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Demolition/reconstruction, and comprehensive renovation? Reflections on the renewal of urban villages in North China

Xizi Xu, Noriko Akita

Abstract: Vast populations have spread into cities and contributed to urban sprawl in China. Rural villages have not had enough time to self-renew and become directly involved in the urban fabric. As a result, rural villages have become urbanized. Throughout the shockingly speedy process of urbanization in China over the past four decades, the urban village has played an irreplaceable role in the city by accommodating a vast number of migrants, thus mitigating the problem of the increasing shortage of housing brought about by rapid urbanization. However, the long-standing, controversial question of how to renovate urban villages remains due to their unique characteristics. In recent years, instead of demolition, Shenzhen renew the urban villages by renovating the original village buildings (which are 7–8 stories tall) and converting them into rental apartments, as the planning policy of comprehensive renovation (zonghezhengzhi). Could the comprehensive renovation be applied to urban villages in the north of the country? In this study, we found that the formation mechanism and development of urban villages in the north and south are similar, and the challenges and contradictions in the process of transformation are alike. However, there are differences in spatial form and architectural style. The typical urban village in Beijing shows the form of quadrangular houses two stories tall or less in the north is relatively low in terms of building volume ratio. In addition, the spatial form is related to the commercial form of the urban village and also influences the income consisting of the villagers' collective share and rental income, which is derived from fixed assets (e.g. houses, factory buildings). In turn, spatial and commercial form affects the cost of the mode of transformation (demolition/redevelopment or integrated transformation). Therefore, we believe that regional differences in physical space should not be ignored in policy decisions and that different criteria should be considered and applied under different local policies.
Keywords: Beijing / form / renovation / houses / buildings / rental / urban villages / renewal of urban

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