Xiaoling Zhang is embarking on a new project on restructuring “villages in the city” in a notion of sustainable urbanization: the interplay of state, market and society.
Urbanization refers to the complex interaction of different processes which transform the landscapes formed by rural life styles into urban-like ones (Antrop, 2000). It moves populations from traditional-cultural environments, with informal political and economic institutions, to the relative anonymity and more formal institutions of urban settings (Henderson, 2003; Zhang et al., 2013).In the past decades since the economic reforms in 1978, China has been experiencing the rapid urbanization created by the history’s largest flow of rural-urban migration in the world. In the process of China new type urbanization, one striking aspect of the urban scene is the mix of small-scale self-built houses, narrow roads, face-to-face buildings, a thin strip of sky and inner streets packed with shops, grocery stores and service outlets. This refers to a village-style neighborhood in the urban context of western countries. The term village in cities (or ‘urban villages’, ViC) was coined by Taylor (1973), and was promoted by the Urban Village Forum. China’s ViC are developed from rural settlements and become transitional neighborhoods under rapid urbanization. Despite its well-known disorder and unruliness, in a sense that ViCs in China shares some similarities with the western literatures, such as pedestrainisation, accessibility, self-containment, mixed land use, neighborhood interaction (Liu et al., 2010).
This research will significantly contribute to international debates on sustainable urbanization and informal settlements. On the one hand, the notion of “sustainability” can be applied to the present-day to overcome many negative implications of rapid urbanization, because it searches for development with environmental protection, spatial quality, economic prosperity, and social equity. Present day conception of “sustainability” is focused primarily on environmental processes, and to a much lesser extent on economic and especially social sustainability processes. Given this lack of sufficient attention on sustainability, the focus of this research project will be set primarily on the specific spatial, social, and economic dimensions of “sustainable urbanization”. On the other hand, informal settlement upgrading has been widely conducted in many developing countries. This has resulted in a lot of achievements in the physical and social improvement of informal settlements, but has been little effect on poverty reduction (e.g, seeking for economic opportunities for those rural migrants living in urban villages). This research is an attempt to fill these research gaps by exploring the relationships between sustainable urbanization and opportunity structures for the rural migrants living in informal settlements in the megacities of the Yangtze River Delta (YRD). It will further investigate the specific way in which the key stakeholders (the state, the market and society) have interacted, and how this interplay has influenced changes in the ways in which rural migrants have gained access to resources and services over time and the socio-spatial transformation of villages in the city in YRD.