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City shantytown renovation: a few considerations

September 27, 2017


“Consider parents looking after their children, the sooner you move out, the sooner you will enjoy a good life”


konjaku: it remains to be seen if the effort to “relieve the population pressure” in Beijing by removing the shantytown residents to a new micro-city in the far suburbs, or even by allowing a percentage of them to remain at the transformed site in a gleaming new building, can be fully achieved.

In these accounts, it does not say if the generous compensation and designated housing is only for permanent residents, or not. In the 50 villages, there was an unbalance, in that the number of recent migrants was many times that of the original villagers. In the city shantytowns, we do not know the percentage of recent migrants, or whether, as in the villages, they are being left out of the renewal project and must simply move on. If so, as long as there is cheap housing or a dilapidated neighborhood anywhere in the center of the city, they will return, as a new tide of migrants will also drift in.

Ou Ning writes: “Absolute economic equality is merely an ideal. The real question is to what degree a city accommodates poverty and heterogeneity. Low-income communities are a crucial component of the city. They accept and accommodate the minority poor, offering breathing room and low-cost opportunities for survival. At the same time they minimize problems of identification and help diffuse potential conflicts with the city’s mainstream population. Furthermore, the smooth operation of the city depends on the migrant populations drawn to such communities to fulfill basic labor demands. For these reasons low-income neighborhoods must not be treated simply as malignant tumors that must be cut away – such an approach does not lead to the building of an ideal city, and if low- income neighborhoods are removed they will inevitably crop up elsewhere. There is always a degree of poverty in the world. This is not a fact that can be swept away by globalization or by technological advancements, because difference and multiplicity are obstinate and intrinsic qualities of our world.

Ou Ning, “Street Life in Da Zha Lan”, Regenerating Culture and Society: Architecture, Art and Urban Style within the Global Politics of City-Branding, edited by Jonathan Harris and Richard J. Williams, published by Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2011.

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These accounts of shantytown renovation also do not describe what the living situation of the residents will be like after the change. The villagers of the 50 villages who lose their land and move to “better” living conditions in a residential complex worry about having a steady income. Even if they are given generous subsidies, at some point the money may run out. The luckier ones are given an extra residential unit as their own property, to rent out for income. How about the urban residents? If they move to a vast residential development outside the city proper, what will they do? If they return to a new Guangyuanli or Wangtan composed of gleaming structures set in a modern urban high-technology park, how will they live?

The city government would not have set up a digital display board on the Guangyuanli renovation on a public street if it was not confident that a large percentage of residents would sign contracts. Although the residents were offered generous terms, the principle for compensation is the same as the villages –the size of one’s new residence is determined as a straight exchange for the surface area of one’s old residence –anything over that the resident has to pay for (even if this is partially subsidized). The villagers of the 50 villages have on average three times the living space of the shantytown resident, but the urban shantytown households are also multi-generational families. More than the villagers, the urban residents have to worry if they will end up as three generations living in a one-bedroom apartment. As we saw, the principal concern of a couple with one child, is to give their child his or her own room in which to study.

While a lot of care appears to have been taken with the larger shantytown transformation projects –Wangtan and Guanyuangli–others are stalled. The residents of West Zhongshili and Chongwai #6 are still waiting for a good outcome.



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