This is a student project concerning development of an urban village in Xi´an, China. The main concept and analysis is presented on this webpage. In the book we present a more thorough review of the project. The references, calculations and the research are all included in the book for you to download.
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Let us take a closer look at the difference between the
village Hou Wei Zhai and the highrises just across the road
The high-rises are all built simultaneously in efficient, large-scale projects. The challenge with this is that there is little trying, adjusting, or change in plans. Once something is built, it is there to stay, and it better be right. In contrast, it takes time to develop a village, and the social structures that runs it. In a way, the village never stops being built, unlike the high-rises. Considering the fact that the time it takes to actually build a building is far shorter than the amount of time a building is to be used, the possibility to develop as time goes shouldn’t be underestimated. If we are to look at this in a short-time perspective, the high-rises will prove a more efficient way to provide housing for the 220 million new city residents. The conflict will rise once the relatively short period of actually providing housing is finished, and the long term consequences knocks on the door. Consequently, the cities will be filled with heavy structures that are unable to cope with the new challenges, rather than the flexibility of the village structure.
The density in the high-rises are approximately 30 000 pers/km2. This number seems really high, and it is fairly impressive when you see it for the first time. The problem is that they only provide housing. Jobs, services and areas for transportation are necessary for a life in the city, and it occupies a lot of space. The highrise city is built for cars. The road system is massive, and eight-lane roads in three planes on top of eachother is not uncommon in China. In addition to the roads you have the parking spots. A parking spot is in average 25m2. In the highrise city you need one at home, one at the shopping mall and recreational center, and one at work. The three parking spots gives you a footprint of 75m2 for each car, and thats just the parking. If we add the roads to the calculation, the square meters will increase drastically and this is only the transportation. A real calculation of density have to consider the areas for jobs, shops and recreational as well as the residential. In the village you have mixed use, and the offices, shops, residential and recreational spots are all mixed together.
When the elevator and metro station are the only places for you to bump into your neighbours, you might struggle to understand whether to start up a conversation, or not. You can’t escape, and you can’t stay. It could be fairly awkward to stop talking when ‘the train’ arrives, or weird to take the elevator another ten floors just because the conversation was pleasant. The generic term of all people we know is that we see each other several times, recognize, talk, and meet again if it is natural. Of course this happens in the high-rises, but there are few points across the line where these random stops take place in a natural way. There is only a small amount of people who walk the streets of the village on a daily basis, which makes it easier to recognize each other. Therefore, you often meet people you feel you know, and you have the opportunity to greet and walk, or stop and talk - whatever feels right at the moment.
The urban population in China is predicted to increase with an overwhelming 220 million over the next 15 years. All these people will need a place to live, and the Chinese government haste in their search for a solution. (Worldometer 2015) In order to meet this extreme need for housing, they have developed a tactic that is to create tabula rasas, and build vast areas of mass produced high-rise blocks. To get hold of the areas needed to build the high-rises, the Chinese government collects land in the urban villages. At first glimpse, the high-rises appear to be a quick solution. They are effective to build, store a lot of people, and they are easy to copy-paste on new land.
The villages consists of low, coherent houses, with not so much free land available for new houses. The very urban ones are often already developed and densified, within the same low structure, and could appear hard to develop at a quick enough pace to meet the accelerating need for houses. Even though the villages can’t possibly absorb all the millions of people migrating to the cities, the migrants often start their urban life in one of the urban villages before moving on.
People have to visit numerous functions during a week; we go to work, buy food, meet friends, etc. The village holds a variety of services that minimize the need for long distance, motorized transportation. Most of them are gathered along certain shopping streets, but you are never far away from a small shop or restaurant. On one square kilometre, the village would house 368 different services compared to the high-rises 241. The differences are even bigger if we compare how many shops and services there are in relation to the number of residents in the two areas. The village provides 18 shops and services to every 1000 people. In the high-rises the offer is a meager 8. Some of the shops in the high-rises are bigger, but that doesn’t help the variation in the services and articles they offer. In addition to the streets being diverse, the courtyards in the village have shown themselves to be chameleons, that can be used to pretty much everything. Contrarily, the areas between the high-rises are physically set to be divided into streets, parking lots and a small playground.
In order to start a business, it is helpful to have a large network. Such a network needs time to develop. If we look at the business network of a butcher he needs a relation to a knife sharpener, a supermarket to sell his meat, a farmer to bring him the cows, an auditor for the economy, and a lawyer for taking care of the legal business. This network has to exist, and you have to have time to make the connections. The villagers have invested a lot of time in their neighbourhood, and businesses, and thus their social network is well established. The possibility for someone to be able to help you get in touch with the help you seek, is bigger when you already have a social network.
If we have order without variety the brain will get bored. This is proved to have a negative effect on our mental health. (Dalgard 1980) If we, on the other hand, have variety with order, our brain will be stimulated, and we will consider the environment to be beautiful. The high-rises, as they are built today, is a good, yet unfortunate, example of order with only a minimum of variety. All the buildings in the area look the same, are built in the same way, at the same time, and they fail to provide anything unexpected. According to Dalgard, this will give the high-rise residents a weakened mental health, compared to what they could have in other environments. The surroundings in the village are arranged following an order; the shape, size, design and colours of the houses are all similar, and the streets more or less follows a grid. Anyway, it is not perceived as an intrusive order, but rather as an underlying system. Following the definition to Dalgard, the brain will perceive the village as beautiful.
Many of the people in the village have led their whole lives there. They have invested a lot of time in their friendships with their neighbours. They have memories connected to the place, collected through a whole lifetime of investments. If they were to move into a high-rise, they would have to start all over again. Time is a resource. And it takes time to develop long lasting and good relationships. Does China have this time?
In the high-rises, there is a plan for a certain amount of square meters for stores and housing. The market is changing, but the structure of the high-rises works against this change. As a result, people are turning their apartments in the high-rises into everything from hairdressers to cafés. They have to struggle with being accessible. They use banners to inform people that there is a restaurant in room 415. This is everything but efficient. In the village, the relationship between the streets and the houses, between the private and public, allows the functions to change to whatever there is use for. It's easy to change a home into a restaurant. If you want to sell vegetables in the street, go ahead!
The modern high-rises have big containers for garbage that are emptied regularly. In addition, the different apartments have a system to get rid of the sewage. The waste and sewage management in the village is not good. There are big piles of garbage lying in the streets. The different sections in the village takes shifts when it comes to the responsibility for the garbage, and they drive it to a hole in the ground, just outside the village. The sewage is floating in open ducks in the streets.
It takes time to build social relationships. In the village everybody trust each other. They leave their doors open to the streets, and the kids play without their parents surveillance. This security can only be achieved over time, and with a reasonable amount of neighbours.
In the high-rise areas there are no, or very few, kids playing in the streets. There are too many people, and the ones that live there don't know their neighbours.
The street layout in the village is a grid, and the streets vary in width and character. Because the grid is going all over the village, the traffic has a lot of different routes to choose from, and it is distributed over several streets. The high-rise area has one main street which is really wide. In the fine street mesh there is several options to get from A to B. Every street is in principle equal and have the same possibilities to develop. With enough time and equal possibilities all of the streets will be developed with help of the market force. The street mesh in the highrise area has only one option to get from A to B. The main street will have monopoly on the traffic and will have a higher possibility to develop than the rest of the streets. In other words, there is only one street that will develop.
Our comparison shows that there is a lot of potential for the village to develop, and that there might not be much to gain by replacing it with high-rises. Some of the qualities in the village, such as trust and social relationships between the neighbours, take time to develop.
It is wise to make use of the villagers in the process of future development. They know how the village works, and have established both social and economical relationships. Qualities in the household, such as flexibility and adaptability, could make the village into a motor that will have a positive influence on the city’s economical and ecological structure as a whole.
Our goal is therefore to develop the village from within, by using the potential in the economy and ecology of the household. By using these existing resources the village can become a self-sufficient motor in the urbanization of Xi’an.
Scenarios for the household structure
The household economy and ecology is about to change yet again. The demolition of the village is closing in, with factories closing down, migrants moving elsewhere and a poorer market in the village. The insecurity the demolition represents makes investing in the village hard. We have to invest these money now to be able to develop the village.
The healthcare situation
Hospitalization can easily cost up to several times the average annual income. It is not unusual that people forego healthcare or drive themselves into deep debts because of healthcare expenses. There is a big uncertainty involving savings for healthcare, since you never know when you get sick and how serious the illness is.
Nearly every Chinese citizen is covered by some kind of public health insurance. Despite this healthcare there remains a major expense for most Chinese. Research shows that fear of health related expenses is still the single most important reason why Chinese people keep their money in savings accounts.
In average every household in the village save 1500 CNY every month for healthcare. The strike of disease is nothing but unfair. While some families never have any major health related problems, others are bankrupting themselves to save their loved ones. This means that there in fact is a lot of people sitting on a big pile of money they never use .
The average health expenditure per capita per year in China is 2300 yuan
The out-of-pocket expenses are 1150 CNY per capita per year
This means that every household saves 18000 CNY for healthcare every year, but they only need 5750 CNY in average
When we look at the average numbers of health expenditure the savings are unreasonably high. But given that China don’t have any way to save for these expenses collectively, they can’t account on the average numbers. The security in the average numbers require that more people save together.
save 650 CNY every month
save 7550 CNY every month
As the situation is today only the owners in the village have the opportunity to save money. The renters work long hours for low salaries, and don’t have much money left after all the necessary expenses. This is why the Hou Wei Care have to start with the money from the owners, they are the only ones with money to invest. They are also the ones who have the strongest relationship to the village.
Hou Wei Care´s economy need to grow in order for them to invest further in the village. They need to invest in something that can create profit, and by doing this the fund will grow and the improvements in the village can become bigger and better.
The garbage situation today
Inside the biogas plant
The economy of the biogasplant
The incentives listed below are the main reasons why the owners and the renters would benefit from Hou Wei Care. For Hou Wei Care to work it is important that the investors, the owners, has enough incentives for them to take the risk and invest in the project.
Improved health situation
The waste lying in the streets will be gathered in new waste bins, and collected every day. This will result in clean streets and a better environment in the village.
Hou Wei Care invests in factories that fill the empty factories and use the empty space. This will result in more people in the village, and a need for more services. New shops will pop up. With investments benefiting the common good such as dancing squares and sewage planting the village is improved.
Per Kristian Solem
Oda Sivesind Holthe
NTNU Urban Triggers AAR4540 2015
Ole Møystad Tarjei Zakarias Ekelund Mads Nermo Jostein Breines
Lisbet Sauarlia Thea Hougsrud Andreassen
Special thanks to
Benedicke Aasen for proofreading The Chinese students and teachers
Xavier Font Sala
Mads Eivind Berglie Fikkan