UEP Colloquium: Visiting Scholar Yuting Liu

The Urban Poor and Low-Income Neighborhoods in Chinese Large Cities

Yuting Liu, visiting scholar and professor of urban planning at the South China Institute of Technology in Guangzhou, presented his research on patterns of urban poverty in Chinese large cities to the Tufts UEP community. Yuting Liu has published extensively on the issue of new urban poverty during the transition from China’s planned economy to one that is more market oriented. Specifically, Yuting’s research deals with the socio-spatial pattern of poverty. This presentation is important as UEP strives to extend its studies to incorporate international planning issues.

Yuting gave a brief history of his studies, which began with China’s recent development from a planned economy to a powerful market economy. This transition improved conditions among the rural poor. 250 million people were living in rural poverty in 1978, down to 30 million in 2000. Urban areas, however, have seen a widening gap between the rich and the poor, with new urban poor and rural migrants located in particular areas of the city.

He breaks the issue up into two distinct features: the new urban poor (urban hokou) and rural migrants (rural hokou). Economic restructuring and reform of state-owned enterprises resulted in large-scale layoffs, which, in addition to many poorly educated young people and single parent families, contributes to a high degree of urban poverty. poor, rural migrants to big cities represent another source of urban poverty. Former farmers are either migrating to the city, or, surprisingly, cities expand to the point that they envelop entire farming villages. Considered outsiders, the rural hokou are frequently marginalized, undocumented, and unaware of their rights as city residents.

In socialist China, there was very little geographical pattern to its urban poverty. With market reforms, China is seeing poor communities concentrate in particular areas of its cities. Yuting used Nanjing(population ~8 million) as an example in his study. Traditional port and industrial neighborhoods near the Yangtze River, such as Mufushan and Baotaqiao, and dilapidated urban districts like Jiankanglu and Nanhu have experienced a concentrated presence of new urban poverty. Poor rural migrants, on the other hand, concentrate on the urban fringes and inner suburbs.

Many poor and dilapidated neighborhoods have been torn down in order to construct new affordable housing settlements. In theory, this should provide some relief to the new urban poor, but settlements have mostly been constructed in the suburbs. Since the new housing is far from access to services and facilities in the inner cities, residents still face hardships in moving out of poverty.

Responding to questions, Yuting contrasted Chinese poverty with that seen in the United States. China sees a far greater level of rural to urban migrants, whereas the United States has more issues with international immigration. There is not as much of an ethnic, racial, or religious component to poverty patterns in China as in the United States. The vast majority of those living in major cities are Han Chinese, so discrimination is often based on regionalism or rural/urban distinctions. Notably, Yuting claims that large Chinese cities see remarkably little informal informal housing development, few slums and shantytowns, especially as compared with other developing powerhouses like India and Brazil. This, Yuting claims, can be attributed to the fact that urban land is publicly owned.

A fascinating discussion, bringing to light issues of international urban planning and development. The next colloquium will be on Wednesday, December 3, featuring Boston’s Chief of Economic Development and former director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, John Barros. We will meet, as usual, at 12pm in Sophia Gordon Hall. Note that there will be no colloquium this week or next week. See you there!