Chinese Complex Cities

Keywords: globalization, urbanization, migration, urban development, liveability, urban regeneration

Urbanization in China is an on-going process that leads to formation and transformation of city regions, characterized by rapid urban (re)development and the flow of large numbers of migrants. At the same time, China is taking initiatives to stimulate transnational/cross-border development, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, enhancing connectivity of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Both phenomena are driven by global and/or regional economies, posing questions to urban planning – how to benefit cities and communities in terms of liveability within such a context?

Alongside the rapid urbanization process, cities are ageing, as are their populations. The objective of this project is to devise innovative and integrated solutions to urban (re)development that enhance social resilience and facilitate economic transition, in the context of globalization, urbanization, and migration. It will identify ways of planning to more effectively integrate the physical character of cities with social issues to create healthier, more liveable, and more inclusive places – and provide new models of city development that promote ‘people-centred urbanization’. This will mean real and material improvement to the lives of not only vulnerable groups such as seniors and migrants but all city-dwellers.

What are effective planning and design strategies that could ultimately move cities towards a more inclusive, liveable, and vital scenario? Answers to this question may vary, depending on stages of industrial and urban development. A good understanding on correlations among socio-economic conditions, urban form and governance can help unlock the question. Generally speaking, Chinese cities are experiencing a paradigm shift on urban development, focusing more and more on regeneration of existing built-up areas than construction of new towns/districts. Urban regeneration is therefore playing an increasingly important role in reshaping spatial structures at the city-regional level and urban form at the neighbourhood level. It brings opportunities to improve liveability and urban vitality, making better places for people living and working inside cities.

Graduation projects addressing Chinese cities investigate the above-mentioned changes and challenges by means of research and design. They benefit from dedicated and long-standing co-operation with partner institutes in China.

Learning goals

At the end of the graduation year, students will be able to

  1. Clearly explain the transformation processes of the chosen city-region from a self-defined perspective, address both social and physical dimensions of these processes, and relate them to issues of liveability;
  2. Describe urban and regional development strategies in China, or trans-national/cross-border development strategies initiated by China;
  3. Map the social and spatial transformation processes in cities with effective analytical tools and correlated narratives;
  4. Envision desirable and possible futures for the transforming Chinese cities;
  5. Apply socio-spatial design principles in Chinese cities in respond to ageing of cities and citizens.
  6. Reflect on the on-going urban planning and design practices in China from the self-defined perspective.

Relation with research activities

The project is in line with the ongoing collaboration between TU Delft and Chinese partner institutions, particularly South China University of Technology (SCUT) in Guangzhou. Since 2012, SCUT and TU Delft have established a joint research centre on Urban Systems and Environment (USE). It facilitates interdisciplinary research on sustainable urbanization in EU and China, with innovations in planning, design and governance to meet future demands and challenges. For example, ‘Ageing Cities’ is one of the main topics the USE centre is focusing on, to cope with the ageing of urban environment and population at the same time in the context of rapid urban (re)development. ‘Nature-based’ and ‘People-centred’ solutions are at the core of discussion. The comparative studies between EU and China enrich the common understanding on future challenges of sustainable urbanization, and innovations in context-related planning strategies, governance models and design solutions.


Reading recommendation

  • Saunders, D. 2010. Arrival City: How the largest migration in history is reshaping our world, New York, Pantheon Books. This popular book examines the phenomenon of migration in 30 cities and villages on five continents.  It analyses how migration impacts cities, population growth, foreign aid and politics.
  • Qu, L. (ed.) 2017. Mapping Atlas of Shenzhen – Urban Villages. Delft: Delft University of Technology. This publication shows examples of mapping analysis on urban villages in Shenzhen. It is based on former graduation projects of the Shenzhen platform within the Complex Cities studio.
  • Badland, H., Whitzman, C., Lowe, M., Davern, M., Aye, L., Butterworth, I., Hes, D. & Giles-Corti, B. (2014) Urban liveability: Emerging lessons from Australia for exploring the potential for indicators to measure the social determinants of health. Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 111: 64-73. This paper synthesises the various liveability indicators and assesses their quality from the perspective of health and wellbeing.
  • Wu, F; Zhang, F; Webster, C. 2013. Informality and the Development and Demolition of Urban Villages in the Chinese Peri-urban Area. Urban Studies, 50 (10) 1919 – 1934. This paper traces the source of informality in the context of Chinese cities. It is centred upon the understanding that informality is created by the political economic institution that defines the development process and management of informal settlements.
  • Ye, L. 2011. Urban regeneration in China: Policy, development, and issues. Local Economy.26(5), 337–347. This paper introduces Guangdong Province’s master plan to revive its urban areas and examines how it intends to engage the government, developers, and communities in urban regeneration. It also provides an overview of urban regeneration practices in China in the past decades.

Exemplary graduation projects

Huang, X. 2017. Transforming Danwei housing: How can the old residential courts from the 1980s to 1990s in Guangzhou respond to diversified demands in urban renewal? Graduation Report Master Thesis in Urbanism. Delft, Delft University of Technology.

Yang, Q. 2017. Resilient me for tomorrow: Towards socio-resilient regeneration of urban village in Guangzhou. Graduation Report Master Thesis in Urbanism. Delft, Delft University of Technology.

Song, J. 2018. Livability in a growing Shenzhen: How to make Shenzhen a more migrant-friendly city to young graduates? Graduation Report Master Thesis in Urbanism. Delft, Delft University of Technology.

Hu, Q. 2019. Stay, Live and Participate: Towards a New Urban Regeneration Method for Foreign Ethnic Enclaves in Chinese Cities, Take Guangzhou as an Example. Graduation Report Master Thesis in Urbanism. Delft, Delft University of Technology.

Chen, S. 2019. Tomorrow rural land: vitalise Chinese idle homestead land through long-stay rural leisure development. Graduation Report Master Thesis in Urbanism. Delft, Delft University of Technology.

transforming chinese cities