Japanese nail house (dingzihu – 钉子户)?

 

Building penetrated by an expressway 001 OSAKA JPN.jpg
Building penetrated by an expressway 001 OSAKA JPN” by ignisOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the last few years, the phenomenon of the “nail house” (dingzi hu – 钉子户) has become rather frequent in China, as land acquisitions are ubiquitous and residents are usually not satisfied with either with the land seizure or the compensation package. Apparently, the term is a pun coined by developers to refer to “nails that are stuck in wood and cannot be pounded down with a hammer”.1 The existence of this phenomenon suggests that the best way for residents to protect the rights to their homes is to make them their stronghold. This course of action, however, is not risk-free, as many sad events have proved over the last few decades of meteoric development.

Reading about nail houses, I came across this photo of the Gate Tower Building in Osaka, also called the Beehive because it always seems busy. A highway passes through its fifth to seventh floors, of which it is the tenant! Cars pass through the building when exiting the highway.

As explained by Wikipedia2:

 “The elevator passes through the floors without stopping: floor 4 being followed by floor 8. The floors through which the highway passes consist of elevators, stairways and machinery. The highway does not make contact with the building. It passes through as a bridge, held up by supports next to the building. The highway is surrounded by a structure to protect the building from noise and vibration.”

However, the building didn’t exist at the time of the construction of the highway. In fact, both constructions were planned almost at the same time, and the property rights’ holder of the planned office building (who was the owner of the land) and the highway corporation negotiated for five years to reach this arrangement. It was facilitated by a reform in regulations allowing for the development of highways and buildings in the same space, something termed “multi-level road system” in its English translation.

I’m not familiar with the Japanese property rights system but I wonder why the government did not seize the land through expropriation. The construction of highways typically meets the requirement of public use. At any rate, the agreement shows a lot of creativity on the part of both parties and the government to make the best use of limited resources without compromising the interests of everyone involved. It’s also a good compromise to avoid the so-called tragedy of the anticommons, which occurs when property rights’ holders can’t reach an agreement and land remains undeveloped.

  1. See article about holdouts on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holdout_(architecture)#Nail_house []
  2. See article about the Gate Tower Building on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gate_Tower_Building []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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