The End of Gated Communities in China? Implications for Sustainable Urban Village Redevelopment

PIs: Brent Ryan (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT) , 
       Lawrence Vale (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT) 


Chinese cities face shortages of affordable housing and environmental degradation. Sustainable real estate development needs to consider these challenges together. Affordable housing shortages are made more acute by the elimination of “urban villages” that previously provided well-placed low-income housing. New redevelopment has produced an increasingly fragmented urban morphology composed of gated superblocks, exacerbating traffic inefficiencies, social segregation, loss of cultural heritage, and pollution. Our proposed project, working with Chinese colleagues in Shenzhen, is prompted by two recent central government policies prohibiting new gated communities and eliminating older gated communities, and requiring all remaining urban villages be eliminated and redeveloped by 2020. We wish to identify innovative strategies for urban village redevelopment practice and explore policy implications for sustainable and socially responsible development strategies in China. Our research questions seek to identify, first, how developers and urban villagers feel that the new policies could potentially impact the redevelopment of urban villages, and second, how new urban development practice and policy might enhance socially and environmentally sustainable redevelopment of urban villages and new communities in Shenzhen and in China. 

Interestingly, while Western critics bemoan gated communities’ social and economic segregation, China’s objections are centered on infrastructure efficiency and environmental costs. The simultaneous central government proposal to eliminate urban villages and gated communities raises the question of what development format, if not superblocks, will supplant these villages. Eliminating urban villages without providing other affordable housing may also exacerbate social inequality and instability, environmental degradation, and cultural erasure. By examining developer and resident perceptions of the Chinese central government’s dual policies regarding gated communities and urban villages, our study hopes to identify means by which urban villages might be redeveloped in ways that retain some of their role in providing well-located affordable housing in Chinese cities while also avoiding the barriers and inefficiencies caused by gated community superblocks. Additionally, by shedding light on how village leaders and developers are coping with the new regulations and policies, we hope to help identify the objectives for entrepreneurial real estate developers seeking to improve Chinese urbanization in a sustainable manner.