From Pavement to Parks: Transformations of China’s Socialist Public Squares as Social Infrastructure

Authors: Piper Gaubatz*, University Of Massachusetts
Topics: Urban Geography, Landscape, China
Keywords: China, public space, squares
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Blue Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Large urban squares modeled on Tian’anmen Square were the hallmark mid-20th century intervention in Chinese urban space. These vast, largely unadorned expanses were virtually unprecedented in the history of Chinese urbanism. Their primary purpose was to accommodate the new organized mass rallies of socialist China. Decades after their original founding, many of these squares stand as vast open spaces near the increasingly-high land value centers of growing Chinese cities. While their key symbolic role in the history of the PRC largely protects them from development, the use and design of the squares has changed rapidly in recent years. In particular, a number of the squares have been transformed from barren concrete pavement to elaborately landscaped parks, which retain a smaller open square near the center. Others have been underlain with transit stations, shopping malls, or parking lots. At the same time, the role of such plazas as infrastructure for social reproduction has changed, with new activities ranging from officially-organized events to a wide range of informal activities, from skateboarding to line dancing. As the use of these spaces has changed, contestation over that use has arisen, ultimately leading to new policies and approaches to management of these hybrid public spaces. This paper will analyze the changing role of public squares as social infrastructure in Chinese cities with illustrations from case study research of twelve cities over the course of the past three decades.

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