Academic journal article China Perspectives

Commodity Housing and the Socio-Spatial Structure in Guangzhou: A Study Based on Estate-Level Residential Property Prices

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Commodity Housing and the Socio-Spatial Structure in Guangzhou: A Study Based on Estate-Level Residential Property Prices

Article excerpt

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A growing body of recent literature!2) points to the problem of socio- spatlal differentiation in Chinese cities. The emergence of urban poverty on the one hand and of a growing middle-class on the other hand Is not only deepening the wealth gap In society, but Is also changing the socio-spatial structure of the respective cities. For a number of authors, (3) the new patterns taking shape are epitomised as "enclave urbanism" In the form of estate-scale neighbourhoods of different social composition, which are juxtaposed to each other and separated by Intra- urban boundaries. These phenomena are discussed with reference to Western debates on segregation and gated communities or with reference to the political transformation within China. In both cases, the commodification of housing through the post-1978 housing reform plays a major role. Commodity housing was first added to existing housing stock and soon after become the dominant supply mode. We shall now review this process In the particular case of Guangzhou and look at data on commodity housing estates In view of their Implications for socio-spatial differentiation and segregation.

When we talk about commodity housing (shangpinfang ...), this term first needs explanation. It Is not Immediately comprehensible without an understanding of the reverse, a centrally planned economy, where housing Is not a commodity, but part of the welfare assistance provided by the government to Its citizens. When in China such a system was reformed to allow, and soon afterward encourage, private Investment In both housing production and housing consumption, the term commodity housing was coined to describe commercial housing as opposed to the old-style welfare housing.

The housing reform started In the early 1980s and gained momentum In the 1990s. At that time, Chinese cities began to grow rapidly, and urban housing was urgently needed. The priorities of Maoist China until then were on Industrial build-up rather than urban consumption, which led to a scarcity of housing supply, poor maintenance, and lack of new buildings amid a growing population. M As will be detailed below, the reforms promoted by Deng Xiaoping Included the opening of the housing sector to commercial actors. First, the production of housing to be distributed through the work units (danwei ...) handed to private or quasi-private entities, later consumption was equally liberalised and a housing market emerged.

Very quickly, China has become a society of homeowners. Housing and housing prices have become preferred topics of private conversations and news reports. Commodity housing has become the primary channel for Investment, a crucial precondition for marriage and family building, and a marker of Individual success and lifestyle. Apart from these cultural meanings, It Is also of great macro-economic Importance. Public finances largely depend on land sales, and on the relief afforded to public coffers by developers who provide and manage whole neighbourhoods. real estate sector Is a motor of the economy and especially a channel for consumers to spend their surplus wealth domestically. advantage over competing spending options such as tourism, luxury goods, or cars Is that the money stays within the country. Last but not least, the Introduction of new housing choices for the middle-class clearly also has the purpose of fostering political stability.

On the other hand, claims arise that this re-evaluation of housing leads to growing socio-spatial differentiation and segregation within China's cities. The dynamics of change are complex and the paths of upward and downward social mobility diverse. Some studies conclude that the winners of China's urban housing reform are similar to those of the old system, as former privileges are translated into new wealth.!5) Nevertheless, in the maturing housing market since 2004, housing prices are seen as becoming the main sorting mechanism. …

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