagricultural outputs. This paper examines the normative dimension of urbanization—how government policies seek to guide and condition the integration of villagers into the city. It draws attention to the agrarian society at the interstices between city and countryside where the complex boundaries of rural and urban are being constantly negotiated. As the built-up city sprawls rapidly outward, farmland and village settlements at the periphery have been requisitioned to make way for apartment buildings, shopping centers, warehouses, and factories. The rural to urban transition, as experienced by village communities, is an ongoing process of shifting livelihoods and seeking new ways to retain control over their land. In this dynamic process, urban land uses engulf lingering portions of indigenous villages and leapfrog beyond, leaving the fragmented villages as islands in the urban landscape, referred to in Chinese as chengzhongcun (“urban villages” or “villages in the city”). Contending with ways to bring these rural exceptions under the regulatory regime of urban planning has become a pressing issue for many large coastal cities. What draws my attention to urban village redevelopment is the question of how these villages become part of the city, not only in terms of land or administrative transition from rural to urban, but the ways through which villagers are reconstituted as urbanites.1

In particular, this paper examines how the nationwide community building initiative, “Shequ Construction” (shequ jianshe), works in tandem with local urban village redevelopment plans to facilitate the integration of villagers into the city. Piloted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Shequ Construction aims to strengthen cellular and place- based governance by creating standards for a neighborly environment and building the capacity of “residents’ committees” (jumin weiyuanhui) to undertake administrative functions, maintain public order, and manage social welfare needs. Divided into four parts, this paper begins by problematizing the urban village phenomenon in terms of integration. Next, it presents an overview of the urban village redevelopment plan proposed in 2005 by the Nanjing Municipal Government. Then, through comparing the experience of two village communities, it examines the role of Shequ Construction in the redevelopment process. In the first, as relocated villagers adjust to urban neighbors and the urban way of life in apartment blocks, shequ programming transmits appropriate ways of living in an urban neighborhood and expected behavioral norms. In the second, more remote village, officials have decisively adopted urban-based neighborhood standards. The concluding discussion considers the interactive effects of the two policies and the ways in which Shequ Construction functions as an instrument of normative urbanization.

The research is based on fieldwork conducted in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in 2006 and 2007. It draws on government documents and interviews conducted with officials in the planning bureau on the city’s urban growth and village redevelopment plans and with officials in district-level civil affairs bureaus on local implementation of the nationwide agenda to construct communities. To understand how policies unfolded on the ground, interviews were conducted with the villagers’ committee and residents of Rivertown Village2 and Willow Village, and the residents’ committee and residents of White Blossom Shequ, an urban neighborhood where some of the city’s villagers have resettled after land acquisition. Repeated visits were made to the two villages to observe and document their redevelopment process. I also had the opportunity to visit three villages in the city’s two counties that have established profitable enterprises, presenting a contrasting course of development whereby urbanization of the countryside occurs in situ as opposed to arising from the outward expansion of the city.3

 
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