Tag Archives: housing conditions

Gentrification in Peking and Paris (III)

However, finance was also the reason for Haussmann’s dismissal in 1870, one year after failing to get parliament’s support for the fourth issuing of bonds. This was mostly due to the provinces’ opposition to using State resources for the sole benefit of Paris. It is interesting to note that financial costs had increased as a consequence of the June 6, 1860 ruling by the Supreme Court. This ruling not only increased compensation to landlords, but also granted protection to expropriated tenants. The prefect harshly opposed the ruling, as it would “dramatically increase expropriation costs and delay the works due to the multiplication of procedures”. It is notable that this was the first time expropriation was used to renovate the city of Paris: entire quarters were demolished. The Declaration of Universal Human Rights of 1789 consecrated the right to property, and the Law of June 3, 1841 set the regulations for expropriating land in cases of public utility, stressing the social significance. In 1852, however, the decision to expropriate in cases of public utility was transferred from the legislative branch to the Emperor, leaving parliament without control over the procedure.1

In the case of China, the expropriation procedure has undergone an important evolution over the last two decades, although a low level of compensation has remained its main feature. The declaration of public utility was vague until 2012, leaving local governments with discretionary powers to use land acquisitions for local finance. With reference to the meagre compensation fees, it is interesting to reflect on the report by Hyun Bang Shin about residential redevelopment in Beijing. He analysed a specific case involving two phases between 1999 and 2002 in downtown Beijing.  He noted that in 2002 compensation fees would just amount to the equivalent of eight years accumulation of annual income for a three-person household (Price to Income ratio of 8 to 1) whereas the average price for an apartment there would be the equivalent to a PIR of 20 to 1. The PIR was lower outside the second ring road, reaching 7.1 to 1 outside the fourth ring road. Finally, even though 4% of the residents were re-housed in the redeveloped neighbourhood, most of them were driven out later due to the increase in housing costs. On average this would amount to as much as 28.7% of their monthly income, whereas before it came to 11.6%. The municipal ordinances only calculated compensation for registered Beijing residents (ironically excluding those migrant workers who were working on the renovation of the city for the Olympics).

City expansion paves the way for “commuting” to work from home. In Paris, commuting began at the time of the Haussmann renovations, especially for the displaced working classes. In Beijing, it led to the disappearance of bicycles, which have gradually left their place to cars, traffic jams, and pollution.

Community, Elosua Miguel

The splendid film “Shower” (xizao – 洗澡), by Beijing director Zhang Yang (张杨), depicts the last days of a neighbourhood in Beijing through the family-run bath where residents not only go to wash, but also to relax and chat at the end of the day. The film presents a caricature of the modern urban lifestyle, where white-collar employees devote just seven minutes of their “optimized time” to shower in specially designed cabins located near their offices in a sea of glass and steel. The activity is carried out without any trace of human interaction and is in stark contrast with the humanity that reigns in the local bath that is about to be demolished. Although the film is an exaggeration, it seems evident that displaced residents are forced to make a new start far from everything they have grown familiar with during their whole life, and this necessarily implies a break in social ties, the loss of points of reference, and the eclipse of neighbourhoods whose sense of community can hardly ever be replaced.

  1. Michel Lacave (1980) Stratégie d’expropriation et haussmannisation: l’exemple de Montpellier. Economies, Societés, Civilisations, 35e année, 5 []

Miguel Elosua

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

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Gentrification in Peking and Paris (II)


In both cities, housing conditions were poor before the start of the renovation work. In Paris, some inhabitants of the time qualified living conditions as deplorable and cholera epidemics ravaged the city. In Beijing, housing was old and maintenance was inadequate. Living space per capita was 3.6 square meters in 1978 (the standard was set at 9 square meters, but this was not respected in most cases).1 In 1985, according to a nationwide survey, more than half of Beijing’s residents did not have private kitchens, nearly two-thirds had no access to private toilets and only half had running water in the house.2

It is interesting to note the similarities in the catalysts of the renovations. In Beijing, as well as in the other Chinese cities, liberalization of the land came about as a result of the abandon of central planning and the adoption of the market system. In France, the July Monarchy (1830) marked the advent of capitalism in France and the triumph of the bourgeoisie. Everyone was encouraged to get rich, disregarding hierarchies or social barriers.3 This drew many migrants into the city, where the population increased from 600,000 to almost one million between 1845 and 1848, thus worsening the living conditions.

In Beijing, residents didn’t have ownership rights as such, but benefited from a public rental system. Different schemes of housing redevelopment have been put into effect since the economic reform. At the outset, the municipal government was more sensitive to the social issues, partly because limited public funding was available and residents contributed to the renovation work.  Developers were attached to the relevant governmental departments.  The government tried to foster the return of the original residents to the newly renovated areas by selling properties at discounted prices. As no developer could make a profit out of this scheme, and because the real estate market started to pick up, the government decided to separate from the developers quickly embracing free market policies. Newly independent real estate companies would finance renovation work, with local authorities providing administrative support. This liberalized system was characterized by the very low compensation fees that were granted to displaced residents in order to maximize profits.

In Paris, private developers were also encouraged by administrative support in the form of subsidized prices for the acquisition of expropriated land. For instance, for the Louvre-Rivoli work, the well-known Pereire brothers were offered land for 380 F/m2, when the market price in the area was around 950 F/m2. As in the case of Beijing during the first years of the opening, developers were in charge of distributing compensation to landlords and carrying out demolition work. The city granted them a fixed subsidy, payable over six years, that was obtained by issuing Treasury Bonds. Haussmann used the theory of productive costs to win over his detractors. He claimed that “it was necessary to acknowledge that parallel to the costs was the creation of much greater wealth”4. The upcoming Universal Exhibition of 1855 was to prove his point, as it attracted more than five million visitors. This theory also served Beijing after it was elected to host the 2008 Olympic Games in 2001. The city increased renovation work and launched new infrastructure projects under the one world one dream slogan (projects included a new airport terminal, eight new subway lines, 252 new star-rated hotels and 83 kilometres of planted greenbelt).

(The third part of this article will be published next Friday)

  1. Kirkby, R. J. R. (1990) China in K. Mathéy (ed.) Housing Policies in the Socialist Third World, London; New York: Mansell []
  2. Fan Y. (1989) Beijing Chengshi Zhuzhai Wenti de Xiangzhuang he Renwu. Beijing Guihua Jianshe, 8 []
  3. Patrice de Moncan (2009) Le Paris d’Haussmann. Les Editions du Mécène, Paris []
  4. E.G. Haussmann, Mémoires, 1890-1893 []

Miguel Elosua

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

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Improving housing conditions in poor neighbourhoods

Traditional street in Wenchang, China, Goulard Sébastien

The current marketisation of the housing sector in China cannot solve every housing issue. Government still needs to intervene in order to reduce poverty and provide low-cost housing for the most vulnerable inhabitants. This is the point of view of Ying Chang and Graham Tipple (Newcastle University) in their article entitled Realities of life and housing in a poor neighbourhood in urban China1. The authors focus on the housing conditions in poor neighbourhoods and the way they can be improved.  Wang and Tipple argued that relocating poor people to suburban areas and providing larger housing units – the usual policy in China – may not be the best solution from the poor resident’s point of view.

During the 90’s, local governments sold off a large part of their municipal-owned housing units.  In most cases, poor residents were not able to buy them. Moreover, programmes for building affordable housing, because of their top-down approach, did not meet their objectives. Although the housing was designed for the poorest, only the middle-class could afford it. Since 2007, the authorities have changed their approach to housing provision. Although marketisation has not been excluded, new measures have been implemented to increase local government investment in rental housing. However, little investment has been made in improving housing conditions in poor areas.  Most of the programmes have failed to take into account the considerations of the poorer residents.

The authors chose to conduct their research in a poor neighbourhood in Wuhan, in central China. This neighbourhood, “Shanghai Lane”, is located in the city centre and is home to many poor households. Chang and Tipple used the “sustainable livelihood framework” (SLF) as their main investigating method for understanding residents’ assets and issues and for analyzing recent improvements in the inhabitants’ quality of life.

  • Their results showed that, in this poor area, sanitation was inadequate, and many households used the most polluting source of energy available (coal briquettes) to heat water or to cook, increasing pollution and health hazards for local inhabitants.
  • Their research also pointed out that inhabitants had to deal with employment issues, and many had to rely on casual, unskilled work. Overtime work was a common way to earn extra money for Shanghai Lane residents.
  • Intergenerational financial support was also widespread. Grandparents’ pensions were an important source of income for many households.
  • The authors noticed that there was a high level of social capital in the street they studied, as inhabitants had lived together for a long time. The area provided adequate space for meeting, chatting or playing mah-jong. However, feelings of trust and safety had decreased over the last few years, as more and more migrants moved into the lane. The authors remarked a loss of trust even among long-term residents. One illustration of this was the addition of removal heads on water taps in the shared toilets.
  • Residents had extended most of the housing units. Two thirds of households had extended their dwellings to install a private bathroom, a kitchen or toilets. The authors noticed that people with stronger political connections (former cadres) had been able to create new rooms to sublet to migrants, thus creating an overcrowding situation.
  • The authors noted that residents’ interests were poorly represented by residents’ committees. They underlined the lack of associations in Shanghai Lane.

Although the municipal government of Wuhan has launched a plan to upgrade several poor communities (improving roads, adding street lights, hiring security guards or opening mah-jong recreation centres), the authors argue that more efforts should be made to improve local residents’ quality of life. They feel that rental charges should be reduced and pensioners’ incomes should increase so that residents can afford to better maintain their housing units. However, according to the authors, the most important point concerns collaborative upgrading. Residents should be empowered, so that they feel more concerned about matters relating to their residence, thus increasing their desire to improve it. The authors argue that stronger collaboration between municipalities, resident committees and local organisations would greatly affect the overall housing conditions in these neighbourhoods.

 One might object, however, that empowering poor inhabitants, so that they change their habits and feel more concerned about their neighbourhood, requires time and large investments. Although municipal governments should pay more attention to this issue, as advocated by the authors of this article, in most cases they are more interested in relocating poor inhabitants to suburban areas and transforming poor, but central, neighbourhoods into CBD or middle-class residential areas. Local residents’ interests do not necessarily fit in with the municipalities’ short term interests. Promoting greater social diversity is a difficult objective to attain. Grassroots organisations will need to convince the authorities that improving poor central areas will benefit the whole city.


  1. Chang, Y. & Tipple, G. (2009) Realities of life and housing in a poor neighbourhood in urban China: livelihoods and vulnerabilities in Shanghai lane, Wuhan. International Development Planning Review, 31-2 http://forum.eastwestcenter.org/urbanasiaseminar/files/2010/03/IDPR-2009.pdf, accessed 20 January 2013 []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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