A private commercial street sits inside Vanke Garden City, a gated community in Shanghai. Image: Courtesy of Alexandra Staub
A new urban planning directive issued by China’s Central Government on February 21, declared that internal roads in private housing estates should “gradually open up” to the public in order to ease traffic congestion. In addition, no new gated communities can be built in the future.
“no more enclosed residential compounds will be built in principle existing residential and corporate compounds will gradually open up so the interior roads can be put into public use.”
"This would save land and help reallocate transport networks" , the directive said.
The sudden announcement aroused controversy as the news began to filter through to residents Monday. Residents expressed worries about noise, safety, and property values, with 87 percent saying they would demand compensation if the communities were opened up, the South China Morning Post reported.
A man rides through a hutong in Beijing on March 10, 2015. Image: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
The system of closed residential areas has its roots in China’s ancient, medieval cities which had no motor traffic, but the idea really took off with the advent of the centrally-planned work units of the communist economic system in the 1950s.
Based on a model imported by developers from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, such communities often number thousands of residents, living in high-rise blocks situated around a central garden and, sometimes, a children’s play area. These compounds are often open to pedestrian access, but many forbid entry by the cars of nonresidents while the more luxurious gated communities, which may feature swimming pools and gyms as well as underground parking, may also prevent passers-by from entering.
A gated community in Shanghai, February 2016.
Image: Duncan Hewitt/International Business Times
Many viewing the directive as implying “knocking down the walls” of residential compounds. Official media Wednesday carried a statement from China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development, saying the directive only contained “general guidelines.”
It said local governments would be required to draw up plans to implement these, and would be “cautious” in “dealing with all kinds of interests involved, and the public would “definitely be consulted.”