Envisioning the Public Interest in China's Urban Planning Regime: Guangzhou Neighborhood Regeneration Practices between Inherited Structures and Active Agencies

中國城市規劃中的公眾利益的實現機制: "結構-行為"互動視角下的廣州社區更新實踐

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Yuting Liu (External person) (External Supervisor)
  • June Wang (Supervisor)
Award date10 Aug 2022


Multiple rounds of experimentation have focused on how to capture, represent, and materialize the public interest in urban planning, crystallizing various regulatory planning regimes in different historical and political-economic contexts. However, how to define the “public” and capture the public interest in urban planning remains problematic in both planning practice and democratic theory. In China, the growing awareness of a heterogeneous society has, again, foregrounded the issue with the ever-proliferating insurgent activities of the settler community, the participatory of the industries, and the knowledge bodies, on top of the (semi-)vertical decentralization of the land-and-planning sector itself.

This study is supported by two central pillars - Dewey’s public interest theory and Giddens’s structuration theory. These two pillars are not separate pieces of material but rather the weft and the warp woven by institutional structures and community actions in collaborating to make decisions. Five core concepts are involved.

The first major pillar of the framework draws insights into the public from the literature on democratic development and its application to planning. John Dewey’s philosophical reflection on “public” and its relations with the origins of the state provided a new way of thinking about the study of state-society relations. The “public interest”, in this sense, is considered to be a community-based value shared among members of the public at various scales. Drawing upon Dewey’s definition of the “public” as “spontaneous groups of citizens who share the indirect effects of a political action”, this study further incorporates the concept of intersubjectivity into the more recent communicative turn of urban planning, which has benefited from neo-Marxist theorists ranging from Habermas and David Harvey to Patsy Healey.

The second major pillar of the framework provides insights into the politics of scale through the lens of Giddens’s structuration theory. This study develops a theoretical framework to revisit how the mechanisms of public interest representation evolve through inherited structures and active agencies. Structuration refers to the process by which active agencies of renovated communities drive changes in inherited governance structures or regeneration policies and stimulate the reinstitutionalization of informal rules or local needs. On the one hand, the “inherited structure” is reflected in the institutionalization of the public interest, which will be examined in this study in terms of the evolution of the scales, norms, and regulatory systems of urban planning. On the other hand, “active agencies” is embodied in the collective actions of renovated communities. Combining these pillars with an in-depth empirical investigation of Guangzhou neighborhood regeneration practices, this study reveals the interactions between inherited structure and active agency by analyzing the changing relationships among key actors in different planning configurations, their perceptions of inherited notions of public interest, and their physical initiatives to participate in or resist specific urban regeneration projects.

While John Dewey’s theory of representative democracy provides the fundamental philosophy for this study, Giddens’s structuration theory inspires the methodological framework for understanding scalar politics in the evolution of urban planning systems. Paradoxically, although Dewey envisions democratization by capturing the public’s genuine interest, he does not indicate a path to that goal. Similarly, while Giddens proposes a basic framework for analyzing structure-agency interaction, he does not suggest specific analytical methods. Moreover, Giddens’s praxis-centric perspective overemphasizes cognitive actors and quietly devalues the critical role of material practices in human society, which is crucial in the Chinese context. Therefore, this study applies Dewey’s theory to illustrate the composition and systemic evolution of the public interest in China and then uses a modified version of Giddens’s framework to empirically examine the driving forces and trajectories of change in the mechanisms of public interest representation that have evolved through interaction between institutional structures and community actions.

Grounded in the context of China’s ongoing rapid transformation from property-led urban redevelopment to small-scale community-oriented regeneration, this study reexamines the changing role of urban planning between the market and the government in the context of this new communicative era and its different configurations in terms of conceptualizing, representing, and materializing the public interest.

Regarding methodology, this study uses both quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis and structural equation modeling, and qualitative methods, such as participatory action research and in-depth interviews. The empirical research consists of three parts: 1) panel data analysis, including policies of 32 provinces in China and 776 community renovation projects in Guangzhou; 2) 580 structured questionnaire surveys in 9 renovated communities in Guangzhou; and 3) in-depth comparative case studies of 3 typical cases in Guangzhou. The findings are threefold:

First, the institutionalization of the public interest in China since 1949 is characterized by four features: pluralization of participatory subjects, communalization of scalar governance, networking of collective action, and routinization of informal rules. Theoretically, this study finds two scalar transformations embodied in representation mechanisms of the “public” in planning and two devolution processes of urban regeneration policymaking. In practice, this study finds three levels of representation of the public interest in China’s planning regime: the People’s Congresses system at the national scale, the planning committee system at the local scale, and the community planners system at the community scale. The results show that the trajectories of institutionalizing the public interest in planning share different origins, as in Western countries and the Chinese context.

Second, the conceptualization of the public interest can be understood in four dimensions: spatial performance, economic efficiency, public participation, and collective consciousness. Three models of materializing the public interest in urban regeneration can be identified from the perspective of policymakers: a) physical upgrading led by local governments; b) collective benefits oriented toward market participation; and c) knowledge sharing based on the coordination of community and society. Empirically, the data derived from the structural equation analysis of 580 questionnaires provide a detailed picture of residents’ different perceptions of the public interest and the mechanisms that influence them. The conclusions corroborate the assumption of this study that people are more likely to be motivated by endogenous reflexive factors, such as the level of trust in the community, satisfaction with the renovation, and personal structural background.

Third, based on the comparative analysis of three typical cases in Guangzhou, this study identifies three trajectories of community action when affected members of the public take action against planning interventions: a) insurgent activities through network coalition, b) rightful resistance through community mobilization, and c) community inspiration through a partnership of commons creation. In the first case (Enninglu, collective benefiting), local residents collaborate with third-party actors (local media, radicalism experts, etc.) to form a counterdiscourse coalition and facilitate discourse transformation through insurgent activities. In the second case (Dongcheng, physical upgrading), residents affected by a renovation project and the demolition of illegal construction are motivated and band together to participate in political negotiations as a whole. In the third case (Pantang, knowledge sharing), the community planner plays a more critical role in creating the commons to develop a collective consciousness among residents. This enhances residents’ neighborhood identity and their capability to participate in the planning process and other community public affairs.

In summary, this study aims to uncover the evolutionary mechanisms of the public interest in urban regeneration policymaking and revisit the representative democratization process in China’s planning regime. The critical question is the role of coalitions of third-party actors (community planners, NGOs, and other social groups) and insurgent participants in changing the balance of power relations at the heart of inherited participatory or communicative forms of planning. On the one hand, this study takes an institutional perspective to examine how democratization is practiced in community-based regeneration through various planning configurations in China. On the other hand, it takes an action-centric view to examine people’s perceptions and actions in relation to different planning interventions. It investigates how the public affected by urban regeneration can facilitate collective self-emancipation through insurgent practices, community mobilization, and creating the commons to escape market and state constraints. Theoretically, this study complements Dewey’s public interest theory and Giddens’s structuration theory by combining these theories with field investigations in Guangzhou, China. In doing so, it attempts to provide an empirical analysis of Dewey’s vision of democratization. Practically, this study contributes to policy suggestions for developing more adaptive urban regeneration plans in the emerging era of collaboration by critically assessing contentious participatory practices in Guangzhou, China.
公眾利益(public interest)的捕獲、實現和演替始終是城市規劃政策制定和實踐的核心話題,其中,公眾利益的實現機制由概念化、制度化、訴求表達—制度反饋三部分構成,反映在社區更新規劃制定、實施、監督管理全過程中。在城市存量發展的轉型背景下,以社區為單元的非正式治理活動在城市更新實踐中不斷突顯,“共建共治共享”和“人民城市”等理念的提出對於城市規劃更加科學、合理、前瞻地處理多元主體間關係提出更高要求。當前我國各地正在推進的老舊社區改造工作,強調原居民留居背景下的在地人居環境改善、社區活力提升、地方文化保護和基層治理培育。然而,由於“公眾利益”概念的模糊性及其在規劃實踐中還原的困難性,國內相關研究偏向由規劃專業人員或政策制定者進行統一代表的規制主義視角。但是,在社區更新實踐中,既有的結構性制度安排和規劃策略難以適應多樣化的集體訴求,不僅面臨規劃低效、政策彈性滯後、資金接續短缺、居民參與度低等治理困境,並且在部分社區中引發集體抗議、動員維權、聯合上訪、多渠道意見反饋等主動式社區參與行動,其中公眾利益的可還原性問題已成為製約我國進一步深化參與式社區規劃的瓶頸。因此,本研究以廣州老舊社區更新實踐為實證研究對象,以城市規劃中公眾利益的實現為問題域,從“公眾”構成、表現形式、表達機制與製度反饋等方面分析既有製度結構與主動社區行動之間的相互作用,並探究我國社區更新規劃中公眾利益的實現機制。基於廣州社區更新實證,本研究一方面對杜威的公眾理論和吉登斯的結構化理論提供補充,為變化中的國家—社會關係下多尺度公眾利益的概念捕獲和實現機制提供新的理解。另一方面對我國具有爭議性的參與式規劃實踐提供系統實證,為提升社區更新中公眾利益還原度、增強居民參與積極性、完善社區治理制度化提供實證依據和適應性政策意義。

本研究的理論框架建立於對兩個基礎理論的適應性調整。第一,實用主義哲學家杜威(John Dewey)的公眾利益理論為本研究提供了基本認識論和哲學視角。根據杜威的理論,“公眾”是由一群自發組織的市民構成的,受到一項政策干預的共同影響,由於位處同一空間領域而產生物質聯繫,並由於響應干預的自發行動而產生集體認同。通過強調公眾利益的異質性、協商性和動態性,杜威理論為理解變化中的“國家—社會關係”提供了新的視角,並廣泛影響了後來城市規劃中有關主體間關係的研究,例如哈貝馬斯的交往理性理論與希利的協作規劃理論。第二,吉登斯(Anthony Giddens)的結構化理論(Structuration Theory)為本研究提供了方法論和分析框架。該理論是發展於結構主義和行為主義之間的“第三條道路”,用以理解“結構—行為”的互動關係。

基於我國社區更新規劃的製度背景,本研究建構“結構—行為”互動視角下的理論框架。其中,“結構化”的過程體現在結構制約性與非正式治理能動性相互作用下,產生的政策變化、治理動態、結構轉型、模式推廣等反饋過程。 “既有結構(Inherited structure)”體現為自上而下式延續性的政策制定與製度結構,體現為價值規範、制度規則、治理結構、傳統慣例等。 “積極行為(Active agency)”體現在自下而上式社區主動參與行為及非正式治理過程,體現為主體認知、主觀能動、反思性集體行動等。本研究通過分析不同主體關係變化、公眾利益認知及其行動,論證自上而下的製度結構與自下而上的社區行動之間的相互作用,及其對社區更新規劃中公眾利益實現機制的影響。




    Research areas

  • Neighborhood regeneration, Public interest, Informal governance, Participatory planning, Old community renovation