Collective Forms and Collective Spaces: A Discussion of Urban Design Thinking and Practice Based on Research in Chinese Cities
The paper examines how social projects, social spaces, and social realities define three contexts and shifts critical to understanding urban design in China, which are the transformations from collective forms to community building, from government to governance, and from urban versus rural development to urban-rural integration. The argument presented is that a unique unification of administration, production, and reproduction spaces into one institution, produced collective forms in China, whose collective spaces and collective subjectivities contrast with Western-centric explanations of urban design and urban sociology that depend on abstract notions of the public, public space, community, and place making. Instead, collective forms and collective spaces are defined by concrete activities, interests, and benefits that provide social networks of support and care to clearly identifiable constituencies. The collective and the community in China are thus always legibly spatialized and develop in parallel to a socialized model of governance that derives from a “differential mode of association.” This creates a spatialized governmentality, an instrumentalization of spatial design by government that brings spatial and social problems of governance closely together. A brief discussion of the historical formations of these changing contexts is the basis to outlining an interdisciplinary urban design approach that deals with spatial and social environments, practices, and policies. The paper brings together research conducted in Chinese cities including Wuhan, Beijing, and Shanghai.
Keywords collective forms; collective spaces; people’s commune; danwei; xiaoqu; urban design; spatialized governmentality