post-industrial villages

Last year, the last of Foshan’s famous pottery kilns was decommissioned, leaving the city poised at the edge of a complete renovation–from a dense network of markets, township and village owned industrial parks, and new villages into something bright and shiny, an amalgamation of high-rises, offices, and malls,  where products that are no longer produced in Foshan can be purchased by people who suddenly find themselves positioned to become a next generation of “urban village” landlords. 

Qicha Village is located at the heart of the proposed upgrade of Foshan’s Chancheng District. The Municipality purchased all non-housing land from the village and has demolished the surrounding industrial parks. It has started started to upgrade roads into the area and will begin a project to clean up the area’s streams and rivers, especially the Dongping River. Compensation for their land has given villagers enough to purchase nearby houses, but not enough to retire on. Instead, their next livelihood will be managing their individual and collectively held homes, and the commerce that grows up in the first floor of buildings.

For over a year, Foshan Municipality has been promoting community involvement urban planning in Qicha. The head of the project is committed to both modernization (public infrastructure, access to roads, and promotion of culture) and to community involvement in planning the new village. He is working with a Shenzhen firm, Akelan that is trying to develop models of community urban planning for urban villages. Akelan’s team has worked with village teams to develop seven different plans, which are now being debated and will become the basis for making decisions about investment, public space, and solving parking problems and other issues that have suddenly arisen in the absence of access to land.

The Qicha experiment is simultaneously ambitious and meticulous. On the one hand, it aims to provide alternatives to the complete demolition and forced evictions that have been used elsewhere. On the other hand, the Shenzhen firm has invested time and extensive labor into researching the village, working with the Foshan Department of Urban Planning, and bring recalcitrant villagers into the conversation.

Akelan’s director of design addressed villagers during a planning workshop, saying “If we can find a way to change how rural urbanization is handled, we can improve China. Each of your contribution to finding this new way will be written into history.”

Impressions from yesterday’s walk in Qicha, below. Note that the highway splices through Qicha and that their former lands abutted the Dongping River. Also, some villagers are still renovating their private homes, while the majority of renters are now construction workers from the highway project:

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