Nanjing municipality encompasses eleven urban districts and two rural counties. At the grassroots level, there are currently 799 residents’ committees and 587 villagers’ committees (VCs). The villages are within the two counties (230 VCs) and the five suburban districts (326 VCs), and on the fringe of the six urban districts (31 VCs).12 In the broadest sense of the term “urban village”—that is, urbanizing villages of mixed rural and urban activities and land uses in an urban jurisdiction—one could say that there are 587 urban villages in Nanjing. However, it is necessary to differentiate between them, as the city’s redevelopment schemes specifically target villages that are now within the urban core. With planning issues that differ from those confronting villages farther away in the countryside, these villages do not face the city’s encroachment but are already engulfed by it.13 With land use controls and decision making in the hands of villagers’ committees, what happens in these villages largely falls outside the scope of urban administrative bureaus. Sanitation trucks that spray and sweep the city streets every morning drive past them. Villagers have self-built low-cost housing to cater to the needs of thousands of rural migrants, many of whom either cannot afford or lack the proper registration papers to take up residence in the formal city. Overcrowded and underserved by public infrastructure, these self-built structures are vastly incongruent with the new development projects that surround them. Many researchers have cautioned that redeveloping urban villages demolishes a significant source of low-income housing.14 However, from policymakers’ perspectives, urban villages are sites of ungovernability with substandard housing, deficient infrastructure, an abysmal environment, and high crime rates.

In 2005, the Nanjing Municipal Government announced an aggressive urban village redevelopment plan to requisition seventy-one urban villages within the city’s ring road and to dissolve their villagers’ committees within four years. The redevelopment was estimated to add about 67 square kilometers of urban land.15 This presented a significant amount relative to the size of the city’s urban core, which is about 243 square kilometers. And, as the city had already used up its designated construction land quota to 2010, redevelopment would provide an important source of land.16 A survey conducted by the city estimated that redevelopment would entail the relocation of 104,000 villagers and provisions for their social welfare as they become urban residents. In addition to the number of villagers impacted, the survey estimated the displacement of 136,000 migrants, or about 10 percent of the city’s migrant population. In economic terms, redevelopment would require close to 100 million RMB of collectively owned assets to be compensated or reorganized into share-holding companies or collectives.17

The redevelopment plan outlined a three-phase process for implementation by district governments. Phase 1 (2005 to 2006) would consist of requisitioning the residual pieces of collectively owned land within the six urban districts. With regard to villages in the suburban districts, the plan directed local officials to focus, for the time being, on improving the living environments. Phase 2 (2007 to 2008) would involve demolishing all illegal self-built structures in villages, particularly in the suburban districts. Given the large number of people and the amount of collective assets implicated, the objective, at this moment in time, would be to lay out the necessary infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer lines, and telecommunication to promote future growth and development. Phase 3 (2009), planning ahead for their future incorporation, would focus on strengthening the management of urban village communities according to urban standards.18

In addition to this working timeline that proceeds outward from the urban core, the plan further categorizes the seventy-one urban villages into three types according to their method of redevelopment. Type A villages, accounting for forty-seven of the seventy-one, are those in areas already approved for development projects and slated to proceed with land requisition and relocation. Eight villages labeled Type B are located in areas designated for open green space in the city’s land use plan. When opportunities arise, these villages will be incorporated into planning projects and redeveloped accordingly. For villages farther out that may be difficult to attach to projects within the plan’s four years, the municipal government plans to gradually incorporate them into the construction land reserve to acquire for urban uses in the future. Type C includes the residual portions of fourteen villages left over from previous development projects. Those in the urban core are to be listed as areas for urban renewal and will proceed by acquisition and resettlement. For those farther out in the suburban districts with the village form basically intact, city planners do not object to postponing action so long as control and management over the living environment is strengthened.19 In reality, each phase required much more time than the plan allowed, and the efforts overlapped and waned depending on the negotiations and available funding.

In the following sections, I explore the nuances of Nanjing’s redevelopment plan through the experiences of two villages located within the urban core. Both are slated for immediate attention under Phase 1; however, their categorization—Rivertown Village as Type A and Willow Village as Type C—has rendered them at different points in the process with different strategies and options available to them.20

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