Fostering Divergent Urban Evolution in China

Authors: Neville Mars*, Dynamic City Foundation, Shanghai
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, China, Sustainability Science
Keywords: Local planning strategies, urban theory, planning Models, planning theory, China, theory-practice gap
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A review of experimental planning strategies designed to address the hurdles of flash development currently preventing more locally-rooted strains of urbanism. ///
China’s rapid transformation cast vast geographies within a single mold. Though crude, the simplicity of Chinese urbanism is proving persuasive to leaders in over sixty countries. It’s fueling a potent strain of planning characterized as ‘urbanism of urgency’: a generic normative urbanism streamlined for the speed, scale, and technocratic standards that emerging markets prescribe.

As scholars try to shed Modernist tenets, their proliferation reveals that growing schisms exist, not between the North and South, but between theory and practice. While theorists understand the city as a self-adaptive system, in emerging economies practitioners are obliged to deliver large-scale standardized solutions to poorly understood urgencies. Precisely where advanced planning is needed, intricate methodologies prove both conceptually misplaced and practically unviable. Models have yet to be developed that adhere to global trends yet advance a localized planning.

Three Chinese cases are introduced, which adopt experimental strategies that aim to circumvent the drawbacks of ‘urbanism of urgency’. Building on universal principles of self-organization they aim to seed a localized divergent urbanism. This paper analyzes their ability to foster diversity and flexibility in China’s templates, by comparing land use patterns, resource dependency and commuting times against Chinese standards. The paper concludes that even within China’s planning system many strategic avenues can still be explored to integrate theory and practice, and may prove as valuable for the Global North as for the Global South.

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