Urban China has witnessed rapid urban (re)development since the 1980s, which is featured by the forced relocation of millions of residents and large-scale demolition of old neighbourhoods, such as the old inner city neighbourhoods, danwei communities or urban villages (He et al., 2010; Liu and Wu, 2006). Compared to urban redevelopment programmes in the USA and Western Europe, the scale and numbers of affected residents and neighbourhoods demolished in China is substantial. For instance, between 2008 and 2012, about 12.6 million households were involved in the national Shantytown Redevelopment Projects (SRPs) (MOHURD, 2013), which aim to improve the living conditions of low-income residents and to stimulate the depressed housing market. Their dwellings were demolished by local governments and they were forced to move to relocation neighbourhoods established by local governments, or to purchase dwellings elsewhere within the city, assisted by monetary compensation from local governments. There is still more to come. In 2013, the central state has triggered the second round of large-scale SRPs. It was estimated that approximately 10 million households will be affected by this second round (Li et al., 2017a; The State Council of PRC, 2013). Such extensive residential redevelopment projects have resulted in tremendous social, economic and physical changes in urban areas, parallel to the emergence of massive numbers of relocatees.
Compared with the sheer numbers of affected residents in China, the research on the experiences and perceptions of residents involved in forced relocation and urban redevelopment is still limited. Previous research in China often takes urban redevelopment and forced relocation as a single event and mostly targets the postrelocation situation (Day and Cervero, 2010; Fang, 2006; Gilroy, 2012; He and Liu, 2013; Hu et al., 2015). In addition, some studies and news reports have shown the conflicts and tensions between relocatees and local governments or developers from a macro-, meso- or political-economic perspective (He, 2012; Hin and Xin, 2011; Qian and He, 2012; Sichuan News, 2009; Weinstein and Ren, 2009), which gives an impression that the role of residents in redevelopment projects is always passive. On the one hand, this might reflect wider experiences, since residents in declining neighbourhoods often have limited resources and rights to influence the redevelopment process in order to maximise their own benefits (He, 2012; Shin, 2016). On the other hand, however, this impression can lead to the ignorance of the active role that relocatees may play before and during the process of urban redevelopment and forced relocation; an active role which may be revealed by their behaviours and perceptions regarding their original neighbourhoods, the neighbourhood redevelopment and forced relocation as well as their choices during this process (Ho, 2013; Shi and Zhu, 2013).
In particular, different residents with different perceptions and neighbourhood experiences can have different coping strategies, which means that a seemingly similar intervention (urban redevelopment and forced relocation) is likely to be experienced in various ways by different residents (Kleinhans, 2003; Kleinhans and Van der Laan Bouma-Doff 2008; Posthumus and Kleinhans, 2014). For instance, various forms of neighbourhood decline, such as crime, social disorder or physical environmental deterioration, often have a negative influence on residents’ perceived quality of life, which can trigger some residents to move out as shown for the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands (Feijten and van Ham, 2009; Livingston et al., 2010; Vale,1997). Forced relocation might be an opportunity for improvement for those who want to move in the context of redevelopment, by using the relative advantages offered by relocation compensation schemes (Kleinhans and Van der Laan Bouma-Doff, 2008). However, other residents, especially those who are deprived (e.g. with low-incomes, unemployed or age-related diseases), might feel disrupted if they are highly dependent on their neighbourhoods in various ways (e.g. closeness to job opportunities, cheap rent, and social networks) (Day and Cervero, 2010; Fried, 1963). In addition, some residents may feel increasingly ambivalent facing forced relocation as they may have both positive and negative experiences in their neighbourhoods which might make it difficult to evaluate the negative and positive influences of urban redevelopment and forced relocation before they actually relocate. Similarly, in China, the effects of forced relocation on relocatees during and after urban redevelopment projects are diverse and not necessarily negative. While several scholars have blamed large-scale property-led restructuring projects in China for causing displacement of low-income residents (Gong, 2012; He, 2012; He and Wu, 2007; La Grange and Pretorius, 2016;), other studies have demonstrated real improvements in relocatees’ (perceived) living conditions after relocation (Li and Song, 2009, Wu, 2004a, 2004b; Xia and Zhu, 2013).
Driven by the above concerns, this thesis provides a systematic overview and indepth research of the influence of urban redevelopment and forced relocation on affected residents, by focusing on their pre-relocation perceptions and behaviours and by investigating their neighbourhood experiences with regard to social, economic, physical and psychological aspects. The research takes the state-led urban redevelopment projects in Shenyang as a case study to provide a comprehensive understanding of residents’ experiences in the Chinese context. Shenyang is considered as a pioneer of SRPs in China, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban- Rural Development of PRC (MOHURD) has promoted the ‘Shenyang Mode’ of urban redevelopment nationally due to its success on SRPs (Shenyang Daily, 2016). In particular, the thesis focuses on the complex and dynamic nature of homeowners’ lived experiences in declining neighbourhoods that will be target areas of SRPs. Contrary to the majority of existing research, this thesis investigates the pre-demolition stage, i.e., the stage when residents have not yet moved out of their neighbourhoods, but have been informed that their neighbourhoods are going to be demolished due to SRPs.
Therefore, the main aim of the thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of how forced relocation and urban redevelopment affect residents of declining neighbourhoods in Shenyang, in terms of their pre-relocation neighbourhood perceptions and behaviours. Section 1.2 provides a theoretical background with regard to residents’ overall experiences with urban redevelopment and forced relocation in the Chinese context. In section 1.3, the research questions are presented. Section 1.4 describes the research area – Shenyang, a city in Northeast China. Section 1.5 discusses the data and methods used in the thesis. The last section presents the outline of this thesis.