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Informality in Governing Mega Cities in China: The Example of Shenzhen

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Part of the Governing China in the 21st Century book series (GC21)

Abstract

Despite the series of reforms, the vertical devolution between the central and the local levels of government, and the horizontal competition among cities, urban governance in China is still strongly influenced by the logic of the party state. A certain trend toward re-centralization of power that can be noted since the 2000s shows that the consequences of the rapid urbanization in the last decades cannot be predicted and even less easily controlled by centralized planning. The development of mega-cities leads to a tremendous increase in urban complexity and a certain amount of inequality both in socio-economic and in spatial terms. In the past, the associated challenges were addressed by a series of governance innovations. By analyzing urban development in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in a broader context, this chapter argues that there is a strategy behind the innovation process that builds on experimentation and informality. Contrary to a widespread understanding, informality in this context does indicate neither the loss of control over spatial development nor a simple exploitation of “guanxi” for the sake of a selected powerful few. Rather, it can be interpreted as a crucial element in the reform strategy that can be used intentionally for a flexible response toward the challenges of development. In a context of gradual consolidation of rapidly growing mega-cities, the system of urban governance is constantly evolving. It consists of a complex spectrum of governance arrangements that suit for different degrees of deliberation, planning rationalities and priorities, allowing for a certain amount of experimental governance in times of uncertainty with respect to planning routines, in transitory spaces, and in insecure institutional terrain. Informality is used intentionally to create leeway for the governance arrangements associated to those settings—to produce new spatial and functional settings, and a range of procedural approaches that can be chosen from when there is a need for mainstreaming, and to direct the attention of urban development forces on to or away from certain types of neighborhoods and planning challenges at least temporarily. Thus, urban development is, contrary to some expectations, rather governed by a patchwork of governance styles than an overarching governance arrangement, but nevertheless characterized by a degree of flexibility that does not seriously challenge the managing authority of the party state.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of KasselKasselGermany

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