shenzhen comes out in favor of new attitude toward urban villages

It’s been a long time coming. Or not. Roughly a decade after Shenzhen targeted urban villages as “dirty, chaotic, and substandard” and less than five years after Gangxia changed how we thought about compensation, the official Shenzhen press has indicated its time for the city to change how it thinks about urban villages.

For those who follow public debate in China, you are aware how important an official endorsement of a political position is: it indicates that the government has decided on a particular course. The announcement indicates an ideological orientation, rather than specific actions, allowing new kinds of interventions to take place. The vagueness of the announcement means that suddenly “interpretation” becomes the site of negotiating what should happen next. So, this announcement is not a fix-it; we won’t even know its effects until we see how variously positioned stakeholders “interpret” the new attitude.

Of particular relevance: does this mean that the redevelopment of Baishizhou can be reconsidered, even as demolition of the western industrial park has begun? Will the Tangtou row houses qualify as “historical” and “cultural”? These questions are pressing because labeling urban villages as “low cost housing” overlooks the extent to which they are also productive and creative spaces. However. Today, I’m happy because the article quite clearly states that the organized resistance to the demolition of Hubei Old Village influenced planning decisions taken during this year’s Municipal Plenary. Suddenly a small space has opened up for third parties to talk about alternatives to demolition and forced evictions in Shenzhen urban planning.

The article was published by Shenzhen’s Commercial Press (商报).

Thumbs Up for the New Regulations on Old Village Redevelopment

Commentator Miao Fansui

Thumbs up for several of the government’s new urban planning regulations, even if some seem old fashioned and ordinary. However, recently the urban planning commission website published “Draft of the Shenzhen Redevelopment ’13th Fifth’ Plan,” and the section on “urban village redevelopment new guidelines” not only has us feeling their insight into the city, but also their warmth for it.

With respect to those urban villages with historical and cultural relevance, “In principle, comprehensive improvement will repair ancestral halls, temples and other buildings of cultural historical value, emphasizing the heritage and continuity of historical context, under the protection of the premise, the development of cultural industry and tourism industry.”

Which urban villages are encouraged to demolish and redevelop? “It is encouraged to demolish and redevelop outer district urban villages that have old architecture and hidden dangers.”

Ten years ago, Shenzhen faced the “four things that are difficult to continue,” including continued access to land and space. In the Municipal Plenary that just finished, the session pointed out the of the “three challenges” to development in Shenzhen, the most pressing is the lack of space. Redevelopment of urban villages was once seen as a means to solve this problem. The new plan for the transformation of urban villages shows  restraint, and this  choice can be seen as making the difficult decision between different value orientations.

Since 2005, when Shenzhen redeveloped Fishing Village (渔民村), old style total demolition of urban villages has been controversial, and this newspaper has published more than one review to express different views on how transformation should take place. Urban villages have “urban wetlands” function. Their existence is in relation to operating costs of the entire city. The more developed a city is, the more you want in the city center to have low-cost living areas, to provide security, couriers, cleaners, restaurants attendants and other low-income people a place to live. In principle, in planning urban villages located within the area of the original special economic zone [the inner districts] will not be demolished and redeveloped, and the shrinking of Shenzhen’s “urban wetlands” will be halted. Such decisions, including the depth of insight of urban development is visionary.

At the same time, through the comprehensive improvement of villages, local transformation will be more in line with the actual development of Shenzhen. In 2009, this newspaper published debates about the lack of public rental housing in Shenzhen, urging the Government to change its thinking, and come up with material and financial resources to improve urban villages to meet public rental standards and allow the villages assume direct responsibility for public rental housing. We see that in the proposed plan, Futian District has clearly pointed out that we need to explore urban villages and renovation in order to create more affordable housing for young talents. Measures such as these have meaningful value to be discovered and to create upgrades.

With respect to the historical and cultural characteristics of ancient villages, under the premise of protection, development will be with respect to the cultural and tourist industries. Obviously, this kind of policy is not unrelated to the Hubei Old Village Incident that happened over a month ago. No matter what the prospects for Hubei Old Village are, in the future, similar villages will have to be renovated in new ways.

Shenzhen’s urban villages are valuable assets, and this value cannot be determined by the value of demolition and redevelopment. When our government revealed the “13th Five-year” plan it showed a far-sighted and warm public police that will benefit the people in urban villages, which in turn will allow the urban villages to continue to provide even greater feedback to the city.

Here’s a link to the original editorial, 为城中村旧改新规点个赞. The article in Chinese follows the slideshow of a recent walk in Baishizhou, including a shot of the beginning of demolition of Shahe’s industrial park, shops that were holding “demolition sales,” the rapidly aging Tangtou row houses, and the wall between Baishizhou and OCT,  as well as a picture of the Fulin School, which once long ago illegally educated migrant children who had come to the Special Economic Zone with their parents.

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本报评论员 苗凡卒

在这份征求意见稿中,对城中村的更新有这样的指引, “以综合整治为主,拆除重建为辅。”原特区内的城中村“原则上以综合整治为主,通过改善沿街立面、完善配套设施、增加公共空间、美化环境景观,提升城中村生活环境品质”。



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