Suburban China

Key reference

Fulong Wu and Zhigang Li. 2018. The paradox of informality and formality: China’s suburban land development and planning. In Richard Harris and Ute Lehrer (eds.) The Suburban Land Question: A Global Survey (pp. 145-166). Toronto: University of Toronto Press (download pdf)

Fulong Wu and Jie Shen. 2015. Suburban development and governance in China. In Pierre Hamel and Roger Keil (eds.) Suburban Governance: A Global View (pp. 301-324). Toronto: University of Toronto Press (download pdf) (Chinese version in pdf)

Fulong Wu. 2013. Chinese suburban constellations: the growth machine, urbanization, and middle-class dreams. In Roger Keil (ed.) Suburban Constellations: Governance, Land, and Infrastructure in the 21st Century (pp. 190-194). Berlin: Jovis. (download pdf)

Fulong Wu and Nick Phelps. 2011. (Post-)suburban development and state entrepreneurialism in Beijing’s outer suburbs. Environment and Planning A 43: 410-430.

Abstract. Chinese cities are experiencing rapid urban expansion and rampant land conversions in periurban areas. Has China’s suburban growth gone beyond commonly noted ‘suburbanisation’? To what extent does fast metropolitan growth reflect state entrepreneurialism after economic reform? The authors seek to elaborate further and contextualise Chinese suburban and postsuburban development and examine the underlying dynamics of state entrepreneurialism in the process of metropolitan development. The empirical basis of this research is a case study of the historical development of Yizhuang, an outer suburban new town of Beijing. The city originates from the establishment of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone in 1992, but has passed rapidly through several phases of growth. The pattern of growth reveals both the complexities of adequately defining and delimiting such a growth node within the metropolitan fabric and of the state’s intimate involvement in its development and evolution.

Fulong Wu. 2010. Gated and packaged suburbia: packaging and branding Chinese suburban residential development. Cities 27(5): 385-396.

Abstract. Chinese suburban residential developments have recently seen the emergence of ostentatious, decorative and ‘western’-style built forms. Many are built into gated communities. The existing perspectives on these developments from the Western context, such as the ‘club of consumption’ and the ‘discourse of fear’, are not adequate to explain the development of these residential forms in China. This paper emphasizes that the essential feature of these residential forms is their attempt to create an aesthetically appealing environment. Various packaging and branding practices are discussed, including creating magnificent gates, using foreign place names, borrowing western architectural motifs, and inventing a discourse of community. These practices are essentially a branding exercise to signify otherwise nameless suburban green fields. There are two reasons: branding is a status symbol for these residential areas in a competitive real estate market, while localized, imagined and hybrid ‘western’ forms are invented and adopted to exploit the common social mentality that treats the western style as equivalent to a modern and high-quality environment.

Fulong Wu and Nick Phelps. 2008. From suburbia to post-suburbia in China? aspects of the transformation of the Beijing and Shanghai Global City Regions. Built Environment 34(4): 464-481.

Abstract. Recent urban theory stresses the wide-ranging implications of post-modern processes of urbanization for the study of what we traditionally have understood as cities and their suburbs. One result has been a burgeoning of terms such as edge city, edgeless city, technoburb, exopolis which have been used to depict patterns and processes of what more generically may be regarded as post-suburbanization. Definitions in much of this literature are actually quite vague or else strongly imbued with their predominantly United States origin. In this paper we propose a composite definition of post-suburbia. Such a definition is culled from the extant literature and is not without its problems. Nevertheless, such a composite definition is a necessary first step to a critical discussion of whether and in what way post-suburbanization may be a feature of China’s city regions. Here we draw on two case studies of rapidly developing settlements within the Beijing and Shanghai metropolitan areas. In conclusion we suggest that, while China has yet to enter a post-suburban era, some individual new settlements, such as those discussed here, can be considered as Chinese variants on some elements of post-suburbanization.

Relevant studies

Fulong Wu and Roger Keil. 2020. Changing the geographies of sub/urban theory: Asian perspectives. Urban Geography (forthcoming) (download full paper in pdf)

Abstract. This special issue examines the intersection of global suburbanization and Asian urbanism. The papers provide a perspective from the examination of peripheral areas in fast growing Asian metropolitan regions. From the standpoint of the peripheral space of Jakarta, Kusno challenges the prediction that the logic of capital accumulation would eventually lead to a complete urban area, leaving behind the rural. From the vantage point of Gurgaon at the edge of New Delhi, Gururani argues that many villages straddle the rural–urban divide and are embedded in property development. Describing urban villages, new towns and gated estates in peri-urban Guangzhou, Li et al. portray an assemblage of the local state, villagers, real estate developers and middle-class consumers. Investigating transit-oriented development in Shanghai, Shen and Wu reveal how the concept is borrowed by key state-owned developers to finance infrastructure development. Without proposing a concept of Asian suburbanism, the papers depict a complex urban world in Asia.

Fulong Wu. 2020. Scripting Indian and Chinese urban spatial transformation: adding new narratives to gentrification and suburbanisation research. Environment and Planning C 38(6) 980–997 (full paper pdf)

Abstract. This paper examines the spatial transformation of Indian and Chinese cities with reference to prevailing gentrification and suburbanisation studies. Focusing on urban redevelopment and peripheral extension, the paper highlights how Indian and Chinese urban studies provide extensive analyses of demolition and displacement in urban renewal and redevelopment, peri-urbanisation, and mega urban projects in urban spatial extension. These studies, often developed by paying attention to specific Indian or Chinese urbanisation, add new narratives to gentrification and suburbanisation research and help to enhance our understanding of contemporary urban changes. Thinking about Indian and Chinese urban spatial transformation, these studies highlight that gentrification and suburbanisation are large research fields rather than defined concepts.

Jie Shen and Fulong Wu. 2020. Assembling mega urban projects through state-guided governance innovation: the development of Lingang in Shanghai. Regional Studies (on-line first)

Abstract. In contrast to the perception that mega-urban projects are the epitome of neoliberal governance, in China they are initiated by the state as a state development strategy, which represents a new governance mode of ‘state entrepreneurialism’. The market is used as a new governance mechanism to mobilize the resources of multiple actors. Consequently, the delivery of mega-urban projects is neither driven by market actors nor controlled by the state alone. Mega-urban projects are the sites where governance innovation is experimented upon. Focusing on Lingang in Shanghai, the paper reveals that a horizontal networked mode of governance has emerged.

Jie Shen, Fulong Wu. 2020. Paving the way to growth: transit-oriented development as a financing instrument for Shanghai’s post-suburbanization. Urban Geography (on-line first).

Abstract. Chinese suburbs are dominated by extensive high-density projects around transit-oriented development (TOD), but the form of development and the role of rail transit have not been fully investigated. Based on a case study of the No. 9 metro line in Songjiang, Shanghai, this paper examines the logic and implementation of TOD in China. We argue that rather than an effective tool for curbing suburban sprawl, TOD is appropriate to facilitate suburban growth by linking land sales, property development, and infrastructure funding. Rail transit, therefore, functions as an instrument for financial leverage. Despite great economic success, however, the provision of public facilities and services for the large number of residents has raised new challenges for the local government.

Tianke Zhu and Fulong Wu. 2019. Massive suburbanization, heterogeneous suburbs in China. In Murat Güney, Roger Keil, K. and Murat Üçoğlu (eds.) Massive suburbanization: (Re)building the global periphery one large-scale housing project at a time (pp. 320-343). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (downloadable pdf)

Jie Shen and Fulong Wu. 2017. The suburb as a space of capital accumulation: the development of new towns in Shanghai, China. Antipode 49(3): 761-780. (full paper in pdf)

Abstract. Drawing attention to the governing role of capital accumulation and its interaction with the state, this study examines the dynamics of the new wave of suburbanization in China, which is characterized by the development of new towns. New towns essentially function as a spatial fix in China’s contemporary accumulation regime. Rather than resulting from capital switching from the primary to the secondary circuits, new towns help to collect funds for the leverage of industrial capital and thus simultaneously sustain both circuits. Meanwhile, the development of new towns is also a process of territorial development, in which municipal governments expand the space of accumulation under strengthened fiscal and land controls and develop a metropolitan structure. Underlying the specific form and dynamics, however, is the worldwide trend of capital switching from declining manufacturing industries in developed countries to the new investment frontier in developing countries.

Jie Shen and Fulong Wu. 2013. Moving to the suburbs: demand-side driving forces of suburban growth in China. Environment and Planning A 45(8): 1823-1844.

Abstract. The existing literature contextualizes China’s suburban growth with market-oriented reform and emphasizes the role of local entrepreneurial government. However, studies on the demand-based factors are still lacking. Drawing upon a random survey undertaken in Songjiang, an outer suburban district of Shanghai, this paper investigates the demand-side driving forces of suburban growth in China: Ie, who the suburban residents are, what has driven them to move to the suburbs, and how their differences have shaped suburban space. With local natives, residents from central districts and migrants from other places as their major resident groups, Chinese suburbs illustrate a case where diverse population and types of development are juxtaposed. While migrants have flocked to the suburbs for employment opportunities, the residential moves of the other two groups, even though in some cases involuntary, are more likely to be associated with consumption considerations. Notably, alongside the emergence of single-family villas and gated communities, the pursuit of suburban living ideals has begun to play a role in China, though it is confined to only a few extremely rich families rather than the masses. In addition, three patterns of suburbs characterized by different types of households and developments—white-collar suburbs, migrant suburbs, and well-planned new towns—are identified.

Jie Shen and Fulong Wu. 2012. The development of master-planned communities in Chinese suburbs: a case study of Shanghai’s Thames Town. Urban Geography 33(2): 183-203.

Abstract. Suburban master-planned communities are emerging in China. This kind of residential enclave is often regarded as an enchanted setting for luxury housing consumption. The emergence of master-planned communities in China provides an opportunity to understand why and how urban enclaves are developed and promoted in a country where state control over land and housing provision remains pervasive and durable. This study examines the development of Thames Town in Shanghai. Promotional strategies use cultural and entertainment elements to build an “English town” as an exclusive residence for the new rich. Nevertheless, the community is an outgrowth of the local government’s entrepreneurial strategies to stimulate development and construct a livable image for the city. In terms of outcomes, Thames Town has attracted substantial investment as well as the attention of property buyers, but has failed to persuade many people to live there.

Jie Shen and Fulong Wu. 2012. Restless urban landscapes in China: a case study of three projects in Shanghai. Journal of Urban Affairs 34(3) 255-277.

Abstract. This paper investigates the emergence of diversified landscapes in postreform China. The new urban forms are understood as a result of broader changes in the institutional and sociocultural spheres since reform. The commodification of housing provision on the supply side and the rise of a new rich and consumer culture on the demand side have together led to an ever-important role of place marketing in adding to the exchange values of land and buildings. Three projects in Shanghai are further studied in detail to illustrate what has been built and how they are built. It is revealed that, whatever the building style, the landscapes are manipulated to conjure up a certain type of good life by mixed-use packages and distinctive images. Furthermore, a new mode of public–private partnership favoring place marketing and holistic development strategies has also emerged. In comparison with other countries that have witnessed similar urban changes, an important process that China is experiencing is the commodification of urban space under globalization. But the dominant role of the state makes the case of China distinct. How market and global forces could shape the built environment still largely depends on the state’s urban policies.

Preface to Suburban Development in Chinese Cities (Jie Shen, 2016). 序言(中国城市的郊区增长,沈洁著,2016. 北京:商务印书馆)(download).

Earlier studies on suburbanization

to be added