Urban Villages – Problems or Solutions
Ongoing discussions concerning "Chinese Urban Villages" or "Rural Villages in the City" (chengzhongcun) with a variety of interested professionals over the last few months led to BWPI recently hosting a Salon to discuss the various issues at hand. The hope was to find some common ground and prospective solutions but the issues seem far from clear cut.
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Why are Urban Villages Different?
Chengzhongcun exist because of the loophole found in the Chinese Land Administration Law (CLAL). Art. 8 which states firstly that:
“Land in the urban areas of city shall be owned by the State.”
(So called property ownership in a Chinese city essentially entails long-term leases of up to 70 years) and secondly that
“Land in rural and suburban areas shall be owned by peasants’ collectives, except for those portions which belong to the State as provided for by law; house sites and private crops of cropland and hilly land shall also be owned by peasants’ collectives.”
Villagers ‘illegally’ constructed in villages to respond to an ever growing demand from migrants for low-cost housing. Continuous migration brought pressure on the villages to densify to their maximum capacity. Originally, houses in agricultural villages would be of 1 to 3 floors tall but after densification they often reach 5 to 8 floors but without elevators are rarely higher. To maximise floor area, the upper levels are often cantilevered which results in buildings almost touching each other and covering the pathways that once were the village’s streets. These constructions so close to each other are referred to as ‘handshake buildings’ (woshoulou) or ‘kissing buildings’ (louwenlou).