new paper in Antipode

Calvin King Lam Chung, Fangzhu Zhang and Fulong Wu (2018) Negotiating green space with landed interests: The urban political ecology of greenway in the Pearl River Delta, China. Antipode.


Land-centred urbanisation has precipitated shortage of green space in Chinese cities. However, in the Pearl River Delta, an ambitious greenway system has recently managed to flourish. It is intriguing to ask how this has become possible. Informed by the perspective of urban political ecology, this paper finds that the greenway project in the Pearl River Delta represents a set of politically realistic endeavours to alleviate urban green space shortage by adapting to, rather than challenging, powerful landed interests. Three interlocking dimensions about land—municipal land quota, rural land use claims, and real estate development—have influenced why, where and how greenways have been created. Based on these findings, we argue that research on China’s politics of urban sustainability necessarily needs to understand the country’s land politics.

以土地为中心的城市化导致了中国城市绿地的短缺。然而, 一个宏大的绿道系统最近在珠江三角洲蓬勃发展。这个绿道系统如何能够发展起来, 成为一个引人注目的问题。借助城市政治生态学的研究视角, 本文发现珠江三角洲的绿道项目应被视作一系列务实的政治尝试, 它通过适应而非挑战强大的土地利益来缓解城市绿地短缺。为了理解绿道项目的起因、位置和建设方式,我们将焦点放在城市土地配额、农村土地使用权和房地产开发这三个相互关联的土地维度上。基于这些研究结果, 我们认为要研究中国城市可持续发展的政治, 首先需要认识中国的土地政治。

Full paper is accessible from: 

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Regenerating informal housing in cities

By Fulong Wu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-12 07:24
People watch a house being demolished in Wenling cityk, Zhejiang province, after its owner reached an agreement with the local government. [Photo provided to China Daily]











Urban “demolition” is perhaps a formulation of fast growing cities. Some informal residential buildings have been demolished after the recent fire in Beijing. But instead of demolishing such housing better precaution can be taken against fire risks by making urban management more scientific and reasonable.

Demolition is a temporary fix, not a viable solution. The policy of demolishing housing to control population growth in any region lacks scientific evidence. Rather than help, it actually harms the vitality of a city, exerts detrimental impact on the livelihood of low-income families, and brings inconvenience to its residents.

A city is an incredibly complex and organic structure-more so if it is the capital of a country. A dynamic and prosperous metropolis requires diverse jobs and a lively urbanism.

Large-scale manufacturing is resource-demanding and does not need to be located inside central areas. Social services, however, are essential for the daily operation of a capital. Indeed, nowadays global cities see the symbiosis of financial managers and catering staff.

Chinese cities have been economically competitive, partly owing to the availability of affordable services. Compared with other places, urbanization was confronted with less resistance in China because it was regarded as wealth creation, from which existing land occupants received a share and migrants found jobs. As seen in other developing countries, restricting low-skilled migrant workers from informal and formal sectors has a negative implication for business.

Demolition may appear to be a swift solution. But in reality, it does not solve the root cause of informal development, because there is a need for low-end services and consequently a demand for affordable housing.

Instead of wholesale demolition, a more sustainable approach would be incremental urban regeneration. Informal settlements such as urban villages are developed spontaneously by the market, which indicates the constructions are economically viable and even profitable.

The problem is that unregulated developments may create a substandard and unsafe living environment. More guidance and assistance from city planners are therefore needed for such construction. These places could be upgraded with the resources of their landlords to make sure the residential areas meet safety and liveable standards.

In comparison with large-scale renewal through demolition, which in many cases ends up in real estate development, incremental regeneration does not require a large sum of capital. Consequently, incremental and in situ upgrade leads to affordable housing of liveable standards rather than an asset for investment.

The upgrading can take place in stages by removing only buildings that are blocking major road networks or jeopardizing health and safety requirements. The improvement of the environment and basic public facilities would lead to incremental upgrading of properties by landlords. The municipal government only needs to impose city-planning standards on the refurbishment and improvement of buildings. It could provide further assistance through planning specialists, while village collectives could take responsibility for housing maintenance and management.

As shown in the upgrading of urban villages in South China’s Guangdong province, which now offers a rather decent standard of rental housing, community-based redevelopment has the capacity to carry out construction without the involvement of large real estate developers. This model of incremental regeneration will change the current approach of using real estate projects to develop housing. These current projects only lead to expensive “commodity housing”, real estate speculation, local government debt and the potential financial risk of property bubbles. Large-scale demolition and renewal creates a gap in affordable rental housing, which is eventually filled up by informal development.

In other words, managing a liveable low-cost housing environment in the capital will require progressive and good governance.

The author is Bartlett Professor of Planning, University College London.

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Research Associate

The Bartlett School of Planning seeks to appoint a Research Associate with a background in Planning, Geography or an appropriate relevant discipline. The appointed researcher will be required to work closely with the project PI (Prof. Fulong Wu) and CIs (Prof. Nick Gallent and Dr. Fangzhu Zhang) to examine the financialisation of urban development (housing, land and infrastructure) in China and assess the associated financial risks to China. The research aims to provide a deeper understanding of the financialisation process, financing Chinese economic growth and urban development and its current transformation at multiple scales. It also examines household behaviour in financing housing consumption; financing for housing and land development projects; and infrastructure financing alongside the macroeconomic implications of financialisation more generally. Appointment at Grade 7 is dependent upon having been awarded a PhD (Salary, inclusive of London allowance, £34,635 – £41,864 per annum) (or having the equivalent experience). If this is not the case, the initial appointment will be at Grade 6B (£30,316 – £31,967 per annum) with payment at Grade 7 being backdated to the date of final submission of PhD thesis. The post will be for 18 months starting 1st January 2018 until 30th June 2019.


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neighbourly relation between migrants and locals, Open Access in Urban Geography

Affective neighbourly relations between migrant and local residents in Shanghai, is in an issue of Urban Geography, Issue 8 and is Open Access.

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Planning centrality, market instrument, Open assess article in Urban Studies

Planning centrality, market instruments: Governing Chinese urban transformation under state entrepreneurialism

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Blog at the British Academy

The sustainable regeneration of Chinese informal settlements

links can be found here:

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2017 International Conference on China Urban Development

urban china flyer(1)

On 5th and 6th May 2017, the Bartlett School of Planning’s (BSP) China Planning Research Group (CPRG) hosted the 2017 International Conference on China Urban Development in London. One of the largest of its kind outside China, the conference attracted over 230 participants from 17 counties and regions. The conference was supported by BSP; UCL Strategic Partner Funds, Peking University, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) and Urban Studies.  Over 170 papers were presented over two days in 39 parallel sessions, spanning across domains such as economic geography, culture-led urban development, green urbanism, transport planning, socio-environmental justice, livelihood and wellbeing of migrants, housing market, and urban shrinkage. Two of the sessions were dedicated to comparative urban research as a result of this year’s special call for papers that try to grasp China’s urban development through an emerging comparative perspective in critical urban studies.

Featured in the conference were two plenary series sponsored by International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) and Urban Studies, two of the leading Anglophone outlets of urban China research. Professor Jennifer Robinson from UCL Geography appealed for greater effort to decentre urban theory with the contribution of urban China scholarship in her IJURR keynote presentation titled ‘thinking London from China’, whilst Professor You-tien Hsing from University of California, Berkeley concluded the conference on a high note with her Urban Studies closing keynote presentation on the land-centred urban question in China’s agrarian transformation. 12 specialists and keen observers on Chinese cities also shared their insights and aspirations in two panel discussions on the promises and challenges to advance urban China research in the years to come.

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