Urban Redevelopment in Shenzhen, China : Neoliberal Urbanism, Gentrification, and Everyday Life in Baishizhou Urban Village

University essay from KTH/Urbana och regionala studier

Abstract: Urban redevelopment is increasingly used as a policy tool for economic growth by local governments in Chinese cities, which is taking place amid rapid urbanization and in an expanding globalized economy. Along with the spatial transformation, urban redevelopment often entails socioeconomic change in the form of processes of gentrification, which is propelled by the dominance of neoliberal market-oriented policy and practice in the country. This thesis analyzes the spatial political economy of urban redevelopment in China through a case study on Baishizhou urban village in Shenzhen in south-eastern China. Setting out from the broad concern over urban inequality, socio-spatial segregation, ‘the right to the city’, and sustainability in contemporary critical urban theory, the thesis constructs a theoretical framework involving the concepts of neoliberal urbanism, gentrification, sustainable urban development, as well as ‘bottom-up urbanism’ approaches. Employing this framework, the case study conducts a macro-level city comprehensive plan analysis, a meso-level urban village redevelopment site plan analysis, and micro-level interview study and ethnographic observations of everyday life and space in the urban village. On the basis of this study, the thesis makes the arguments that: Neoliberal urbanism is certainly active in the spatial political economy of urban redevelopment in Shenzhen and China, and is markedly state-led under authoritarian governance structures that encourage increased marketization; The ongoing processes of gentrification in the urban village are intertwined with local and national political systems and social arrangements, and cause stress for the migrant tenants of the urban village, which clearly is not in line with the urban sustainability discourse of the UN’s New Urban Agenda; The tactic responses and individual coping-strategies found in the urban village reveals a condition of both precarity and agency in the everyday lives of the often marginalized poor that inhabit this urban space, which in turn point at emergent alternative urban (re)development trajectories. Moreover, the bottom-up urbanism approach sheds light on both discrepancy and compliance with the dominant top-down redevelopment policy, and is further suggested to inform the production of policy frameworks that can better facilitate local implementation of the New Urban Agenda in China.

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