Sustainable Urban and Rural Village Regeneration in China

Figure 1.1Since 2011 more than half the Chinese population have been living in cities. Rapid urbanization has raised challenges to achieving human development objectives. In particular, the influx of rural migrants and the proliferation of informal settlements in peri-urban areas have created a policy dilemma for urban renewal, thereby juxtaposing the need to provide affordable housing to low-income groups with the need for urban growth. Urban regeneration and village improvement are becoming major policy initiatives in this new development strategy. However, concrete paths towards new styles of urbanization are being still being explored.

The purpose of this research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is to identify alternative strategies of urban renewal that incorporates the housing need of migrants and other low-income populations and can be translated into concrete policy measures. Our main recommendation is an incremental urban regeneration strategy that relies in the improvement rather than demolition of informal settlements. You can see our ‘handbook’ towards sustainable urban village regeneration below and download the document from this link.

A Handbook for the sustainable regeneration of urban and rural villages in China


This handbook is the outcome of the ESRC funded project on “Sustainable Urban and Village Regeneration in China: Implications for the Global South” and aims to provide practical recommendations to policy makers working on the regeneration of Chinese cities. It is based on our earlier research into the informal settlements in urban China where we have identified the need for a more sustainable regeneration approach that takes into account the livelihood of marginalised residents such as rural migrants. This document is intended as a handbook for policy makers and planning practitioners in Chinese cities as well as professionals from international organisations such as UN Habitat or the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Furthermore, the aim is also to share China’s experience with other cities in the Global South in enabling affordable housing development and sustainable urban regeneration. It is important to stress that the purpose of this document is not to provide and exhaustive list of instructions for redeveloping urban villages but instead aims to present some guiding principles for the sustainable renewal of urban villages.

China in the age of ‘New Normal’ – Towards a new regeneration agenda

From our research we found that there are at least two major reasons that will require the municipal authorities to switch from a demolition based regeneration strategy to a more incremental development approach that is community based.

The limitations of demolition based regeneration

The recent talks from President Xi Jinping regarding China’s ‘New Normal’ have heralded China’s entrance into a new era of slower economic growth where the method of stimulating economic growth through large scale public investment incentives are no longer as simple as before. Local governments now need to be more cautious in investing large sums of money to attract more private investments. The slowing down of the economy will also lead to a weakening of housing consumption and result in surplus housing supply. It will therefore become even more difficult for municipal authorities to meet the growing compensation demands from landowners who are facing displacement. The existing method of financing compensation bye increasing the floor area ratio of new developments will gradually become unviable. Although urbanisation has been a major contributor to China’s economy[1], all these factors signal that achieving local economic growth through urban expansion is no longer a feasible solution. As a response to this ‘New Normal’, city authorities will need to adopt an approach towards urban regeneration that relies less on the heavy public investment and instead should depend more on the market and local communities.

Figure 1 A low-income neighbourhood in Shanghai being demolished for the construction of high-end commodity housing

Figure 1 A low-income neighbourhood in Shanghai being demolished for the construction of high-end commodity housing (Source: photo by Zheng Wang)

Need for secure and affordable housing

The number of rural migrant residents in Chinese cities has grown rapidly since the last several decades and in some large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai it has now exceeded the urban population. By 2014, the number of China’s rural migrants who live in urban areas has reached 274 million amongst which 234 million rural migrants and their family members are excluded from basic welfare entitlements including public housing, health care, employment and education. Consequently, despite their large numbers, rural migrants mostly rent from private landlords in low-income neighbourhoods and informal settlements such as urban villages. Although affordable, migrant housing is often sub standard, especially in cities such as Shanghai where strict building regulations discourage private landlords from improving their properties[2].

Figure 2 The redevelopment of the Gaojiabang urban village in Shanghai displaced many migrants (Source: photo by Zheng Wang)

Figure 2 The redevelopment of the Gaojiabang urban village in Shanghai displaced many migrants (Source: photo by Zheng Wang)

A more imminent issue however, is that the number of affordable housing close to the city proper has dwindled significantly due to the demolitions of urban villages and low-income neighbourhoods. As a result rural migrants are forced to move further out of the city where new urban villages proliferate. Demolition based urban regeneration therefore fails to improve the livelihood of rural migrants by providing secure and affordable homes but are also unable to prevent the emergence of more informal settlements. Urban redevelopment in China therefore needs to take into account the provision of secure and affordable homes to rural migrants and find an alternative urban renewal model that moves away from complete demolition.

Recommendation One: Incremental upgrading of urban villages

Our first recommendation for Chinese planning authorities is to incrementally upgrade urban villages. This approach offers several advantages in comparison to urban demolition. Firstly, an incremental upgrade does not need large sums of investment, which is needed for any demolition-based renewal in order to compensate the relocation of rural villagers and to fund the demolition itself. Secondly, upgrading urban villages will not result in the displacement of low-income residents or destroy the livelihood of many small businesses, which thrive in the urban villages. Finally, an incremental approach allows municipal authorities and investors to avoid falling into debts due to the slowing down of the economy and housing market.

In practice, an in situ upgrade includes the refurbishment and improvement of buildings wherever possible and only housing that are blocking major road networks and jeopardise basic health and safety regulations should be removed. For instance, ‘handshake’ buildings in cities such as Shenzhen should be upgraded to create roads wide enough for fire brigades to enter. The upgrade can take place in stages in order to avoid large sum investments. Moreover, since an improvement to the housing quality also increases the housing price, the scheme would also ensure its financial viability whilst preserving the rental housing stock of the city.

In addition, the upgrade should also include the provision or improvement of basic public facilities such as water pipes, adequate electric supply lines, waste management and wherever possible also some green and open spaces. The benefits of an incremental urban village upgrade are lower costs for the regeneration of urban villages whilst the overall living environment can still be improved considerably. The local authority could also return some land to villagers, whose properties are demolished, as compensation.

Recommendation Two: Community-led redevelopment and estate management

Currently, municipal authorities lead urban village redevelopments, which as mentioned before has several disadvantages. Another shortcoming of this approach is that it lacks any input from local residents and landowners, often resulting in serious conflicts between local communities and city authorities. We therefore recommend a more community-based redevelopment where local villagers, who are the landowners, can take over the leading role in upgrading urban villages. Instead of the state taking control the redevelopment, it is possible to make use of the innate potential of the village collective, which has also been responsible for the management and construction of urban villages thus far. The proliferation of urban villages is evidence that the village collective has the capacity to carry out construction by themselves.

There are already successful cases from the Guangdong province where strong village collectives have constructed settlements that also parallel commodity housing estates in terms of housing quality. Alternatively, by hiring professional construction firms, local landowners in Beijing such as Tanjialing have also constructed informal settlements on rural land that can rival commodity estates in terms of housing quality as well as housing management[3]. Tangjialing’s rental market was booming until the demolition carried out by the state but this proves that the involvement of the private sector is financially viable. In this sense, the municipal authorities only need to legalise the practice of community-led upgrade and impose certain building regulations and planning policies that ensure the health and safety of buildings.

The municipal authority could provide further assistance by funding the production of local development plans and the involvement of planning specialists. After the completion of the urban village upgrade, village collectives can take responsibility for the housing maintenance and management of the estates. There are several benefits in doing so. Firstly, since urban villages are built on rural land, they are also outside the jurisdiction of city authorities, and consequently to install housing associations or other forms of grassroots urban governments to manage the housing estates would be institutionally challenging. Furthermore, this would also incur extra costs to municipal authorities.

The management of housing estates can remain with village collectives who can also choose to hire professional companies such as in the case of Tangjialing in Beijing. By legalising the rental of urban village housing, it would also be possible to establish a formal market of supply and demand between rural village landlords and renters. This in turn would ensure that the rural collective provides good quality housing management in order to attract more tenant customers.

Recommendation Three: Financing urban village upgrades through the market

Existing urban village redevelopment is mainly financed by the state and the private sector. The common procedure at the moment is for the municipal government to set up a development corporation that proceeds to acquire the rural land of the urban villages. Using the land as collateral the development corporation then borrows money from the bank to fund the construction of basic infrastructures such as roads for instance. The land is subsequently auctioned to private developers who construct high-end residential estates and commercial developments to recoup their investment. However, as mentioned before this method can only function under the condition that housing demand is high and economic growth is rapid. In China’s current economy this approach is therefore no longer financially viable.

Instead, we recommend that both the village community and the market can finance urban village upgrades. By legalising the rental housing market of urban villages, villagers would gain the incentive to upgrade the housing conditions of urban villages. Depending on the level of demand for good quality rental housing villagers could adjust their amount of investment. An incremental approach means that if demand were low then villagers do not have the pressure to spend large sums of money for the entire upgrade of the urban villages. On the hand, if demand were high then villagers would also respond with more and better refurbishments of urban village properties.

The subsequent increase in rent would also render the upgrade investments financially worthwhile. Furthermore, village collectives could attract the investment from urban residents or private companies to co-fund the upgrade through sharing the rental income. Additionally, the central state could also set aside an urban village upgrade fund to specifically aid the upgrade of urban villages such as the construction of basic infrastructure or the preparation of master plans. Local authorities could directly apply to this fund and the regional authorities could take the role of monitoring the progress and spending of city governments.

The cost of the infrastructure construction can be indirectly recuperated from the residents by the taxing the service providers such as the water supply or the waste management company until all costs have been covered. The income can be either used to fund other village upgrades or the provision of public facilities. Since the urban village upgrade would adopt an incremental approach, both the central and the local state would not need to provide large sums of money in a short time frame.

One potential risk in this recommendation is that the upgrade still leads to higher rental prices but we believe that it would still be acceptable to many rural migrants. The main reason why rural migrants cannot afford to rent in commodity estates is due to its large housing size rather than the price per square meter. In fact, the price per square meter of urban village properties is very high but is affordable due to the property’s significantly smaller size[4]. The easiest approach would therefore be providing smaller properties. Currently, migrant households would also prefer smaller housing sizes of around 30-40 square meters. Therefore even if the upgrade leads to an increase of rental price, it should still remain considerably below the rental price of commodity estates.

Recommendation Four: Regulating community led regeneration through basic standards and rent cap

The conversion of rural to urban land is currently an indispensable procedure for demolition based urban village redevelopment. This procedure is also the root cause for many conflicts between rural villagers and municipalities over the issues of compensation and relocation. The ambiguous property rights of urban villages is also a reason why housing qualities have remained poor and basic health and safety standards are not met since urban authorities do not have the right to stop rural villagers from expanding their properties. In order to overcome this problem, we recommend that instead of converting land rights from rural to urban, the municipal government can transfer only the right to develop rental housing to village collectives.

In reality, local villagers have always developed urban villages and expanded them illegally so in this sense it is only legalising this process. The existing policy in Guangdong province named as the ‘three olds renewal’ program allows local landowners to cooperate with the market in developing their land. The drawback of this policy however, is that following the return of some land as compensation, rural villagers started to collaborate with private developers to construct high-end commodity housing. The result of this completely market driven approach is the displacement of rural migrants since they are unable to afford to live in such properties.

Consequently, the involvement of the state is still of great important in order impose certain planning regulations that limit the usage of urban villages. The local government could only allow villagers to develop rental housing thereby avoiding the possibility that rural collectives start to build high-end housing estates themselves. This would firstly allow market involvement in the development of rental units but on the other hand also prevent the gentrification of informal settlements. Another benefit is that this regulation in effect creates a rental housing market that poses no threat to the sale of commodity estates since it only caters to low-income residents. Moreover, the city authority could also impose a rental ceiling that takes into account both the financial viability for the landlords but also the affordability for the tenants in order to avoid pricing out low-income residents due to rental speculations.

Recommendation Five: Context based urban village regeneration

At current the urban redevelopment approach is largely homogeneous as most urban villages are destroyed regardless of their quality and location. However, in reality urban villages vary greatly in terms of their location, which in essence determines their land value. Currently in most Chinese cities, inner city urban villages are inevitably demolished, as they could be financially lucrative to some city authorities, as part of its land driven economy. However, another reason is because the poor quality of urban villages does not fit into the modern image of Chinese cities envisioned by the government.

However, not all urban villages are located in prime locations and consequently there is no financial incentive for the destruction of all urban villages. In practice they are usually ignored by municipal governments and therefore continue to suffer from sub standard housing conditions. The consequence is that whilst inner city urban villages are demolished, peripheral informal settlements are either neglected or demolished but remain undeveloped since it is hard to attract private investors. Another downside of demolishing less central urban villages is that municipal authorities may potentially accumulate huge amounts of debts in the process of acquiring the rural land.

Instead we recommend that the redevelopment approach should be tailored to the specific local context of the urban village including its location and financial viability for demolition. We recommend that wherever possible local authorities to should aim for a partial redevelopment and retain some parts of inner city urban villages to ensure that the stock of affordable housing is not completely depleted. Moreover, if the motivation for demolishing inner city urban villages is to improve the city image, then redevelopment also does not have to completely rely on demolition. Instead, the local government should aim to only remove buildings that fail to meet basic health and safety requirements or are simply too dilapidated. The remaining buildings can be refurbished and could continue to be used as rental housing.

Informal settlements located in less central locations and therefore do not warrant demolition should be considered for an incremental upgrade. Villages located in even more peripheral of rural areas instead focus on the improvement of the livelihood of its rural villagers. The upgrade should entail the improvement or provision of basic facilities such as waste management, water pipes as well as the de-cluttering of urban villages that suffer from poor waste management.

Additionally, many businesses and companies also take advantage of the labour and cheap rent available in urban villages and provide vital income for its residents. Local authorities should devise strategies to firstly keep them in the urban village and secondly to further improve their competitiveness, thereby contributing to the local economy. Such strategies will of course have to depend on the specific nature of the businesses and the urban village itself. For example, the village improvement program in Jiangsu for instance has managed to attract tourism by refurbishing some historically valuable buildings and reusing them as hotels.

Urban village redevelopment experiences from Guangdong and Jiangsu

This section provides two case studies from the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where we outline some of their innovative redevelopment approaches that have the potential to be adopted nationwide in China.

Learning from Jiangsu province’s practice of incremental village upgrade

Figure 3 An upgraded rural village in Jiangsu

Figure 3 An upgraded rural village in Jiangsu (Source: Photo by Fulong Wu)

Jiangsu province is a costal region situated near Shanghai. The total population of Jiangsu in 2010 was 78.66 million, making it one of the most densely populated provinces. Jiangsu is also one of the economically most advanced and most developed provinces in China, with its gross domestic product (GDP) ranking second place amongst Chinese regions, and fourth in relation to per capita output. In recent years, the innovative rural village improvement scheme in Jiangsu[5] has adopted a rural village redevelopment approach that focuses on the living quality of villagers and upgrades rural villages incrementally rather than demolishing them completely. These valuable practical experiences could also be used for the incremental upgrade of urban villages. Although the program itself only entails the improvement of villages located in the countryside of Jiangsu, much of its experience such as waste collection or watercourse maintenance can equally be used for the upgrade of urban villages. We have summarised some of the redevelopments scheme’s key lessons.

Firstly, the redevelopment program respects the preferences of rural residents and does not impose compulsory plans. Large-scale demolition or reconstructions were mostly avoided since many dwellings were already upgraded to a decent quality. Instead Jiangsu’s strategy was to enhance the living environment through incremental changes tailored to the local context. Secondly, the village upgrade divides the rural villages into two types according to whether the villages were developed with an existing site plan and generally have a better physical conditions or villages that spontaneously grew and are in need of more basic facilities. The former category is ‘liveable villages’ and has higher maintenance requirements including garbage, sewage, the littered environment, waste from agricultural production, industrial pollution sources, and maintenance of watercourse and ditch ponds.

Furthermore, various other aspects of the villages were also improved including transport access, buildings with local characteristics, everyday management, public services and facilities, access to safe drinking water, and greening the living environment. The ultimate objective for ‘liveable villages’ is to attract more rural residents to settle down. The second category is labelled as ‘healthier villages’ and has less stringent and more pragmatic regulations that aim to fulfil the urgent needs of residents. The strategy only foresees three basic requirements including improvements related to waste management, the littered environment and maintenance of watercourses and ditch ponds as well as guaranteeing the basic living conditions of villagers. The objective of ‘healthier villages’ is focused on the living conditions of residents rather than the quality of the environment.

Another useful lesson from Jiangsu’s rural village improvement program is that it chose an incremental approach towards the upgrade of rural villages. At the beginning of the program, the local authority carried out some improvements to ‘model villages’ in order to display and mobilise the participation of the villagers. The government funded this initial stage of village improvement that helped to attract wider funding and to accelerate the process of village improvement. For the overall funding of this scheme, Jiangsu province set up a long-term mechanism that relies on several sources of capital, such as funds from the village collective, which has an income from managing village assets, the financial contribution of villagers, subsidies from counties and townships, as well as grants and support from higher levels of government such as the provincial government.

Figure 4 A refurbished village building in Jiangsu that has been converted to a hotel (Source: Photo by Fulong Wu)

Figure 4 A refurbished village building in Jiangsu that has been converted to a hotel (Source: Photo by Fulong Wu)

Guangdong province’s solution for fostering community led regeneration

Guangdong Province is located on the South sea coast of China. The economic boom and the process of urbanisation of Guangdong began from the late 1980s. Given its close geographical location with Hong Kong, Guangdong enjoyed a flourishing period of development of its manufacturing and service sectors. Since the beginning of 1990s, it has topped the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ranking among all provincial level divisions. In the meantime, Guangdong also became the most populated province of China, due to the huge influx of migrant labour from rural areas. In the metropolises of Guangzhou and Shenzhen urban villages accommodating rural migrants are commonly located in the peripheries and city centres. The ambiguity of property right and financing issue are the two main obstacles, which prevent local governments from upgrading urban villages.

In late 2000, the central government chose Guangdong as an experiment site for developing a new urban renewal model. The provincial government of Guangdong enacted an urban renewal scheme, named ‘Three Old Renewal’ afterwards, to encourage urban regeneration led by the market and the community. In practice, urban villages became the foremost beneficiaries of the scheme, and a series of urban village upgrading and renewal schemes were implemented. The ‘three old renewal’ scheme has two major innovations. It firstly solved the issue of financing the project and secondly avoided conflicts resulting from ambiguous property rights. For example, the scheme emphasises a local arrangement on the redistribution of benefits generated from the renewal projects amongst each participant rather than completely privatising the properties of villagers.

In practice, this means that villagers receive more benefits from the redevelopment of urban villages. The key benefit of the ‘Three old renewal’ is that this arrangement avoids a complicated process of land and property rights delineation. This in turn motivates villagers to engage more in upgrading practices, and meanwhile reduces social conflicts and resistance. On the other hand, the financial burden of carrying out urban village redevelopment has been transferred to the market. According to this policy scheme, village committees and villagers are allowed to directly communicate with private developers in order to negotiate the plan and carry out the village renewal. However, the redevelopment process is placed under the supervision of local government for example in order to ensure that private companies do not exploit rural villagers, who are inexperienced in business negotiations.

In the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the approach for urban village renewal varies depending on the location and financial condition of designated villages. Firstly, urban village redevelopments in the inner city tend to be carried out by a partnership between local government, the village collective and developers, as a result of their specific location and high potential land value. Urban villages in high land value areas are mostly redeveloped through a ‘demolish and rebuild’ mode. Despite adopting a more community led regeneration approach, the complete demolition of inner city urban village is problematic as low-income tenants are still displaced nonetheless. However, from a different perspective the ‘Three Old Renewal’ policy also shows that it is possible to carry out community-led redevelopment even for urban villages located in inner cities. It would simply require additional planning regulations from the municipal government to ensure that affordable housing is also included in the redevelopment.

For urban village renewal in the periphery of cities, village collectives with a relatively powerful financial strength usually cooperate with private developers in village upgrading. For such cases the village households play an important role in the decision making process of urban renewals. The increasing rent income motivates both the rural collective and the private developers. The downside for both inner city and peripheral urban village development is that migrant renters are still at risk of being displaced due to demolition or rent increases.

However, it is also possible to observe another type of bottom-up upgrading approach in villages with high housing vacancy and cheap rent. An informal partnership is formed between village collectives and informal organisations. The partnership plans and implements the village upgrade by providing basic facilities, communal amenities and improves accessibility. The flexibility in dealing with financial constraints and implementation enhances the participation of indigenous villagers in decision-making. Though this practice is more flexible and encourages participation among villagers, it must be acknowledged that upgrades will inevitably lead to an increase of rent although we believe this will still be easier to afford than other types of housing available in Chinese cities.

The future of China’s sustainable urban village regeneration – Combining the Jiangsu and Guangdong models

The provinces of Jiangsu and Guangdong have adopted innovative and alternative regeneration approaches but at current it is also possible to identify factors that constrain the effectiveness of both redevelopment models. In table 1 we have summarised their key strengths and existing constraints. We believe that the strengths of both models can complement each other’s weaknesses and that a combination of the Jiangsu and Guangdong approaches can produce an even more sustainable urban regeneration model. For the future of sustainable urban village regeneration in China, our recommendation is to create a combination of the Jiangsu and Guangdong models.

Table 1 The key strengths and current constraints of Guangdong and Jiangsu’s redevelopment model
  Key Strengths Current Constraints
Guangdong Possible to carry out community-led regeneration of urban villages in inner and suburban areas of cities Unable to prevent the displacement of low-income tenants as villagers collaborate with private developers to maximise profit by building commodity housing estates
Village landowners are willing to lead the regeneration Regeneration process lacks strong planning regulations to ensure that properties remain affordable for low-income residents
Does not require large investments from the government as the redevelopment can be financed through the market Complete demolition of inner city urban villages is still unavoidable
Avoids the problem of ambiguous property rights and its resulting conflicts The financial risk of large-sum investments is not removed but only transferred to the market
Jiangsu Incremental upgrade is time and cost efficient and also avoids large sum investments that may bear a financial risk The upgrade is only adopted in rural villages whilst urban villages are left out
Considerate of the local context of rural villages Requires substantial funds from the government whilst local villagers are unable to financially contribute
No displacement of local residents The involvement of rural villagers is still limited and it is difficult for local communities to lead the upgrade
Strong input of the government means that basic health and safety requirements are met

Guangdong’s renewal strategy could allow Jiangsu’s incremental village upgrade scheme, which is currently limited to rural villages, to be extended to include urban villages in cities. Moreover, the Guangdong model also reduces the financial burden of local governments and enables a community led approach by allowing local villagers to directly cooperate with private investors. On the other hand, Jiangsu’s incremental upgrade approach would not need any large sum investment thereby allowing more flexibility to its investors but also reducing financial risks. Village collectives can decide on the scale and time of upgrades depending on the demand for good quality rental housing.

More importantly, Jiangsu’s strong government involvement ensures that basic health and safety requirements are met, is a good example of how planning regulations could help reduce the risk of gentrification, which is caused by the wish of landowners and private investors to maximise land profit. Following Jiangsu’s approach, local governments could implement planning regulations that only allows villagers to rent rather than sell their properties and places a cap on the rent thereby ensuring that low-income residents can continue to access affordable housing.

Lessons from China’s urban village regeneration

Whilst China can benefit from the various international experiences, it is also possible to draw useful lessons from China that may be beneficial to other countries currently trying to redevelop informal settlements and tackle the issue of providing affordable homes for low-income residents.

One key aspect that may be of benefit for other countries is how much the state should be involved in the upgrade of informal settlements. The Chinese experience show that the role of the municipal government remains important in order to ensure that the market works in favour of low-income residents rather than against them. Many Chinese planning officials expressed that both landowners and market actors such as private developers would push for the development of high-density commodity housing estates if given free reign over the development rights of urban villages. This has often resulted in the displacement of low-income residents and rural migrants. Therefore planning guidance and involvement of local authorities is still needed to ensure the affordability and quality of housing estates.

Another important reason for the involvement of the local government is to protect the interest of landowners, who tend to be village collectives who lack knowledge in developing more formal land to an adequate standard and have little experience in negotiating with private developers. The local authority’s expertise in devising master plans and building regulations as well as experiences in dealing with private developers are therefore highly beneficial to landowners. Overall the role of the local government could be described as a regulator whose role is to set planning standards and to ensure basic requirements of health and safety as well as availability of affordable rental housing are provided.

The second useful lesson from China is how to build up the capacity to carry out urban renewal of informal settlements. For many countries it is difficult to redevelop informal settlements due to various constraints such as financial cost and ambiguous property rights. Being no exception, the informal settlements in Chinese cities also have issues of ambiguous property rights. However, the Chinese case has shown that a strong state and a strong grassroots social organisation in the form of village collective have the capacity to overcome such problems and to regenerate urban villages.

Especially local social organisations such as China’s rural village collectives should be regarded as the key to regenerating informal settlements in a more community led and sustainable way. The strong social links between villagers as well as a robust rural collective governance structure in Guangdong has enabled rural villagers to develop an affordable housing market in urban villages that is beneficial to themselves and other marginalised groups. Additionally, village collectives in Guangdong have show that they are in a strong position to influence the outcome of urban village redevelopments through the process of negotiating compensations for urban renewals.

We therefore believe that other countries in the Global South and perhaps even beyond should focus on building the capacity of both grassroots organisations and the state to carry out the regeneration of informal settlements.

[1] See Wu (2015b) for how urbanisation has contributed to China’s economy (download the article here:

[2] Wu, (2015a) explains why urban villages in cities such as Shanghai are of poor physical quality (download here

[3] See Wu et al. (2013) for more information on urban villages and informality in China (download here

[4] See Wu (2015a) for more details.

[5] Read more about the rural village improvement program in Wu and Zhou 2013 (download the report here: