Global Course

Spatial Planning & Institutional Design

Lecture 8

Country overview China: Understanding the role of planner in reshaping urban landscape

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This lecture intends to help students understand the role of planner in reshaping urban landscape, by scrutinizing the urban transformation process in large cities of the transitional China. The past 40 years have witnessed the profound spatial transformation of cities in China. Before the reform and opening up in 1978, mixed land use between employment and housing in the form of Danwei (i.e. work-unit) compounds was a main characteristic of China’s urban landscape. Since 1978, the country’s urban landscape has been moving towards the one with increasingly notable market diversities. The emerging business centers, enlarging housing segregation and enormous development zones in the cities are the spatial manifestation of the marketization and decentralization in China. 

In such dramatic urban transformation process what is the role of planner in China? Based on the case studies at three large cities, Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing, it is found that the urban landscapes have been reshaping by the complex and intertwined forces of emerging market mechanism and an interventionist state, in which planners play an essential role. Given that the country is still in transition from planned to market economy, the role of planning has been transformative along with the changes in institutional context. By investigating the unique case of China, this lecture contends that, in real settings of institutional structure, planners in all the countries have to acknowledge and deal with the interplay between the market and state forces delicately.

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