For the final year of our three-year sponsored research and design studio on China, the research focused on the transformation of China’s rural villages into towns, with the villages of Zhongmou County, at the outskirts of Zhengzhou, as the site of investigation and proposition. With China’s rate of urbanization reaching the 51% mark in 2011, the next phase of economic and social development will now be focused on the urbanization of its rural areas. In Premier Le Keqiang’s recent announcement, the state’s urbanization target of 70%, affecting 900 million people by 2025, will not come from the further expansion of large cities but will instead be focused on the growth of rural towns and small cities. As a continuation of the ‘Building a New Socialist Countryside’ program of 2006, developed against the backdrop of rural unrest and the urgent need to secure food production, this drive attempts to reverse the migration of the rural populace to the city, uplift the living standards in the rural areas, and to safeguard farmland from further speculative developments.  

At present this form of urbanization can be divided to three categories, the redevelopment of villages stranded in the city into higher density developments; the demolition of villages to make way for urban developments at the edges of the city; and the wholesale demolition, amalgamation and rebuilding of villages into new towns. 

China’s rural urbanization should not be mistaken with the process of suburbanization of the United States or the creation of low-density picturesque garden cities in Britain. It should neither be the transformation of rural areas into dense urbanized cores, with the glut of speculative housing as the primary economic driver. Beyond the upgrading of basic infrastructure and sanitation, the challenge here is to imagine a self-sufficient place that can support a dynamic economy in the countryside, provide cultural and intellectual stimulation, and offer a respite to the inequalities and divisions that plagues the developmental city; in other words, the city as a space of equal and plural coexistence.  

Read the studio report here.

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