Design of neighborhoods in China



From the beginning of human civilization, people have never stopped pursuing living environment and urban construction. As science and technology civilization developed, the city has been built better and better, streets, buildings, green park and residential area formed a whole city. The most basic form of people living is a neighborhood and neighborhoods in different forms and in different sizes make up the entire city. We can say the neighborhood is the basic component of a city.



End of the nineteenth century, English sociologist and designer Ebenezer Howard introduced a new method of urban planning “Garden City”. “Garden City” combines the city’s high efficiency, highly active city life and beautiful rural scenery, trying to get rid of the plight faced by urban development, which is a city designed for health, life and production that is able to meet people’s rich daily social life. With the planning and construction of Welwyn Garden City near London and a series of garden villages and garden cities at the beginning of the early twentieth century, the ideal of “garden city” has become a reality. The current neighborhoods design follows several principles, such as walking distance is controlled within 400 meters, have a clear center and identifiable edges, mixture of people and land use, and the control of streets size. These design concepts and principles have been widely applied to the neighborhoods design of various regions in the country; according to local conditions, the development fits for the local community.



However, in developing countries like China, the theory and ideology of “neighborhoods design” has not been widely accepted and promoted. Since ancient times, China has its own theory of urban construction and development, especially in the residential neighborhoods. The Chinese traditional living form is “walled enclosed” and “closed courtyard”, and people’s living tradition is isolating living space from external environment with a wall, forming introverted life courtyard.



And now, the neighborhoods building in China has become commercial gradually, construction companies are trying to get the city’s best location, and then build high quality residential neighborhoods, in order to obtain high returns. In the process, the developers often do not take into account the overall coordination of the city development, and do not follow the principles of neighborhoods design to develop sustainable neighborhoods. In my opinion, the city streets in China are made of different commodity neighborhoods or residential apartments, and each individual is completely independent and has their own style and mode of development that all are developing by depending on the urban commercial center as the center. In contrast to principle of neighborhoods design that the scope is controlled within walking 400 meters, in many cities, due to growing demand for urban development, the city limits are constantly expanding to the surrounding, which often leads to the situation that many neighborhoods share a regional center within the range of a large region. All neighborhoods are isolated from the outside world with fences and guards to ensure the safety of residents, so neighborhoods are individuals of relatively independent presence. The roads in neighborhoods and urban roads are isolated by walls into two road systems, and usually only residents are allowed to use the roads in neighborhoods. Neighborhoods road system is not integrated into the urban road system, and urban road often change its development model because of the presence of neighborhoods, making the entire urban road system is forced to change around the shape of neighborhoods.

In short, because of China’s own national conditions and development, the theory of neighborhoods design not applicable in China. We can base on design principles, combined with the development requirements of the city itself, identify the suitable development model.


Howard, Ebenezer, Author’s Introduction and The Town-Country Magnet,  The City Reader, pp.328-335.

Miao Xu and Zhen Yang, 2009, Design history of China’s gated cities and neighbourhoods: Prototype and evolution, Urban Design International 14 (2), pp. 99-117

4 thoughts on “Design of neighborhoods in China

  1. Hi Vivi, I quite agree that the design theory often can’t be reasonable in real projects, especially for neighbourhood design. Firstly, we need to pay respect to local history and culture. Our city is not built from a vacant place and even come out in a flash. Its formation should be along with the development of local culture and step by step. During this period, most areas have been demolished and rebuilt many times. And through decades or hundreds of years’ evolution, they turn to what they looks like now. A neighbourhood designed based on urban context and traditional lifestyle could be more welcome by local people. Secondly, neighbourhood design is more or less affected by local policy, which is related to government’s prospect. As is known, lands are owned by the country in China, so that the government has right to withdraw any piece of lands and rearrange them for other purpose. At this point, we can say they are government-dominated neighbourhood in China. On the contrary, the situation in other land-privatised countries may be different.

  2. Your post is about the Design of neighbourhoods in China. You make a comparison about the neighbourhoods design between the ancient times and nowadays and put forward a question about why the neighbourhoods in developing countries like China can not exist like ideal form.
    Except the different of traditional culture and habits, I think that the problems are led by the two aspects. The first one is the persons who living in the large cities can not earn the enough public space to be the neighbourhoods space due to the more and more people enter into the city. The rapid increase of population of cities lead the low-flour residential buildings replaced by high level apartments, and the public neighbourhoods space replaced by the increasingly residential buildings.
    On the other hands, the modern vehicle gradually enter into the people’s lives, because of the demands of the traffic, the citizen prefer to living close to the urban street rather than roads in neighbourhoods.

  3. What a great passage, Mrs. Sabraw! I never saw a value in Sponge Bob Squarepants until I watched a couple of episodes. Your grandson is right… it is about being a good friend. I’ve noticed that Sponge Bob always seems to see the good in everybody. Thanks for sharing your story!

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