Master Plans and Model Communities: Rationalities of Planning in Contemporary Urban China

Dr David Bray (University of Sydney)

WUN Contemporary China Center Virtual Seminar

02.Apr.2009 09.00 - 10.00
LT16, Roger Stevens Building - Leeds


One of the less noted paradoxes of contemporary China is that the demise of the planned economy has been accompanied by an increase in the influence of town planners, architects and urban designers. In part this is due to the dramatically enhanced wealth of city governments: as fiscal decentralization combined with the commodification of urban land led to vast new sources of revenue for local authorities. But it also bespeaks an alignment of governmental and professional commitment to purposefully shape the urban environment. Under the influence of city ‘master plans' and highly standardized policies on residential development, the spatial structure of the Chinese city has been significantly reconfigured as it has been rebuilt over recent years. However, while many observers have focussed on the negative impacts of redevelopment - the demise of historic city precincts and citizens' struggles through eviction and relocation - few have sought to document or understand the social and political implications of new urban formations. Through close reading of recent city plans and residential designs, this paper will analyse the governmental rationales which underpin contemporary transformations of urban China. What kinds of cities and types of communities do governments, planners and architects think they are creating? In addition, findings derived from fieldwork undertaken in selected housing estates will be utilised to examine the impact of contemporary urban design on the formation and governance of new residential communities.


Dr David Bray is Chair of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. He gained his PhD from the University of Melbourne and is the author of Social Space and Governance in Urban China: The Danwei System from Origins to Reform (Stanford University Press 2005), ‘Urban design and community governance in China: a study of space and power' in Paola Pellegrini and Paola Vigano (eds.) Comment Vivre Ensemble: Prototypes of Idiorythmical Conglomerations and Shared Spaces (Roma: Officina Edizioni 2006), and ‘Building "Community": New Strategies of Governance in Urban China' in Economy and Society (Vol. 35, no. 4).

General information on WUN seminars at Leeds can be found at

All welcome!