1 introduction

By Earl Sullivan,2014-11-09 18:31
7 views 0
1 introduction

    Exploring a new dimension of residential differentiation in urban China under market transition: a study of suburban residential enclaves

    Limei Li

    Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University

    Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong S.A.R.

    Email address:


    This research was supported by Urban China Research Network. I express my appreciation to my supervisor, Professor Siming Li for his instruction. I am also appreciative of Professor Carolyn Cartier, Professor Fulong Wu, and Professor Youqin Huang for their suggestions on the study. I am enlightened by the interviews with Professor Xiaopei Yan, Professor Lixun Li, Professor Jigang Bao, Dr. Xiaoshu


Cao and Dr. Geng Lin. My debt is to all the interviewees who have given their time,

opinions and help when I conducted the fieldwork in Panyu, Guangzhou.



    Along with the penetration of market mechanism in urban housing provision, the traditional residential space in urban China is under etching constantly. The housing market has become the major force reshaping the urban residential pattern. The study seeks to analyze the implications of real estate development on the urban periphery for residential restructuring and assess the extent it has resulted in a new dimension of residential differentiation using Panyu, Guangzhou as a case study.

    The housing reform has released enormously oppressed housing demand, exerting a lot of pressure on the urban housing provision. The commodity housing building boom on the urban periphery has reshuffled large-scale population from inner city to suburban communities. There emerges many ―suburban residential enclaves‖ in the former rural land. Residential enclaves are setting themselves off

    from the surrounding urban matrix through control of access. They are geographically distant from the city center, but closely tied to it economically. Leapfrog growth has burdened public infrastructure. The homebuyers cannot enjoy urban public services like normal urban resident unless they pay for higher price. The conflict between the fast market-driven development and the lag in urban political and institutional reforms contribute to the formation of the suburban residential enclaves.

    Key words: suburban residential enclaves, residential differentiation, Panyu


1 Introduction

    The market-oriented reform has resulted in a social and spatial reorganization of cities and the widening of the gap between the poor and the rich leading to a higher level of social stratification in urban China (Wang & Murie, 2000; Wu, 2002a; Li, Wu & Lu, 2004; Lu, 2004). An increasingly fragmented social space is found coming along with the new social stratification in urban China. The work unit compounds integrating the work and residence are no longer the norm. The luxury villas, gated commodity housing communities, and migrants‘ settlements coexist in the city, superposing on the traditional socialist landscape.

    Real estate developers have played an important part in residential restructuring. First, they exert their most direct effect through their selection of sites. The improved accessibility gives the developers wide freedom of location choice. They can either engage in inner city renewal or conduct large-scale development projects on the urban periphery. Given the need for plentiful supplies of cheap land and for speed of construction, together with the advantages to be deprived from economics of scale and standardization, the result is a strong tendency to build large, uniform housing subdivision on peripheral sites (Knox, 2000).

    Therefore urban periphery has experienced the most profound residential restructuring process. The various gated commodity-housing communities are spreading out in the former rural land. The construction of commodity housing on the urban periphery provides new opportunities to households of the inner city to choose their desired residence, reshuffling large amount of population to the outlying communities. As a result, there emerges many ―suburban residential enclaves‖ occupied by people other than the local residents. But little attention has been cast to elucidate the process by which these patterns are produced, altered or maintained. It


    is necessary to conduct empirical studies in Chinese cities to understand the residential differentiation fueled by market and its spatial outcomes.

    The paper seeks to analyze the implications of real estate development on the urban periphery for residential restructuring and assess the extent it has resulted in a new dimension of residential differentiation in transitional China. The paper is organized as follows. It begins with a brief overview of previous studies on the residential space structuring and residential differentiation. Then, attention is turned to the Chinese experience of commodity housing market development with special reference to the case of Panyu which has a relatively early start in establishing an external orientation and pro-market setting and which has experienced remarkable real estate development since the reform. The discussion is centrally organized around four questions: how are the suburban residential enclaves being shaped? Who lives in the suburban residential enclaves? What are the characteristics of the suburban residential enclaves? And why are such suburban residential enclaves being built? Finally, major findings of the research and their implications are summarized and discussed.

    2 Previous studies on residential differentiation

    Attempts at the explanation of residential differentiation have been made at both a macrosocial and microsocial scale (Timms, 1978). The former is rooted in the approach of the early Chicago ecologists. The followers have developed a more sophisticated theory and techniquesocial area analysis and factorial ecological

    approach (Shevky and Bell, 1955). It is used to matrices of socio-economic, demographic and housing data for small intra-urban districts, to test general hypothesis that the pattern of residential differentiation can be reduced to a small number of general constructs (Johnston, 2000). Studies in North American (Murdie,


    1969; Davies and Barrow, 1973; Rees, 1979) have shown that three components of urban space have exhibited significant regularities in a number of cities, that is, socioeconomic status, family status/life-cycle characteristics and ethnic component. Urban social structures under Fordism can be discerned vis a` vis models of social ecology developed at the time, in which social differences were structured along zonal and sectoral lines (while ethnicity revealed multinucleated patterns) (Burgess, in Park et al., 1925/1967; Bunting, 1991; Harris and Ullman, 1945; Hoyt, 1933, 1939, 1966; Murdie, 1969; Shevky and Bell, 1955). But the rules have changed somewhat under post-Fordism. The emerging social ecology of the post-Fordist city has often been framed within the discourse on ‗social polarization‘ (Walks, 2001). Post-Fordist

    economic restructuring should be articulated in greater segregation of immigrant groups and increased inequality in the distribution of income (Chakravorty, 1996; Walks, 2001, Wu, 2002a; Ross et al., 2004).

     But the results from urban China using the factorial ecological approach are different from the western counterparts (Hu,1993; Yeh, Xu & Hu, 1995; Zheng, Xu & Chen,1995; Sit,1996; Wu & Cui, 1999; Wu, Q.Y. 2001; Feng, 2004). The urban space in urban China is differential according to land use rather than social stratification. It is claimed that the building, production, and allocation of housing by work units will remain the main process structuring the social space of Chinese cities before the economic and housing reform takes effect (Yeh, Xu & Hu, 1995).

    Some scholars have criticized that factorial ecological analysis fails to provide a satisfactory explanation of the process of residential differentiation, the way in which different areas of the city come to be associated with different types of people (Timms, 1978). In order to approach this task, it is necessary to adopt a microsocial approach focused on the relationship between residential location and patterns of


    individual decisions and behavior, generally at a household level. Households may be seen as decision-making units whose aggregate response to housing opportunities is central to ecological change (Knox & Pinch, 2000). In China, twenty years of housing reform have produced a highly complex policy environment, with market elements gradually penetrating the planned economy and the well-entrenched system of resource allocation (Li, 2000). The residents are given more freedom to choose their own residence. Recently, there has been a growing interest in micro-analysis of housing consumption and housing tenure (e.g., Li, 2000; 2001; Huang and Clark, 2002; Ho and Kwong, 2002; Li and Li, 2004). But it says very little about how the

    changing policy and social and economic contexts have affected tenure change and residential differentiation over the urban space. The assumption that the individual household has ever exercised a dominant influence in the housing market is a myth (Wurster, 1966). Therefore, a third approach, meso-analysis, is needed to capture the role of a series of intermediaries or urban gatekeepers in the allocation of residences, who creates both opportunities and constraints involved in determining the characteristics of residential areas and the location of different types of households.

    A satisfactory explanation of residential differentiation must draw upon each approach. The study focuses on the real estate development on the urban periphery and explores the new dimension of residential differentiation fueled by the housing market in transitional China. The paper argues that the market mechanism has become the major force shaping the residential pattern in transitional China. The key actors

    developers, governments and residents involving in the process of investment, production and consumption of commodity housing will be studied in order to explain individual decisions about choice of residential area taking place against a framework


    of opportunities and constraints which reflect the structure of society and the manipulation of scarce resources.

    3 Data and methodology

    Existing data research, in-depth interviews and fieldwork research methods have been applied in order to get the core data and achieve the research objects. The Population Census, which is conducted every 10 years, provides very valuable and comprehensive small-area statistics for the whole cities including the demographic characteristics and migration data of the residents. Through the comparison of the 1982, 1990 and 2000 data, it can tell the macro trends of the residential differentiation in urban China since the reform. However, it has not shed light on the degree to which observed changes are related to demographic shifts, changes in household or family structures, living arrangements or lifestyle choices. Besides, the opportunities and constraints opposed by the governments and intermediates are not considered.

    In order to tackle this issue, the study has conducted in-depth interviews to get extensive information from a few key ―informants‖. The interviewees were carefully

    selected from the scholars, officials and managers of the real estate industry (see Tab. 1). They were considered to be experts of their own field and they are encouraged to share their opinions with investigator. The investigator set the topics but the respondents set the agendas for discussion. Apart from this, two commodity housing communities located in Panyu(Riverside Garden , Lijiang Huayuan and Clifford

    Estates, Qifuxincun ) are selected as the cases studies to provide supplementary information. In-depth interviews and observation are also conducted among the residents.

    Tab. 1 The distribution of the interviewees

    Type Affiliation Number Time

    Scholars Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 4 Feb 26-28, 2004


    Officials Panyu Urban Planning Bureau 2 Aug 11, 2004

    Town governments 2 Sep 8, 2004

    Residents‘ Committee 1 Aug 4 ,2004

    Managers Real estate development company 1 Sep 9, 2004

    Property management company 2 Aug 4, 14, 2004

    Residents Residents from Riverside Garden 7 Aug 6- 31, 2004

    Residents from Clifford Estate 10 Aug 8- 30, 2004

    4 How are the suburban residential enclaves being shaped?

    Understanding the forces at work behind the recent rise of residential enclaves requires an understanding of the changing nature of the geography of the post-

    industrial metropolis (Luymes, 2002). The first task is to tackle the context under which such residential enclaves are being shaped.

    4.1 Location and transportation: adjacent but not too close, separated but not

    1too far away

    Panyu is located in the geographic center of the Pearl River Delta and in close geographic and social proximity with Hong Kong. It is separated from Guangzhou city by the Pearl River in the north, stretches along the major sea transportation route in the east, and bridges the west and east wings of the delta (see Fig. 1).

    Until the end of the 1980s, access to the city center was not convenient and it normally took more than two hours to travel from the bus terminal of Guangzhou to Panyu. Two big rivers had blocked transportation between Panyu and Guangzhou. Vehicles to and from Guangzhou had to rely on slow and time-consuming ferries at that time. The situation immediately improved after the completion of two major bridges, which greatly facilitated citysuburb auto access. The first one was the

    Luoxi Bridge, which was completed in late August 1988. This bridge was designed as a toll bridge so that the fee collected from vehicles could be used to pay back bank loans for its construction (Lin, 1999). The building of Luoxi Bridge has enabled local people to overcome the friction of distance between Panyu and Guangzhou and it also

     1 Quoted from Dr. Li Lixun from Sun Yat-Sen University in an in-depth interview conducted on February 26, 2004.


    indicates the start of the real estate development on urban periphery. The second major bridge between Panyu and Guangzhou, the Panyu Bridge, commenced construction in 1994 and was completed in 1999. It constitutes a key part of a south-north artery of Guangzhou city, Huanan Expressway, linking Panyu with Tianhe and Baiyun Districts conveniently. The construction and completion of the two bridges have profoundly cut the travel time between Guangzhou and Panyu to no more than 30 minutes. Since then, the real estate industry in Panyu has experienced a new cycle of building boom.

    The relationship between Panyu and Guangzhou city can be best described as ―adjacent but not too close, separated but not too far away (jin’er bukao, li’er

    buyuan)‖. This means that Panyu is so adjacent to Guangzhou city that it allows residents of Panyu easy access to the inner city to fulfill their job needs while at the same time it is also far enough that they can escape from the crowds and noises of the inner city and enjoy the healthy air and open space in there. Planning and development of a modern transportation system have created a transactional environment conducive to settlement transition, land use transformation, and environmental change (Lin, 1999). Transportation improvement is a prerequisite to the flourish of the real estate industry in Panyu and triggering population flight from the inner city to the outlying residential communities.


Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email