Modernisation de la champagne chinoise: scenarios urbains alternatifs pour la plaine de Chengdu

The author’s doctoral research is primarily focused on analysing the issue of rural urbanisation as a key sustainable development challenge – based on the conviction that rural areas today must be studied on their own account and no longer simply understood as the counterpart to urban areas (Wood, 2010). In China, vast rural areas are currently undergoing “modernisation” via the application of a generic, expansive urban model. This modernisation is evidenced in the creation of new towns and road infrastructures – a process that simultaneously homogenises the complex reality of both rural practices and regional characteristics, flying in the face of natural resource availability and significant climatic and cultural disparities (Friedmann, 2005). This forced coexistence of urban models conceived ex-nihilo (top-down) and the reality of a rural area (bottom-up) generates interactions – and major tensions, too. This article will draw on one of our case studies: the modernisation currently under way on Chengdu Plain. Chengdu Plain is a major agricultural production centre that still functions with a traditional rural system, supported by a dense fabric of rural villages (linban) spread across the territory. The region is currently undergoing transformation and urbanisation on a massive scale – a process that has been amplified by the need for reconstruction following the devastating earthquake of May 2008 (7.8 on the Richter scale). This is a region that has experienced major human and material losses; its modernisation and reconstruction are a response to economic, social and political challenges. The first section of the article will analyse this radical transformation of the rural area – a scheme involving the mass destruction of villages spared by the earthquake and the grouping of rural populations in a new town located between Dujiangyan and Chengdu. Bringing these populations together seems laudable from the perspective of sustainable development principles but the proposed urban model, motivated by the need to reach quotas and conform to standard dimensions (Wu, LI, 2010), imposes uniformity on the landscape in a particularly extreme way, with scant regard for the region’s historic configuration and existing rural infrastructures. The second section is based on the results of our field work (March 2013). We were able to observe an in-situ urbanisation project (Yu, 2013) of a very different kind, the result of a collaboration between village communities investing in the local agricultural industry. This urban development appears to offer an efficient alternative to the generic urban model. What are the defining characteristics of this “in-situ” development? What are its limitations, and what is the best way of managing the relationship between local practices and national ambitions? Finally, we will explore the limits of these urbanisation modes, and the extent to which they can be integrated within the sustainable development paradigm, via urban planning scenarios illustrated by maps which show how the territorial reality (in-situ) relates to proposed planning schemes (ex-nihilo). The primary aim here is to bring modernisation and regional reality into alignment by amplifying existing rural infrastructures. The unprecedented urban situations generated by these ongoing regional changes are both problematic and complex, but probably also contain within themselves the potential for innovation and inspiration, paving the way for the development of sustainable, realistic and practicable urban development scenarios via the creation of new planning tools (Mostafavi, 2010).

Presented at:
Urban futur 2050, Institut des Ciencias Socias, ICS-U, Lisboa, October 09, 2014

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 Record created 2014-12-08, last modified 2018-01-28

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