Stefan Ai (ed.), 2014,Villages in the City: A Guide to South China’s Informaltlements 華南城中村指南
Contributing editors: Paul Chu Hoi Shan, Claudia Juhre, Ivan Valin, Casey Wang
Hong Kong University Press, 216 pp. 300 colour illus.
Paperback ISBN 978-988-8208-23-4
Stefan Al is an associate professor of urban design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the editor of Factory Towns of South China: An Illustrated Guidebook.
Countless Chinese villages have been engulfed by modern cities. They no longer consist of picturesque farms and fengshui groves, but of high-rise buildings so close to each other that they create dark claustrophobic alleys — jammed with dripping air-conditioners, hanging clothes, caged balconies and bundles of buzzing electric wires, and crowned with a small strip of daylight, known as “thin line sky.” At times, buildings stand so close to each other they are dubbed “kissing buildings” or “handshake houses” — you can literally reach out from one building and shake hands with your neighbor.
Although it is easy to see these villages as slums, a closer look reveals that they provide an important, affordable, and well-located entry point for migrants into the city. They also offer a vital mixed-use, spatially diverse and pedestrian alternative to the prevailing car-oriented modernist-planning paradigm in China. Yet most of these villages are on the brink of destruction, affecting the homes of millions of people and threatening the eradication of a unique urban fabric.
Villages in the City argues for the value of urban villages as places. To reveal their qualities, a series of drawings and photographs uncover the immense concentration of social life in the dense structures, and provide a peek into residents’ homes and daily lives. Essays by a number of experts offer a deeper understanding of the topic, and help imagine how reinstating the focus on the village could lead to a richer, more variegated pathway of urbanization.