Brave New City: Three Problems in Chinese Urban Public Space since the 1980s

Pu Miao

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Miao, P. (1). Brave New City: Three Problems in Chinese Urban Public Space since the 1980s. Journal of Urban Design, 16(2), 179–207.

After three decades of urban renewal in China, public spaces used by average residents have not been improved proportionally and, in some cases, have even deteriorated. Three problems can be identified. ‘Window-dressing’ prevails in government- developed squares and parks. Their locations and monumentality have made residents less willing to use these spaces. ‘Privatization’ describes how private developers maximize profits at the cost of public life in the urban environment surrounding their projects. ‘Gentrification’, different from its meaning in the West, refers to the tendency to ignore the needs of mid- and low-income residents in public facilities. Not entirely a repetition of the 1950s Western urban renewal, the Chinese cases reflect a society changing from a socialist system to a capitalist one.

Main finding
The article proposes return to first-generation Modernism that emphasizes basic human functions, needs of the majority of residents and evidence-based design, rather than fashionable visual forms as a solution for the public space problems in China. Additionally the article suggests ownership of the public domain by the emerging urban middle class and respect for existing local urban forms which have successfully supported a rich civic life. Incremental introduction of new solutions to emerging challenges...

Description of method used in the article
Evaluation of public spaces in three main categories: window-dressing, privatization, and gentrification.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Performance/Cultural Expression Other or N/A
Case Study
Urban Design
Physical types
Geographic locations