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Formalizing China’s Handshake Buildings

+ Brandon Fuller

The recent issue of The Economist has a good article on China’s efforts to make urbanization more inclusive. The piece focuses on the role of China’s urban villages in particular. We’ve touched on China’s urban villages in this space before (here and here), discussing the work of UP scholar Alain Bertaud. Urban villages offer parallel housing markets for China’s lower-income rural-to-urban migrants. Here’s a description from a previous post.

Urban villages are technically located on rural land but they are often either surrounded by urban land or close enough to a city to provide easy access to its labor market.The farmers who own structures in these urban villages are not subject to the building and land use regulations that local governments enforce on urban land. They are free to adjust housing consumption standards to meet the demand coming from low-income migrants. For example, the floor area ratios in urban villages are often substantially higher than those in adjacent cities. For many new arrivals to China’s cities, urban villages have become an important source of affordable rental housing…

Because structures in the urban villages are often built close enough together for neighbors to reach out and greet one another, residents refer to them as handshake buildings. As The Economist notes, some in China see the urban villages as key to efforts to make urbanization more inclusive for poor migrants.

Some scholars say a solution lies in the handshake buildings of Shenzhen. Tao Ran of Renmin University in Beijing says the government should legalise such buildings around the country—allowing rural dwellers near cities to develop them and rent out flats to migrants—and then levy taxes and fees to pay for expanding services. It sounds like a reasonable proposal that would increase the supply of affordable housing and help more migrants become proper urban residents.
Handshake buildings in one of Shenzhen's urban villages.
Handshake buildings in one of Shenzhen's urban villages.

The Economist cites several other reforms that are receiving attention in China’s debate about how to improve urbanization.

Some propose that migrants in cities should, as quickly as possible, be given the same rights to services as urban dwellers. Others insist that would-be migrants should first be given the right to sell their rural plot of land to give them a deposit for their new urban life. Still others say the government must allow more private and foreign competition in state-controlled sectors of the economy such as health care, which would expand urban services for all, including migrants. Most agree the central government must bear much more of the cost of public services and give more power to local governments to levy taxes.

Read the full article here.

Image by Chris.

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