Zone infrastructures: China’s new urban paradigm and export product

Authors: Tim Oakes*, University of Colorado
Topics: China, Development, Urban Geography
Keywords: infrastructure, China, zones, urban planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper offers a critical engagement with the idea of ‘the zone’ as a Chinese development model and export product. Ever since Rem Koolhaas’s Pearl River Delta-inspired musings on the ‘generic city’, China’s ‘model’ of infrastructural urbanism has stimulated the imaginations of urbanists, planners, architects, geographers, and journalists around the world. Through an exploration of the history and development of one particular New Area development zone in Southwest China, the paper contrasts the on-the-ground practice of zone development in China with the mythic ‘instant city’ ideology that has appropriated the zone idea both within and beyond China. While the mythic ideal of the zone as an export infrastructure and ‘new urban paradigm’ has had significant influence in China’s foreign development projects -particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia – zone infrastructures themselves convey a much more complicated and contradictory story about ‘the China model.’ Although conceived as state-of-the-art ‘creation cities’ built tabula rasa, China’s new zones are in fact chaotic spaces of accretion, haphazard appropriation, and popular hacking by unplanned-for users. That such spaces have, in turn, constituted an export ‘model’ for infrastructure development suggests the power of the ideological work that such a model is being called upon to perform.

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