The Critical Reception of China’s State Council’s new urban guideline
The announcement made on February 21st by the Chinese State Council about new guidelines for urban planning did not go unnoticed. First, they mention the progressive opening of gated compounds to public traffic, which riled inhabitants and legal experts. The media also quickly seized upon the ban on construction of “weird buildings”, unless justified by economic, environmental or cultural motives. But these are far from being the main measures discussed in the document. The guidelines came after last December’s Central Urban Work Conference in Beijing (the first of its kind since 1978) held by the State Council and the Central Committee to show the growing importance of urban matters for the government. So far, the idea is to define the main objectives, issues and principles of the future urban planning legislation.
The State Council’s drive with this text is to increase the responsibility of local governments in their urban policies, in order to improve both the sustainability and “live-ability” of developing cities. Henceforth, the government has set various deadlines and forecasts on such matters as developing prefabricated buildings, dismantling shantytowns and urban villages or prompting commuters to use public transport. The State Council has also outlined measures regarding the housing market for the lowest incomes, increase of historic heritage areas to be preserved, and the aforementioned connection of gated compounds with public roads network.
The major backlash concerning this last measure stems from two crucial issues. First, the legal vagueness of this gate-opening worries not only many legal experts, but also the Supreme Court. The guidelines are neither precise on the compensation for inhabitants, nor on which gated communities will have to be opened up. This leads us to the second issue: the lack of understanding and communication between the government and citizens. The government had to issue another statement to make it clearer that this measure will be implemented in increments, and will only apply to some of the gated compounds; mostly the widest ones.
This is a very sensitive issue since these compounds signify the growing clout of the middle-class, which feels that its recently-obtained private property is now being threatened by the government.