Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Tearing down the barriers of exclusivity

By Pan Jiahua (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-24 08:04

Tearing down the barriers of exclusivity

The central authorities have issued a guideline on urban development, which maps out the basic principles, key tasks and targets to ensure cities are "orderly constructed, properly developed and efficiently operated".

The document, drafted by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, was issued on Sunday, two months after leaders met for the Central Urban Work Conference and promised to make China's cities greener and more livable. In particular, the document proposes to promote block-based residential communities in Chinese cities, and put an end to the construction of the "walled" ones, which are spread across the country. The guideline says residential communities, built by real estate developers and owned by local governmental departments, should also be gradually made open for public use, in regard to their once-exclusive facilities like traffic lanes.

The potential adjustment in urban management has given rise to heated public discussions, with many fearing that living in a neighborhood without boundary walls would not only pose a threat to their security, but also raise disputes over how to share public space.

The long prevalence of closed residential communities in China, in essence, has a lot to do with the deep-seated security mentality of most Chinese people, who are inclined to believe that an exclusive community is in their best interests. Their barriers should have been brought down years ago, through compulsory measures if necessary, despite the opposition of people from many walks of life.

True, it is relatively easier to manage a neighborhood isolated from others. But there is no guarantee that it would ensure its residents' security if grave security risks linger over the whole area. Instead, people grouped together might feel more confident of accessing certain resources than those who live in a boundary-less surroundings.

The residential communities with no boundary walls in many Western cities, such as New York and London, show that institutional security, not exclusive neighborhood, plays a bigger role in residents' well-being.

Of course, building shared communities requires corresponding expansion of necessary public facilities, such as public schools and hospitals. Such changes have to be effected now.

The government- or State-owned compounds, for instance, should remove their walls first. Their favorable locations (often in city centers) are a result of certain historical factors. Therefore, tearing down their exclusivity would demonstrate exemplary effects and inspire more private property developers to follow the example.

The document also calls for more scientific and user-friendly exterior designs of buildings, which should not be very tall, expansive, exotic, or exclusive. Despite the lack of further elaboration, one rule is well founded: all architectural designs should strike a balance between local culture, history and the environment, subject to the approval of most citizens.

Clumsy copycats of famous buildings across the world like the White House can be seen in many Chinese cities, with some of them serving as local governments' compounds. Such knock-off designs not only lack creative thinking, but also infringe upon the intellectual property rights of people who spent years designing and building the masterpieces.

The author is director of the Institute of Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article is an excerpt from his interview with China Daily's Cui Shoufeng.

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