Archives de catégorie : Research notes

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LABEX & DCUN SEMINAR

Transformations and reconfigurations of the professional worlds of peri-urban development

September the 9th 2021 | 1pm – 2 pm presented by Kévin Chesnel

Appels à projets ou encore recherche-action, les démarches d’action publique visant à renouveler les cadres de la production de l’habitat dans le périurbain se multiplient depuis plusieurs années. Ces dispositifs s’inscrivent dans la continuité des politiques publiques aménagistes déployées depuis une vingtaine d’années en France qui visent à contenir l’étalement urbain et aménager durablement ces espaces par le biais de politiques de densification et de renouvellement périurbain. Si l’enjeu n’est pas nouveau, il se pose aujourd’hui avec acuité alors que le renouvellement périurbain peine à s’opérationnaliser et que l’attractivité de l’habitat individuel ainsi que la tension immobilière dans certaines métropoles poussent les ménages à se loger toujours plus loin. Ainsi, ces organisations publiques proposent de renouveler les modalités de coordinations en aménagement à partir de démarches d’expérimentations. Néanmoins, ces dispositifs font émerger un certain nombre d’épreuves alors que la production de l’habitat périurbain se caractérise par des logiques d’actions ordinaires : approche règlementaire, forte présence des acteurs privés et approche séquentielle de l’urbanisme. À partir du suivi ethnographique de deux démarches entre Nantes et Saint-Nazaire, nous proposons de questionner les effets de ces démarches pour les professionnels de l’aménagement. Comment les rôles et places sont redistribués dans la chaine de production de l’habitat dans le périurbain ?  Quelles luttes inter et intra professionnelles observent-on ? Comment les acteurs s’ajustent et élaborent de nouvelles conventions pour agir collectivement ?

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Shangai – China

Urban growth in Shanghai is closely linked with its recent soar as a global city, the economic capital and most populated city in China. Shanghai urban population accounted in 2015 for 21,4 millions inhabitants – for a total 24 millions inhabitants –, to be compared with the 13,1 millions inhabitants present by 2000. Population growth surged between 2000 and 2010, reaching a annual rate of + 3,3 %. Migrant population, as a result, accounts for about 40 % of the registered population. Built-up area in Shanghai municipality occupies a mere 2 100 km2 in the municipal territory (6,340 km2). The city centre itself covers 290 km2, while the urban core, that partly encompasses peripheral districts (jiaoqu), covers 1,500 km2. Rural landscapes are meanwhile still dominant in outer peripheries, laying in an array of 30 to 70 km of the city centre.

Urban sprawl occurred since 30 years in two stages. Starting from 1990, Pudong planned area developed eastward of Puxi’s city centre, as a mix of residential districts and “economic and technologic development zones”. The new district symbolizes Shanghai’s economic power, with Lujiazui financial centre, Pudong international airport and Waigaoqiao Free-Trade Zone.

Urban extension toward the peripheries accelerated sharply in the 2000s, under the Xth five-year plan (2001-2005) and its followers. Authorities envisioned a polycentric metropolis and settled a number of new town projects, along with the densification of suburban districts. Songjiang, the biggest new town, at 40 km away from the city centre, is planned to welcome 2 millions inhabitants by 2020. Land conversion totalized 1,000 km2 in the last 15 years.

Nowadays, a dense transportation network, combining highways and 14 subway lines, connects urban area as a whole. Population densities range from 20,000 inh./ km2 in the city centre to 7,000 inh./ km2 in the suburbs and 2,000 in the outer fringes, where small towns and industrial zones mix closely with farmland and rural settlements. At regional scale, Shanghai tends to form a urban corridor with Kunshan and Suzhou, millionary cities located north-west of the municipality. They are more largerly part of the Yangzi Delta mega-urban region, said to gather more than 100 millions inhabitants on about 100,000 km2.

 

Rome – Italy

Between 1871 and 1971, the urban area of Rome grew by a factor of 52 and its population by a factor of 13. However, 37% of the urban area within the municipality was built without legal authorization. Unauthorized projects are major engines of urban growth, responding to real housing needs; in 2001, 41% of the urban population lived in “illegal” buildings. Hence, unauthorized projects have to be taken into consideration in the management of public services and facilities. The public authorities updated the master plan and have become increasingly aware of the importance and extension of urban sprawl. Laws were enacted in 1985, 1994, and 2003 (leggi di condono edilizio) to legalize these properties, obliging owners to pay a fine of €21,000 to do so. Consequently, the municipality has to provide services to these properties. In Italy, the State’s financial support for municipalities does not depend on their dimensions. The building of infrastructure thus places a heavy burden on the finances of large municipalities such as Rome, which measures some 120,000 ha. In addition, the limited availability of public land reduces the municipality’s ability to implement public policies. The management of local services takes atypical forms, such as private associations of residents known as consorzi.

 

Paris – France

Diffuse urbanization extending across the Ile-de-France region is by no means a new phenomenon; especially in the deuxième couronne (second “crown”), where urbanized spaces blend with natural or agricultural areas. Three spatial forms arose: villes nouvelles (“new towns”); the fringes of Ile de France; and the areas beyond the borders of this region. Municipalities develop greater autonomy from Paris and urban development is triggered by endogenous dynamics. Neighbourhoods from the 1970s and 80s and small suburban towns are renewed. Natural and agricultural areas have been established. New territorial projects combine urban forms, agricultural areas, and landscape management. Communal and regional planning documents set out restrictions for new urbanization zones, yet there are many contradictory types of public regulation: from strong and Malthusian control to a laissez-faire approach in areas targeted for productive activities.

Nord pas de Calais Mineral Field – France

This mineral field was first shaped by agricultural practices and, since the 18th century, by the development of mines which partly erased the rural substrata. The spatial organization of its roads, canals, towns, and villages took into account the geology of the soil and the underground. Human establishments and facilities developed around a coal seam. Today the mineral field is a polycentric system of 1.2 million inhabitants and 245 communes, the largest of which (Lens) has a population of 32,000. These communes are composed of multiple centralities. They are home to communities that developed a strong sense of solidarity in the face of the drudgery of daily life, with numerous social organisations still active today. Since 2012, the mineral field has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several ministries signed a shared commitment to redevelop the area. Despite social and economic inequalities, local authorities have an optimistic view of the future. Key issues to take into account include heritage matters, the present needs of the population, and energy precariousness.

Joglosemar Region – Indonesia

Until the late 1990s, urbanization in this region of Central Java revolved around its three major cities (Yogyakarta, Surakarta, and Semarang). Since the early 2000s, decentralization triggered the development of small centres through the allocation of financial resources to villages under the Kecamatan Development Programme. Further, after the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, the Government funded small- and medium-sized industries, accelerating the industrial reconversion of former rural areas. All this gave rise to the development of small cities. In 2010 the Joglosemar region was home to 11.6 million people. A network of 101 small cities of more than 10,0000 people lessened the importance of major cities and spurred on the development of the hinterland. In parallel, Borobudur district, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur-Prambanan (and to 50,000 people, mainly living in villages scattered across an area of 54.5 km2), has undergone a process of tourism-driven development, as Indonesian civil society associations, endorsed by UNESCO, include the whole district in the definition of a cultural landscape surrounding the sanctuaries. The extension of heritage recognition from the sanctuaries to the district may prompt the redevelopment of the villages into a network of tourist destinations.

Hanoi – Vietnam

Since the adoption of a “socialist-oriented market economy” (1986), Hanoi has seen an average of 3% urban growth per year. Today, the government aims to make Hanoi the national gateway for foreign direct investment (FDI), competing with regional poles like Bangkok and Jakarta. With a population of 8 million, Hanoi is the second largest city in the country (behind Ho Chi Minh City) and generates around 15% of national GDP. Its rapid urbanization followed the desakota pattern, characterized by (i) a demographic boom triggered by rural-urban migrations; (ii) densification of the urban fabric across the extended region; (iii) urban sprawl through large-scale property developments; and (iv) the development of economic and industrial zones. Infrastructure is being upgraded to international standards through the modernization of the road network and major transit developments.

 

 

Energy transition

The implementation of national and international objectives for energy transition faces challenges in contexts of urban diffusion. Public actors struggle with the compartmentalization of skills and limited financial resources. In some cases, grassroots movements make the difference. Our aim is to analyze local initiatives and interactions between authorities, professionals, and inhabitants at different scales concerning the modernization of urban networks and services. The goal is to examine new management strategies, bottom-up practices, their relationship with public policies, and the evolution of professional practices. Particularly when municipalities are unable to meet the demand for public facilities in informal urban areas, the development of services shapes the dynamics of urban production and requires the involvement of residents. This contributes to citizens’ political subjectivity and provides them with new forms of sustainable urban citizenship.

 

 

 

Economic activities

Especially in Europe, research has focused on residential developments while neglecting productive activities (manufacturing, logistics, retail, trades, etc.), which are major engines for urbanization. These activities partly determine the availability and locations of jobs (especially for low-skilled workers) and maintain in situ or attract new resident populations. We consider the relationships between economic activities and land usage, logistics, and transport infrastructure. The following questions are addressed from a comparative perspective:

  • How does the construction of transport infrastructure trigger urbanization and economic activity?
  • Are industrial areas, and their modes of governance, connected to housing developments and road networks?
  • How is the rural-urban transition triggered by productive activities?

Digitalization

Digitalization fosters the emergence of new data, behaviours and services in the traditional areas of public policies: water, mobility, energy, waste, etc. To develop a prospective approach to the “smart diffuse city”, we explore the positive and negative sides of the “digital revolution” from an internationally comparative perspective:

  • How does the use of new data help to fill gaps in the knowledge and modelling of diffuse urbanization?
  • How can new data help public and private stakeholders to develop services that are better adapted to inhabitants’ needs and promote sustainable urban development?
  • How do digital technologies and their uses contribute to revitalized forms of urban planning and management, including risk management?
  • Does digitalization increase or reduce socio-spatial inequalities between dense and diffuse territories?

Architectural and urban forms

Not only urban forms produced by diffuse urbanization are rooted in rural pasts, but diffuse urbanization triggers processes of re-adaptation that shape original spatial configurations. We aim to identify the characteristics of these architectural and urban forms, and the ways in which they are adapted to climate and energy concerns. In doing so, we draw attention to the positive aspects of diffuse urbanization processes, drawing on knowledge production triggered by heritage recognition. We also speculate on how these architectural and urban forms can inspire specific responses to the challenges imposed by the energy transition.

DCUN Research note No.2

Norms of illegal construction in periurban Hanoi

May 2021

Marie Lan Nguyen Leroy, PhD in Law, PRX-Vietnam

Abstract

The peripheral areas of Hanoi have experienced significant land pressure, notably since the enlargement of the capital in 2008. New business zones, new urban sectors or planning goals of various kinds compete for space with villages that have their own land needs.

Against this background, construction and real estate practices that flirt with the boundaries of state legality have developed, reflecting the pragmatism of the urban stakeholders. To meet the pressing needs for housing and to bypass the delays in administrative procedures, these practices – which operate on a continuum of legality that varies in its distance from strict legal prescriptions – seem to form an integral part of the urbanisation process. Bringing flexibility to construction in periurban areas, these activities follow customary practices and stabilised rules and thereby contribute to the shaping and transformation of the city.

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The opening up to the market economy initiated by the Vietnamese Communist Party since the late 1980s unquestionably stimulated the country’s socio-economic development. This economic boom was accompanied by sustained urban expansion which continues to this day: in Hanoi, the country’s capital, average urban growth has remained at around 5% since 1995.[1] This dynamic of spatial development over a relatively short period has caused planning difficulties and hence problems for the authorities in managing the process of urbanisation (Fanchette, 2015; Quertamp, 2010).

This is particularly the case for the periurban areas around Hanoi, which have experienced significant land pressure, notably since the enlargement of the capital in 2008. Periurban areas are understood here as the zones on the edge of the dense city fabric that experience urbanisation as a result of the expansion of urban functions (Leaf, 2009). The establishment of business zones, the development of new urban areas[2] (Labbé and Musil, 2017) or projects of other kinds compete for space already occupied by villages that claim their own land needs.

Under these circumstances, construction and real estate projects that flirt with the boundaries of state legality emerge as a pragmatic response by urban stakeholders such as investors, developers, brokers and public authorities, but also by families and individuals with real estate projects. To meet the pressing needs for housing and to bypass delays in administrative procedures, such activities – which might be considered illegal or a legal grey area – seem to form an integral part of the process of urbanisation. This results in a blurring of the lines between processes that are legal and those that are not: even though the legal provisions seem clear, at local level they are often tested, adapted or circumvented.

This phenomenon is one that can be better elucidated by legal anthropology, which contextualises the law, than through the prism of legal positivism, which considers only the law as dictated by the authorities. The aim here is look at the actual practices of the stakeholders and the dynamic they create with respect to state law (Rouland, 1988; Le Roy, 1999). Rather than maintaining a sharp distinction between legal and illegal, this approach tackles the issues in terms of a spectrum of legality, a continuum along which differences are defined by their distance from state law. The stakeholders’ choices in each stage of a land development  process can therefore be classified in terms of that distance. For example, a building without land-use rights would nevertheless come close to state legality if its occupant had succeeded in obtaining a construction permit. Similarly, an occupant who had not been granted a building permit, but had nevertheless obtained “authorisation” for their construction by paying a small fine to the competent authorities, would also maintain proximity to state legality.

The purpose of this article is to contribute to research into land development activities that operate along this continuum of legality. What unwritten norms do they obey? To what extent and in what circumstances do they contribute to the dynamism of Hanoi’s urban expansion?

The findings of this article are based on qualitative exploratory surveys conducted between December 2019 and February 2020 through some fifteen semi structured interviews. The people interviewed were local and provincial land and real estate operatives such as small and medium-sized investors, property developers, public or private urban development stakeholders, and brokers, as well as individuals wishing to improve their homes or invest in a plot of land. In particular, the survey followed the experience of several individuals through the process of building or extending homes under restrictive regulatory conditions.

The survey looked at several districts, including Dong Anh north of Hanoi and Thanh Tri to the south. These two districts were chosen among those situated on the outskirts of the capital and classified as “rural” under the classification applied in Vietnam, in order to understand the norms and mechanisms applicable to construction projects undertaken at the limits of state legality.

Tacit agreement and implicit tolerance

The information collected in the survey tends to suggest the existence of a degree of tacit tolerance around land and property regulations, whether for historical reasons or for pragmatic considerations.

  • Pressing housing needs

Since the 1960s, numerous land use rights have been granted by the Vietnamese authorities not to individuals but to a family entity. When the family grows and the younger generations want to start their own households, new buildings are needed. In these situations, it is customary to build on the same plot, but on the part classified as “ao vuon”, which translates as “pond and garden”.

Under the land regulations, the family member will first need to ask for a separate “Red Book”[3] for their proposed building, and then apply to the local administration for permission to change the status of the land for construction purposes.

In reality, it is often accepted that construction can go ahead without these prior procedures, on the grounds that it constitutes a family need. The official procedures can be carried out subsequently, notably if the user wants to sell the land. In periurban areas, this situation remains common and reflects a degree of tolerance regarding the use of these Red Books in the case of families. By contrast, no such tolerance is granted to a new arrival who is not a native of the village and acquires land of this kind.

  • Red Books and building permits: varying levels of enforcement

In periurban districts, land use rights and building permits are not always kept up-to-date. According to an account by a land broker in Thanh Tri, more than 80% of land in the district officially has a Red Book. However, the information in many of these documents can be out of date and they may often be in the name of someone other than the current occupant. Moreover, the vast majority of construction takes place without a building permit.[4] This phenomenon is less common in the central parts of the capital because of the proximity to the inspection authorities and greater clarity over the administrative status of buildings.

All the stakeholders find that this indeterminacy offers greater flexibility and can present considerable advantages. Among users, the reasons for it are various. In certain cases, the users of the land cannot apply for a Red Book, notably if their plot is too small, in other words under 35 m². In other situations, they may not want a Red Book because of a lack of evidentiary documents, non-payment of taxes, or because they have no immediate need of one. These plots can always be bought or sold at the current market price without land-use rights. In Thanh Tri, for example, this price will be 20% to 30% lower than for a plot with land-use rights, depending on what documents the seller holds.[5]

From the administration’s perspective, if expropriating land for a new public project they have to pay at least the price set by the state framework if the owner holds land-use rights. In the absence of land-use rights, the cost to the local authority is lower.

Obtaining information and obeying the law

For the users of the land, the main priority is to obtain information on the land they want to build on, so that they know what procedures to follow via the “normal” route. According to the land brokers interviewed, it is always preferable to stick as closely as possible to the law. Indeed, exemptions are not always possible and have to be negotiated. Despite legislation that constantly emphasises government transparency in matters of land management, information on the status of land, planning and projects is in reality difficult to obtain, or can only be acquired at a price.

In our interviews, we tried to retrace the paths followed by individuals who have built without authorisation. The first step is to request information from the local ward administration (phuong) in urban districts, or from the commune (xa) in rural districts. They are the bodies that hold the current information on local planning intentions. The second step is to request information from the district administration. It is the district that has overall responsibility for land-use matters and that grants building permits. The first place to apply is the Planning and Architecture Department, then the Construction Department and finally the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources. With regard to planning documents, information on the existence of plans at different scales needs to be obtained from the different tiers, as well as about any exemptions to the province’s strategic plan. If plans for the area exist, building will be difficult, if not impossible, depending on the status of the plans. In the case of a “suspended project”, i.e. one that is planned but still pending, a decision cancelling the investment permit is needed in order to build.

In more difficult cases, people may need to employ the services of a land facilitator.[6] The role of the facilitator is to help with the completion of administrative procedures (registration or transfer of land titles, taxes, permits, etc.). Enjoying close relations with the public authorities, these facilitators help land users to avoid lengthy administrative procedures. In Hanoi, the facilitator’s fees for submitting a land-use application range from 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 VND (125 to 200 euros)[7] for a relatively simple case.

As legal as possible: the advice of a land facilitator[8]

“In order to build in Nhat Tan, you have to go through several stages and try to stick to the law wherever possible in the procedural phases. To do this, you first have to work with the local authorities and obtain information from them. My aim here is to work out how much room for manoeuvre I have in terms of what is legal and illegal […] People tend to do the opposite in the belief that things will go more quickly.

For example, if I want to build on a plot where it is too difficult to obtain a building permit as things stand and where I have no Red Book, it’s always advisable to start the application procedure for a Red Book with the authorities before actually building. Or else, if someone wants to build 5 storeys and the district rules only allow 3, it is always wise to apply for a building permit for those 3 floors. This will make subsequent negotiations easier.”

The information obtained from the authorities tells the land user the status of the land with respect to the regulations and local urban planning policies. Often, users are put off by the lack of transparency, the absence of evidentiary documents and slow responses by the administration. It is only if it is difficult to take the legal route that people will adopt the backdoor route, “di cua sau”.

Illegal construction: a phased approach

A construction process that crosses the boundaries of state legality still needs to follow several steps: request for information to establish an appropriate strategy based on the available material, construction, partial regularisation, gradual registration and the possibility of definitive regularisation. These are the steps that are generally followed, but their order can change depending on what stage agreement has reached and what strategies are chosen.

  • Identifying an appropriate strategy and a potential support network

The best approach is to have a “nguoi do dau”, a sponsor. This is an influential individual with connections in the land administration who can support the procedures. When building in a periurban zone, it is easy for the local authorities and inspectors to find out what is going on. For example, it is difficult to hide the transport of building materials, which are often supplied by a few well-known companies in each periurban district. A sponsor is therefore helpful in covering and steering the procedure.[9]

If the applicant has no connections of this kind, they can call on two types of actors – land facilitators or land brokers – who will undertake the necessary procedures and provide information on the cost and chances of success. Unlike the facilitator, the land broker also takes care of the procedures with the administration, the sales transactions and the transfer of land between individuals. In fact, these functions are often combined. These operatives are familiarly referred to as “Co đat”, which means “land stork”, a reference to the feeding habits of storks, which feed at night and only peck their way slowly through the rice fields. They work on all kinds of land and are involved in a large proportion of informal transactions. Facilitators and land brokers may form consultancy firms, with or without official legal status.

  • Construction

The duration of this phase depends on the strategies chosen. The first strategy is to build in stages. Between each phase of construction – foundations, ground floor, the first floor, etc. – a period of waiting is observed in order to conceal the new building from the local authorities. Depending on what agreements can be reached, the builder may be obliged to demolish parts of the new building.  Construction will be completed in 1 or 2 years.

The second strategy is to build as quickly as possible in order to present the administration with a fait accompli. The builder or their intermediary can negotiate the fines once the building is completed. One variant in this strategy is to live for a time in the newly built house. As the current occupant, the user can then apply to the authorities for a house improvement permit, which is an easier procedure than applying for a construction permit. In this way, the building is implicitly legalised.[10]

  • Partial regularisation

Between the stages of construction, the inspection departments may impose a fine or require the land user to demolish part of the new building. In this case, the user pays the fine and carries out the demolition. A record is made of the demolition process. The user temporarily suspends the work, then rebuilds a few months later.[11]

Personal account by M. X, inhabitant of Dong Anh[12]

“We progress gradually, without hurrying things [kho dau, go day]: if we run into a problem, we resolve it. When the police arrived and asked why there was an additional storey, I replied that I wanted to add a small laundry with a washing machine on the roof. As it was raining a great deal at that time, I wanted to cover the machine so that it would not get damaged. The police knew what I meant, I knew that the police knew, and there you are. That time round, I didn’t have to pay a fine.”

Through negotiations, possibly with the help of a facilitator, the situation can be regularised without demolishing the building when the administration identifies a legal offence. In this case, there are penalties that take the form of:

  • a warning fine – “Phat canh cao”;
  • a fine for an existing offence – “Phat ton tai”.

The fines imposed by the decree on penalties for land-related offences are relatively small.[13] By way of illustration, up to 2019, the fine imposed for building a house on agricultural land was between 2 million VND and 50 million VND (78 and 1950 euros), based on an estimation of the value of the land use right. For a building that encroaches on an adjacent plot, it was between 1 million VND and 10 million VND (39 and 390 euros), depending on the type of land on which the encroachment occurred. In 2019, after extensive discussions over the updating of the regulations, the maximum fine was still increased only to 250 million VND (9250 euros) for the building of a house on agricultural land.[14]

  • Customary practice

Once construction is completed and the situation between the stakeholders is more or less stable, the building can remain for the long term. Under Decree N° 139/2017/ND-CP on the handling of building-related administrative offences,[15] the time limit on individual land-related offences is 1 to 2 years from completion of the building. In fact, however, a practice that might be described as customary is more likely to prevail, insofar as the older the buildings are, the more difficult it will be for the administration to act upon them.

  • The possibility of definitive regularisation

Following these construction procedures, out of which entire neighbourhoods can emerge, the residents can sign up with public companies for connection to the water, sewage or electricity networks. If the situation becomes embedded over time, the authorities can intervene to regularise matters, notably by providing land-use rights to families in the neighbourhood that apply for them. In different circumstances, on the other hand, if the local authority wants, for example, to develop a new project (industrial zone, housing, etc.), these situations can end in an expropriation procedure resulting in demolition of the building.

Advice by M. T.P., a land broker based in Dong Anh.[16]

“Everything depends on where you want to build in Dong Anh. If you want to build a house in the villages, you have practically no need of papers.[17] If you want to build a place with fewer than 3 storeys, I can help you, even if you have no papers. If you build higher, we have ways to get round the problem. The rule is that if the regulations provide for 5 storeys, you can build 7, but not more, otherwise that would be too obvious. For the additional 2 floors, we would work with the buildings inspector. In Dong Anh, there are many buildings on agricultural land […] this is a risk that is borne by the builders. When a new political decision is taken about land, people risk losing their buildings, but in itself the risk is manageable and fairly common.

 In the village of Kim Chung, for example, there is now an industrial zone. The factory provides jobs for many people and does not have enough space to house them. The company decided to move onto the nearby fields to build, which is not a problem […] and it will not be disturbed. At present, the company rents these houses to its employees for 1 million VND (39 euros) a month for 20 m². The situation is the same in the village of Hai Boi, near Thang Long bridge.

 On the other hand, there are certain situations that must be avoided at the moment. We currently avoid forest land, in particular because of the My Linh scandal in Soc Son.[18] For the moment, demolition is automatic. The state only leases this kind of land to operators to manage. To avoid such land, you simply need to consult the local land registry department.” 

Preliminary conditions before building

In order to build on land not scheduled for construction, the illegality must not be flagrant: a veil of legality is required. According to the accounts of individuals with construction projects, there are two conditions that should preferably be met in order to maximise the chances of building for the long term.

The first condition is that construction in periurban areas should ideally start with existing buildings, in other words building between two plots that already have buildings on them, or near an urban area (even if it is illegal). If the administration has accepted construction in a neighbourhood as a fait accompli, there is no reason why it should formally oppose the building of a house alongside.[19] If the building is situated in an alley or away from a main street, it will be easier because it will be less visible. In the case of an isolated building, construction should proceed in stages so that the illegality is not too obvious.

In several cases of construction on rice growing land which we were told about in the district of Dong Anh, the building began as a straw hut with one or two brick walls, since Vietnamese law allows people to build sheds to store tools on agricultural land. A few months later, four brick walls were in place. In the absence of intervention by the public authorities or police inspection services, the straw roof can be replaced with corrugated iron. In the end, the building becomes a house with a tiled roof, and perhaps eventually with an additional storey. The phases takes place several months or even a year apart. According to the interviews with the builders, the aim was to wait for favourable periods, timed to correspond to any agreements reached with the authorities.

The second condition concerns the need to maintain good relations with the neighbours to avoid complaints or referrals to the authorities. An administrative referral might be handled by a different local authority than the one with which the builder had an understanding, for example one higher up in the hierarchy or a local inspection body. In this case, the situation cannot be covered. In any case, good neighbourly relations are needed, especially in the case of a neighbourhood where construction is officially unsanctioned: if a person manages to build, the neighbours may take advantage of the opportunity to build themselves, as surreptitiously as possible, in application of the first condition.

Account by Mrs. CH. in Dong Anh[20]

“On some land, you won’t be able to build without knowing the right people. This is the case in Hanoi centre, for example, in the central district of Hoan Kiem. In Ba Dinh, however, it is already easier. And if you go to Dong Anh, there it will be even easier and even recommended to build.

 In Dong Anh, all the buildings in my neighbourhood were erected without a building permit. The rule in my neighbourhood is that if you can build 4 storeys, in reality, you can build 5.5.[21] When you get to the third floor, you space out the construction over several months.

 For my house, I was having some work done and I put corrugated iron around it as camouflage. When the police came, I explained that my house was damp, so I needed to do repairs in order to prevent the situation getting worse. The police accepted my explanation. When the additional storey was built, I removed the corrugated iron. My house is located in an alleyway, so it’s discreet.

 In Dong Anh, when you go over Nhat Tan bridge or Thang Long bridge, the area near the red river, most of the building is illegal. There are no official transactions except for people who have the right contacts. But of course, transactions take place very frequently and the market prices are well known. You should reckon with around 50 million VND (1951 euros) per square metre for a plot with a Red Book, 100 million VND (3903 euros) per square metre overlooking the river, and 500,000 VND (19 euros) per square metre if it is farmland.” [22]

The price of illegality

The field surveys revealed that buildings that do not comply with the law obey procedural and financial norms that are known and accepted by all the stakeholders (local authorities, inspection service, investors and inhabitants). In both  Dong Anh and Thanh Tri, illegal construction in periurban areas has a price. People pay per square metre, at prices ranging from 3,000,000 VND to 4,000,500 VND (117 and 175 euros) in 2019.[23] The price is higher if the plot is near main transport routes. The reason for this is firstly that construction on this type of land is more obvious, and secondly that the user can make a bigger profit because it is a good place to set up a business.

In the case of a building north-west of Dong Anh,[24] the owner of a land-use title wanted to enlarge his house by 20m2 on a site with where construction was forbidden because it was classified as farmland. He also wanted to add a 5th floor, whereas the legislation in his neighbourhood only allows 4. The price he had to pay to the brokers was calculated as follows:

Price = (Non-build area in m2 + Area in m2 of the additional storey) × 3,000,000 VND.

These unwritten norms are accepted by the stakeholders, who argue that the strict application of the law might not be in everyone’s interest. For the inhabitants, these tacit agreements are a way to adjust to growing housing needs and also facilitate small land and real estate investments. For others, the aim is to obtain additional revenues to supplement low earnings.

Conclusion

Given the difficulties faced by the public authorities in planning and controlling the urbanisation process, the stakeholders in urban development show a high degree of pragmatism through compromises at local level, though these can contravene the norms dictated at central government level. Norms anchored in custom and practice thus make it possible to undertake building projects without following the regulatory procedures to the letter: phasing, timeframes and stable rules, in particular with regard to price, are set through established practice.

The processual nature of these urban changes needs therefore to be taken into account in order to understand the development of the periurban areas of Hanoi: by bringing flexibility and speed to periurban construction processes, operations that flirt with the boundaries of legality are an integral part of the capital’s urbanisation process. It should be noted, however, that this is specific to the periurban areas of Hanoi, since the phenomenon is less common in the central districts because new construction is more visible to the inspection bodies and the public authorities are nearby.

Land law, designed as a tool of the urbanisation process, tries to find a balance between socio-economic development and social stability in periurban areas: it sets a legal framework within which the main stakeholders in the urbanisation process become producers of norms which, as a useful adjunct to the state system, facilitate the integration of former peasants into the new middle classes through this process of urbanisation, exemplified in construction as a symbol of social success.


References

Fanchette S. (dir.), 2015, Hà Nội, future métropole : Rupture dans l’intégration urbaine des villages. Nouvelle édition, IRD Éditions.

Labbé D., Musil C., 2017, « Les « nouvelles zones urbaines » de Hanoi (Vietnam) : dynamiques spatiales et enjeux territoriaux », Mappemonde, no.122, 2017.

Leaf M., 2009, The peri-Urban Frontier of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Peri-Urban Environmental Changes in Asia.

Le Roy É., 1999, Le jeu des lois. Une anthropologie “dynamique” du Droit, Paris, LGDJ, Coll. Droit et Société, Série anthropologique.

Norbert R., 1988, L’anthropologie juridique, 1re édition. Coll. Droit fondamental, droit politique et théorique, PUF.

Quertamp F., 2010, « La périurbanisation de Hanoi. Dynamiques de la transition urbaine vietnamienne et métropolisation », Annales de géographie, 2010/1-2, 671-672, 2010.


Footnotes

[1] Figures produced by Vietnam’s National Statistics Centre, to which we apply the formula proposed by the UN for calculating annual urban growth. For Vietnam, average annual urban growth from 1995 to 2019 was 3.40% for the country as a whole and 5.01% in Hanoi, including the urban and rural districts.

[2] “Khu đo thị moi”: spatial development models for residential areas with infrastructures of more than 50 ha, developed since the 1990s.

[3] Red-covered booklet containing all the documents detailing the rights of the user of the land (land use rights, building ownership rights, title transfer records, etc.). By convention, the term Red Book also refers to the right to use the land.

[4] Interview with M. D. H., land broker in Yen Xa, district of Thanh Tri, 19/12/2019. He has exercised this profession for 16 years to the south of Hanoi.

[5] Ibid.

[6] On this subject, see p.6 for the difference between a land facilitator and a land broker.

[7] Interview with M. C., a land facilitator based in Hanoi, 02/11/ 2018.

[8] Interview with M. B., a land facilitator based in Nhat Tan, an urban district of Tay Ho. M. B works on several areas north of Hanoi in the districts of Tu Liem, Dong Anh and Soc Son.

[9] Interview with M. B.L., 55, former official in the Hanoi People’s Committee, currently a property constructor, Pagode Hoang An, Hanoi, 06/01/2019.

[10] Interview with Mrs C.H., 45, a civil servant and small land investor, Dong Anh, 25/01/2019.

[11] Interview with a land investor and inhabitant of the district of Dong Anh, 25/01/2019.

[12] Interview with M. P., inhabitant of Dong Anh, 14/12/2019.

[13] Decree on the penalties for land offences, N° 102/2014/ND-CP, government decree, dated 10/11/2014.

[14] Decree on the penalties for land offences, N° 91/ 2019ND-CP, government decree, dated 19/11/2019.

[15] Decree N° 139/2017/NĐ-CP, on the handling of administrative offences relating to investment in the construction, operation, processing and commerce in minerals as construction materials; production and commerce in construction materials, infrastructure operation, real estate negotiation, housing, real estate and construction management, dated 27/11/2017.

[16] Interview with M. T.P., 42, a land broker resident in the Dong Anh district, 28/01/2019.

[17] The term village is used in the sense of an administrative unit. In the periurban areas around Hanoi, many former villagers are now completely urbanised zones.

[18] In 2019, a 540 m2 house was built by My Linh, a famous Vietnamese singer, on a piece of land partly classified as forest. The case caused a big stir in the media. As of now, the building has not yet been demolished. It is interesting to note that this house was designed so that it could be completely dismantled and reassembled.

[19] Op. cit., interview N°2 with M. B.L., 17/01/2019.

[20] Op. cit., interview with Mrs C. H.

[21] In referring to the half storey, the interviewee means a terrace. In this case, where the terrace does not generally exceed 50% of the floor area, it is not considered an additional storey.

[22] The figures above apply both to a square metre of vacant land and a square metre with a building on it.

[23] Op. Cit., interview with M. B.L.

[24] Interview with M. P., inhabitant of Dong Anh, 02/12/2019.


To cite this article:

Marie Lan Nguyen Leroy, “Norms of illegal construction in periurban Hanoi”, DCUN (Diffuse Cities & Urbanization Network) Research Note No.2, May 2021.URL: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/1615


Document status:
The production of this research note was funded by the DCUN.

DCUN Research Note No.1

Periurban Farming In An Asian Context: Metropolitan Processes Affecting Agriculture In The Shanghai And Hanoi Countryside

June 2019

Etienne Monin (Geographer, postdoctoral researcher) ESO (Espaces & SOciétés) UMR 6590 CNRS laboratory, University of Angers.
Contact: etiennemonin@yahoo.fr 

Abstract

Periurban farming, considered to be part of the urban diffusion process, results from the intertwining of local agricultural processes with widening urban interactions that affect rural areas in the vicinity of cities and city regions. Different types of periurban farming have developed in different areas depending on the local context of urban diffusion. The desakota, named after the Indonesian terms for city and countryside, refers to the periurban landscape created in recent decades by rapid urban growth in East and Southeast Asia. Metropolitan development influenced by globalization is, however, the predominant mode of urbanization today, triggering the intensification and rescaling of periurban dynamics. In such context, what farming systems can be found today in desakota spaces in urbanizing Asia?

This article compares periurban farming in Shanghai and Hanoi to shed light on how city-countryside linkages affect farming dynamics along three dimensions: spatial change, economic restructuring and political planning. It raises questions about the suitability of desakota as a geographic model for contemporary rural-to-urban regional transition in Asia, and offers a new conceptualization of city-countryside linkages in an urbanizing world.

Keywords: Hanoi, Shanghai, desakota, periurban farming, metropolitan development

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Periurban farming, considered to be part of the urban diffusion process, results from the intertwining of local agricultural processes with widening urban interactions that affect rural areas in the vicinity of cities and city regions. The study of periurban farming entails investigation of the changing landscapes of rural settlements due to major transformations in land use, agricultural production, job structure, and livelihood, as affected by market interactions (Bryant and Johnston, 1992). Such investigation raises questions about the trajectory of rural spaces in the context of city-countryside interactions, and, more generally, challenges the prevailing rural-urban dichotomy.

Different geographical contexts display stark contrasts with respect to the pace of urban change brought about by globalization and its impact on periurban farming. Specifically, metropolitan development, as the driving mechanism connecting globalization with urban systems, is causing selective economic transformation and differentiated socio-spatial division both within and between city regions (Dollfus, 2001). This gives rise to the question of how periurban farming is influenced by the regional rescaling of metropolitan dynamics. To this end, a comparison between geographical regions can help to clarify how metropolitan processes intersect with local circumstances to produce distinctive spatial patterns.

In the early 1990s, the geographer T.G. McGee coined the oxymoronic term desa-kota, based on the Indonesian terms for village-city, to describe the countryside in the Jabotabek region around Jakarta, which since the 1980s has been undergoing a process of diffuse urbanization (Ginsburg et al., 1991). The desakota framework has since expanded to refer to the spatial processes of mega-urbanization and industrialization across Asian countries: in the Pearl River Delta and the Yangzi Delta in China (Sanjuan, 1999; Marton, 2000), in Indonesia (Franck, 1993), and, more recently, in the Philippines (Ortega, 2012) and in Vietnam (Fanchette, 2015).

All these places share certain geographical features: firstly, rapid urban expansion, mainly of major coastal cities; secondly, a vibrant economy boosted by globalization; and thirdly, the outcomes of dynamics affecting the surrounding rural hinterlands, which are densely inhabited by peasants primarily dependent on rice-crop cultivation. In McGee’s view, transformation manifests itself not only physically but also functionally, revealing the shift in activities performed in peasant households and village communities boosted by intense social and economic mobility. In other words, the desakota conceptual framework, in dealing with regional urbanization in tropical Asia, relies on a specific set of historical and geographical factors to explain the rural-to-urban transition of spaces as well as the transformation of systems of activity and livelihood.

To date, it is unclear whether desakota, and its underlying process desakotasasi, refers to a particular and delimited stage of urban transformation or whether it will remain relevant in the coming decades, describing a lasting reality of the landscape of urban diffusion and a shared trajectory of urbanization in Asia. In recent years, metropolitan development has further deepened the impact of global processes on emerging Asian economies. Research in China (McGee et al., 2007) and Southeast Asia (Webster, 2011; Franck et al., 2012; Chaléard, 2014) has investigated the effects of unprecedented economic concentration on the spatial rescaling and socioeconomic restructuring of metropolitan areas. This focus has come to overshadow earlier discourses on desakota territories, which were primarily concerned with peasant settlements in transition and the realities of farming.

Desakota, the “space-economy nexus”, has rather been reconceptualised to describe the conflicting dimensions of spatial transition, raising normative issues of modern governance and environmental sustainability, and opposing external forces with local, culturally variable sociopolitical organizations (McGee, 2008). As periurban fringes have been spatially integrated and consolidated into fully built-up suburbs, even more far-flung spaces have gradually come under the influence of metropolitan dynamics.

One way to examine the role of periurban farming is by way of its link with urban food consumption and food supply, which are now firmly on the agenda of urban policymakers in both the Norths and the Souths (Mougeot, 2005; Poulot, 2012). The term urban agriculture has been used to emphasize the links between food production and consumption in developing countries, pointing out the economic struggle and social inequality of producers and the need for efficient market organization, praising the benefits of food securitization for the urban poor, or calling for the resolution of food safety and environmental issues (Moustier, 2005; Pulliat, 2015). In Northern countries, the debate has come to focus on environmental management, land planning, and leisure amenities or community building, which is seen as a resource for urban sustainability (Soulard et al., 2017). I intent to build on a geographical approach investigating the regional scale and dynamics of farming systems linked to rural settlements in metropolitan areas.

What farming systems can be found today in desakota spaces in urbanizing Asia? The comparison of farming dynamics in the rural outskirts of Shanghai, China, and Hanoi, Vietnam, presented in this article interrogates the suitability of desakota as a geographic model for contemporary rural-to-urban regional transition in Asia, and offers a relevant conceptualization of city-countryside linkages in an urbanizing world.

This study builds on the primary idea behind the geographies of development of the 1990s, which saw desakota as a landscape in tropical Asia created by globalization, where rural settlements and a peasant economy met a booming urban economy on the cusp of the modern industrial stage. From the 2000s, metropolitan development has accelerated urban growth and furthered the spatial integration of desakota areas. This comparison of periurban farming dynamics in Shanghai and Hanoi hence supports the notion of parallel trajectories of integration, as revealed by city-agriculture linkages and social changes among peasant societies in desakota areas.

In the next section, I firstly depict the rural settlements in Shanghai and Hanoi, in relation to the urban restructuring of regional space, territorial organization and demography. The paper then turns to the respective farming systems, their economic role in the cities’ food supply, and the strategies adopted by farmers and village communities in adapting their activities. Finally, the industrialization of agriculture and metropolitan policies are analysed in order to shed light on the changing farming landscape of the desakota.

Desakota countrysides in Shanghai and Hanoi

Urban development in Shanghai and Hanoi reflects, to different degrees and in different sociopolitical contexts, the metropolitan transformation of the regional environments of these two cities. Shanghai has developed into a prime city hub for China and a global metropolis (Sanjuan, 2009). It lies at the heart of the Yangzi Delta megalopolitan region, which extends across the coastal plain bordered to the north by the Yangzi estuary and to the south by Hangzhou Bay, and connects in the west with the central Lake Tai delta (Map 1). By contrast, Hanoi, the political capital of Vietnam, is of secondary importance for the economic rise of the country, lagging behind Ho Chi Minh City. It is located in the centre of the Red River lower basin, upstream of its delta. Compared to Shanghai, the urban expansion of Hanoi has so far been comparatively modest (Map 2).

Map 1. Shanghai Municipality deltaic space and built-up area, 2015

Urban diffusion in Shanghai has rapidly accelerated since the 2000s. The outskirts of the city have expanded to encompass satellite towns, resulting in a scattering of rural areas inside the municipality. Urban densification is less pronounced around Hangzhou Bay and on Chongming Island than to the north, where Shanghai forms an urban corridor with the cities of Kunshan and Taicang in Jiangsu province. Source: Landsat 8, 2015.

Map 2. Hanoi at the centre of the Red River lower basin, northern Vietnam, 2015

Hanoi is located on the downstream plain of the Red River, which flows into the Gulf of Tonkin. Besides the port city of Hai Phong, other urban centres have experienced minimal development and the basin area remains predominantly rural. Source: Landsat 8, 2015.

The Shanghai and Hanoi municipal territories extend far beyond their urban core. The rural hinterlands range from 10-30 to 40-60 kilometers away, respectively (maps 1 and 2), each bearing the typical characteristics of Asian deltaic plains and river basins. For centuries, two of the densest peasant populations in the agrarian world engaged here in intensive rice cultivation, fostered by land levelling and water control. The farmland also supported cash crops, such as mulberry trees, which were used to feed silkworms, and cotton crops in the Yangzi Delta, which were traded in local market towns, contributing to the rise of eminent urban centres (Elvin, 1977; Fei, 2010). This rural legacy was transformed under communist collectivization, national reforms and opening-up policies, rural industrialization and, finally, globalization, leading to stark contrasts in development.

Around 2010, approximately one third of Shanghai municipality was made up of rural areas, down from two thirds in the 1980s (Table 1). Half of this decline occurred between 2000 and 2010, a period of deliberate urban expansion.[1] Hanoi’s expansion, by contrast, has been concentrated, such that rural spaces still account for 60% of the territory of Hanoi municipality. Moreover, the merging of Hanoi with the neighbouring province of Ha Tay in 2008 increased the proportion of rural spaces in Hanoi (Labbé and Musil, 2011).

Rural areas are also home to village populations. The intensity of rural-to-urban transition has been considerably higher in Shanghai compared with Hanoi due to the sheer number of people involved and their relative proportion in the city’s overall population. The registered rural population of Hanoi is 4.5 million, accounting for two thirds of the total population (General Statistics Office of Viet Nam, 2015), compared to 3 million inhabitants in Shanghai, which accounts for only 12% of the population (Municipal Bureau of Statistics of Shanghai, 2016). The rural population of Shanghai has halved since the 1980s, whereas its urban population more than tripled. Nonetheless, rural density remains remarkably high, as is typical of Asian cities.

Urban diffusion around the two cities reflects the differences between them in the hierarchy of metropolitan development.[2] However, similar differences can also be seen between rural and urban areas within the two metropolises in terms of economic production or revenue per capita. Rural income is usually half of urban income. Locally, the transformation of the rural layout depends on the location of the rural area: its interface with the urban system and its proximity to the heart of the city and nearby towns.

Table 1. The importance of rural settlements in Hanoi and Shanghai around 2015
Hanoi Shanghai
Total municipal population (millions) 7.7 24.1
GDP per capita (US$) 4,030 17,500
Total area of municipality (km2) 3,330 6,340
Farmland (km2) 1,970 1,890
Farmworkers (millions)

Rural residents (millions)

Proportion of rural residents in municipality (%)

3.7

51

0.39

3

12

Source: Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Statistics, 2016, www.stats-sh.gov.cn/ ; General Statistics Office of Viet Nam, 2015, https://gso.gov.vn/.

Rural landscapes around the two cities bear the traditional layout of villages and farmland in agricultural plains (figures 1 and 2, identical scale). The flat farmlands are divided by waterways and delimited by levees and dykes, used for irrigation control as much as for protection against flooding. Village settlements tend to be either split into parts or spread out, as in Shanghai, where small hamlets are stretched along waterways (Figure 1), or more compact, as in Hanoi (Figure 2). In Shanghai, until the 1980s, waterways served as the main mode of transport, connecting villages to market towns. Also, the road networks were gradually extended and today form a comprehensive system connecting the peripheries (Monin, 2012).

The urban restructuring of Shanghai’s rural outskirts reveals a spatial pattern of decreasing urban density, radiating concentrically from the city centre, and expanding around neighbouring cities and along built-up corridors. In the urban fringes, villages and fields are encircled and scattered, whereas in the municipal margins farmland predominates, especially around Hangzhou Bay, in the central deltaic area, and on Chongming Island, 60 kilometers from the city centre, in the middle of Yangzi estuary. By contrast, Hanoi’s urban restructuring is not on the same scale: the edges of the urban area meet the rural countryside just 10 to 20 kilometers from the historical urban core.

Figure 1. Aerial view of Chongming countryside, Shanghai, with a dense network of village settlements on an ancient, reclaimed plain

Hamlets on Chongming Island stretching along the waterways, with tiny plots of farmland. Source: GoogleEarth, 2017.

Figure 2. Aerial view of Hanoi countryside, with dense farmlands shaped by the water network

Hanoi’s village settlements show two different spatial patterns – either clustered or stretched along a main waterway – and are denser than those in Shanghai. Source: GoogleEarth, 2017.

Desakota areas are composed of different spaces shaped by different degrees of urban density, connected by means of road and town networks to rural settlements on the plains. These general observations, which do not take into account local changes in land use and activities, invite different interpretations of the metropolitan space. Urban development in Hanoi is mainly clustered around the city, with little diffusion into the rural basin. It is characterized by the development of “new urban areas” (Labbé and Musil, 2017) and by the urban growth of villages located on Hanoi’s fringes (Fanchette, 2016). By contrast, around Shanghai and within the delta region, the degree of density depends of the urban network.[3]

As demonstrated by the two cases, city-countryside linkages are shaped by dynamics at both a local and a wider scale, as well as their interplay with territorial settlements. Farming in desakota areas is anchored in villages and peasant societies, which are subject to urban and economic changes.

“Rice-bowl” countryside, “flying geese” desakota

From the 1950s both countrysides around Shanghai and Hanoi – were subject to the state economy and collectivism under Communist rule.[4] The transition from State control to market liberalization irrevocably changed the peasants’ relationship with farmland and agricultural production.[5]

Shanghai, which has developed into China’s main industrial centre, is particularly significant for the country’s Communist regime. The rural territories have long been responsible for ensuring the city’s food supply and grain security, which by the 1950s had some 6.5 million inhabitants (Howe, 1981). For this purpose the municipal territory was extended by nine rural districts, which were taken from Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and which today form its suburbs.

Grain production took advantage of the natural fertility of the land and abundant supply of workers, but also benefited from the introduction of new technologies, marking the advent of the Green revolution in the delta. From the 1960s, local industry and village workshops provided production teams with fertilizers, small engines and electric machinery (Huang, 1990). Collective manpower was mobilized to dig waterways, rebuild the water network and equalize land plots. From the 1970s, modern agricultural techniques were introduced, including new cultivars and cropping mechanization. Attempts were also made to diversify agricultural production to keep pace with urban demand.

Vietnam did not reach the same level of systematic political collectivization, but, following the country’s independence, land reform, grain procurements and peasants’ cooperatives were present in the north from the early 1950s, influenced by the example set by the Chinese.[6] However, the conditions for modern agricultural development were barely met before the country regained a productive economic system in the 1980s and opened up to foreign capital. Since then, the massive rural population has relied on traditional subsistence farming.

In China, the reforms of 1978 were quickly followed by village decollectivization. Farmland was returned to individual peasants, who were authorized to grow their own crops. From 1985, market liberalization stimulated the production of vegetables, meat and other non-staple food products, resulting in a dense food belt on the fringes of the city, separated from the rice-bowl area.

Figure 3. Peasant houses lining a paddy field in the Shanghai countryside

The open field in the foreground, planted here with winter wheat, consists of several fields grouped into one larger one to support irrigation and crop mechanization. The peasant houses in the background date from the 1990s, when villagers’ rising incomes were used to improve rural livelihoods. Source: Monin É., 2011.

In the geography of globalization, the term “flying geese” refers to the path of Asian-Pacific countries in successive industrial take-off, led by Japan from the 1950s, followed by the four “Dragons” and the five “Tigers”.[7] Following this industrial growth, which has mainly taken place in major metropolises, desakota areas might be said to be undergoing an economic take-off of their own.

In Shanghai, township and village enterprises managed by rural collectives[8] multiplied in the 1980s, subcontracting with State companies to produce urban goods (Oi, 1999). Rural bases evolved in the 1990s, when State planning promoted the establishment of economic and technological development zones and other industrial parks, making use of available land and cheap labour and accelerating the economic integration of periurban areas (Marton, 2000).

Rural industry in Yangzi delta, which forms the backdrop for the desakota landscape, can be said to have brought the peasant “off the land, but still in the countryside”. By 1990, the vast majority of peasants, including women, had transitioned to industrial work. Agricultural tasks became supplementary, relying on collective organization to provide surpluses and grain procurement (Huang, 1990). Peasants quickly moved out of the villages, starting businesses or seeking employment in nearby towns or in the city. This fostered individual careers and social mobility, and monetarized the peasant economy, creating a new social stratification that rapidly deepened as economic growth accelerated.

Around Hanoi, the desakota landscape formed instead around local clusters of villages specializing in craft industries which developed from the 1980s onwards (Fanchette, 2014). Factories and small shops linked one village to another in the production of domestic goods made of raw materials, such as traditional arts and crafts, furniture, textiles, and agro-food products. Other clusters focused on intermediary goods, construction or recycling activities, employing 17% of the rural workforce in the 2000s and testifying to the multifarious nature of village economic activity.

Rural industry in China slowed from the 1990s, impacted by economic restructuring and market competition. At the same time, foreign investment and joint-venture models took off, focused on technology-intensive industrial sectors. Around Hanoi, likewise, craft clusters have been adversely affected by international market competition and take a back seat locally to foreign investment companies, which as of 2010 employ some 50% of private non-agricultural workers in Hanoi province. Manufacturing zones are expanding, supported by the authorities, competing directly with village-based clusters for land and resources and at the same time increasing environmental pressure (Moustier, 2015). They also rely on migrant workers from outer provinces, producing a more concentrated population and accelerating urbanization.

With the clustering of craftwork in Hanoi and rural industries in Shanghai, desakota has drawn peasants off their land. At the same time, it has kept the population in villages and, from the 1980s onwards, yielded economic rents for rural collectives. Urban restructuring in the 2000s destabilized these local activities, accelerating the transformation of village societies. Farming activities, once the basis of the peasant economy in the villages, have also had to adapt to the mechanisms of the urban market.

Desakota food belt: peasant farming geared to the urban market

One main driver of periurban farming is the demand for food products in the nearby city. Periurban farmers gear production towards this urban market, making the outskirts of cities function as a food production belt in a way not seen in the more remote countryside.

Von Thünen’s (1863) spatial model provides several explanations for this type of farming differentiation, including land rents, transportation costs, and the manoeuvrability of farm products (Huriot, 1994). Farmers in the food belt specialize in fresh products, providing the city with vegetables or cows’ milk on a daily basis, which yield higher returns than grain and other staple crops that need to be stored and transported across longer distances. At the same time, the higher the land rent, the more intensive the production and the smaller the farms. Farms in more remote areas tend to be larger and support more extensive farming. Farm productivity is dependent on economies of scale, resulting in farmland concentration.

In Hanoi, an illustration of the fresh food supply can be seen at Long Biên market in the city centre, near the river and the railway bridge, where producers’ trucks and trolleys converge by night from all over the basin to meet with retailers. Shanghai’s major produce markets in the inner city were replaced from 2000 onwards by larger suburban facilities, some of them specialized, selling local or imported food products. Vegetable self-sufficiency is as high as 50%, with 2.7 million tons of vegetables produced in 2011, compared to 20% for grain (1.3 million tons). Municipal peripheries also produced over 200,000 tons of meat and aquatic products, contributing significantly to the market supply (Sun, 2012).

Indeed, the food belt capacities of the Shanghai countryside provide a textbook case of market effects on the structure of periurban farming. Before 1980, the vegetable belt was located 10 km from the city centre. It later expanded to a range of 20 km, covering vegetable farms, pig farms and cattle. In the 1990s poultry farms and peach orchards spread further to the south and the west, 40 to 50 km from the city, while the lake area and shores of the islands developed aquatic husbandry and fishing fleets. In the 2000s, crop production was reshuffled yet again when urban expansion resulted in the dismantling of the inner food belt (Xue, 2011). Meanwhile, new trends in consumption have prompted farmers to invest in new crops, from strawberries and watermelons to dessert grapes and cut flowers.

In the outer food belt two different trajectories can be seen: farming areas specialized early on and remain concentrated in local production clusters, or they recently diversified away from grain and embarked on intensive production of scattered crops of different types. These two patterns demonstrate not only the facilitating role of proximity and access to different pools of production, but also the local factors, such as community leadership, technical diffusion, and collective innovation, that influence the market adaptation of peasant farming.

Figure 4. A migrant farmer grows dessert grape in Minhang district, Shanghai

Introducing labour-intensive crops, such as dessert grape, is one way that smallholders adapt to the consumption market. The low revenue from land cultivation means that migrant peasants, as pictured here, are increasingly replacing local farmers. Source: É. Monin, 2011.

The shift from rice cultivation and the commodification of peasant production bring about changes to farming systems and peasant units. In Hanoi, rice crops remain dominant among village households, who rely on them for self-subsistence and sell the surplus to supplement their main source of income. Local farmers, however, run intensive and specialized economic plantations, usually with few resources.[9] As more peasants leave the land, productive land can be informally rented to farms or grouped by collectives into larger units. Increasingly, farming companies, backed by external private capital, are replacing peasant farming in villages.

Land rent is exacerbating the economic divide created between labour market and farm wages. Over the last two decades, a growing number of migrant peasants have taken up farm work in Shanghai. They represent half of all vegetable producers and one fifth of grain cultivators, either as smallholders operating on half to one hectare, as tenants in fruit orchards, or as commercial farm workers. Various fruit and vegetable crops, such as watermelon, are supported by itinerant labour systems whereby groups of producers move their shelters from one field and village to another depending on the season. Migrant farming also contributes to demographic issues in villages, where the original local populations have been abandoning their homes. In more remote areas, villages empty out entirely and are left inhabited only by elderly people and ageing farmers (already three quarters of Shanghai’s farmers are older than 50 years of age), ultimately developing into pockets of poverty.

Peasant farming rooted in villages, with products traded in wholesale markets, is only one face of the urban food supply. Agro-industry is rapidly transforming the food system, supported by the public authorities, which are keen to promote agricultural modernization geared towards the urban economy.

Planning for an agro-industrial desakota

The food belt in decollectivized economies has succeeded in meeting massive consumer demand despite the loss of farmland and decline of the labour force. Industrial dynamics, however, bring about new interactions between farmland and the food system.

Company farms on leased farmland in villages close to the consumption centre and benefiting from its communication systems are one illustration of the impact of the food industry and investment of capital in periurban farming. In Shanghai, company farms can cover up to 100 hectares and employ hundreds of people, supplying supermarkets and brand-name stores. Another example is the flower industry, with large plants equipped with advanced technology, supported by international partnerships and joint ventures, and supplying standard products to high-end customers (Figure 5). The vast majority of the food industry, however, relies on local companies that emerged from the 1990s onwards and are supplied by local producers.

Despite the loss of administrative control over the agricultural supply, public assets are actively involved in the food production system. In Shanghai the Guangming group, a State company, runs several large grain and vegetable farms as well as milk factories. It also has interests in key sectors (food processing, distribution and biotechnology) and, as such, is considered a strategic partner in Shanghai’s metropolitan agricultural future. Having become a leading brand in China’s food industry, the Guangming group is now aiming at international expansion (Monin, 2016).

In supporting the food industry, the Shanghai authorities have two aims. The first is to boost growth by means of policies such as the “rice bag” and “vegetable basket” programmes, which provide subsidies for farms and investments in infrastructure. These have simply switched to market regulation and administrative supervision, now striving for international food and safety standards and quality control. The second aim, in the context of industrial modernization, is to improve farm efficiency and environmental labelling. In this way, the municipal government aims to build a competitive sector, with leading companies capable of modernizing food production in the metropolitan environment.

Figure 5. Flower greenhouse systems are at the forefront of agricultural modernization in Shanghai

Consumers walk through a modern greenhouse with decorative plants, Shanghai Flower Port. Source: É. Monin, 2011

Capitalist development in China and Vietnam takes place under the control of the Communist governments. Farming modernization is thus a political matter, organized by means of central planning and implemented in a top-down fashion, from the province and municipality to districts and counties. Indeed, the “development of modern agriculture” has been an official slogan in Shanghai since the 2000s. In many cases, governmental authorities intervene directly to develop land and pilot large projects. Modern agricultural parks host experimental farms, greenhouses and food processing plants. Local governments finance their own industrial facilities and promote local agricultural specialties as commercial brands.

Village collectives have little power within this overarching system, but as land holders and intermediaries who can organize land use and mobilize farmers, they are necessary middlemen. They occasionally serve as a buffer against the municipal authorities, representing the villagers’ interests. Villages are indeed the main level at which the peasantry is transitioning towards modern agriculture. For instance, the Chinese national policies in the 2000s encouraged fellow villagers to merge plots into larger farms. Similarly, in Hanoi, farming collectives are acquiring the equipment and technical skills needed to motorize rice cultivation. These collectives are a key-target for policy makers and development agencies (Moustier, 2015).

Today, environmental policies are adding new constraints to farming activities, industrial pollution and urbanization having gone ignored for decades. In some cases, conflicts with villagers have arisen from land requisition or environmental pollution, leading to intervention from higher levels of government (Fanchette, 2015). Environmental protection has become a planning priority in Shanghai’s suburbs since the 2000s. Ecological zones now encompass water resources, leading to the closure of workshops and husbandries. Forest reservations have displaced villagers to nearby towns, with authorities compensating them for the loss of their land. In recent amendments to the Land Law, farmland preservation has become mandatory, subject to a quota system and included in the master plan of the city.

Adding to environmental concerns is the emergence of rural tourism and leisure activities as a service industry in desakota areas. As farming areas are integrated into metropolitan tourism, new links are forged between the periphery and the city centre: visitors consume rural resources, engage in fruit picking and gardening, visit rural retreats, and so forth. Country inns and guest houses have multiplied, reflecting their increasing economic importance for many villages, especially in remote areas where the agricultural landscape is largely intact. In this way, rural tourism becomes a useful planning tool for the multifunctional character of rural resources.

Finally, the many agro-ecological and industrial opportunities of metropolitan space – imagined and planned as an urban garden – are also contributing to the rapid remodelling of the desakota landscape.

Conclusion

This study of periurban farming in Shanghai and Hanoi has explored the spatial trajectories of desakota areas from the late XXth century to agricultural diffusion shaped by metropolitan forces in the early XXIth century, illustrated by farming dynamics and peasants’ interactions. It has led to two interpretations of desakota: firstly, as a transitional space (McGee, 2008), a canvas on which the factors of change interact with people and resources; and secondly, as a regional space with differentiated local processes, influenced by their proximity to the city centre. Metropolitan interactions were analysed along three dimensions – spatial change, economic restructuring and political planning – to address the cumulative effects of globalization on urbanizing Asian territories, thereby challenging prevailing discourses on “rice civilization” peasantry.

Rural settlements surrounding the two cities encompass thousands of hectares and hundreds of villages, where peasants grow crops and raise animals for themselves and the city. Rural industries and craft activities, which emerged during the period of reform, have driven the excess supply of peasant labour off the land, allowing for more productive growth and farm specialization. In this way, desakota areas have come to play the role of food belt for city consumption. Contemporary urbanization has pushed farming even further to the fringes (indeed, farmland declined by 100,000 hectares over a ten-year period in Shanghai), surrounded by urban corridors and connected towns. The mixed desakota landscape has shifted from 20 to 30 km from the city centre towards the remote countryside, part of a pattern of decreasing density that affects agricultural dynamics.

Periurban farming, performed by peasant smallholders, has been characterized by a switch from rice cultivation to diversified commercial crops and the supply of the mass market, facilitated by proximity to the city and dense trading networks. However, the low financial yields of smallholding as compared to urban incomes threaten agricultural development in the villages, as in Shanghai, where ageing farmers are increasingly being replaced by migrant workers. Land transfer by rural collectives also accelerates the reorganization of farming by providing rents to villagers endowed with land rights, overturning the peasant system inherited from decollectivization in the 1980s and opening the door to industrial farming.

The restructuring of the urban food supply thanks to industrial and retail capital has triggered economic competition among local producers, who are now expected to meet international food standards. Agro-food businesses catering to middle class consumers cooperate with international partners, national brands, and local industries. The rise of food sector in Shanghai has encouraged specialization in the form of large production clusters, encompassing several townships in each district. Private farms and greenhouses, supported by domestic and foreign investment and making use of modern technologies, sell high-quality products. The upgrading of farms, the introduction of modern equipment and increasing levels of mechanization are all changing the landscape of production as initially shaped by peasants.

Meanwhile, the role of the authorities has evolved, moving away from production quotas and the goal of self-sufficiency towards market regulation and food standardization and supervision. The respective governments are pursuing the political goals of rural reform and agricultural modernization. At the same time, territorial planning systems provide for land transfers, industry subsidies and investment in tourism. This has enabled the State food company in Shanghai, for instance, to retain a central position in the municipal food system. Confronted with degradation and pollution of the deltaic plain, metropolitan policies seek to protect rural resources, introducing ecological zoning and farmland reservations. Although these do little to limit land conversion and rapid urban extension, they can become landmarks of the metropolitan gardens envisioned by planners.

The aim of this comparison of the desakota of Hanoi and Shanghai was twofold. First, the discussion situated the trajectories of the desakota in the historic process of globalisation in Asia, which has brought about structural changes in peasant society. Second, it considered the spatial dynamics of the desakota in their function as a food belt serving the metropolitan market. Meeting the food demands of millions of urban consumers is the main driver of both intensive crop cultivation by peasants and the agro-industry in villages and towns. The spatial diffusion of periurban farming has been gradual and concentrated around the urban fringes. Meanwhile, metropolitan development has accelerated the economic integration of the more remote outskirts of the cities, triggering the development of agricultural specializations and, more recently, tourism. The different adaptive strategies of local farmers and collectives are shaped by their geographic location and steered by political planning.

Finally, the comparison invites us to consider the differences between Shanghai and Hanoi in terms of the scale of the metropolitan processes at work and the resulting territorial power.[10] The transformation of rural society and the development of towns around Shanghai is not only more advanced than in Hanoi, but also benefits from the greater financial and technological means of local governments and stakeholders, such that farmers can be provided with subsidies, villagers compensated and modern structures financed. This illustrates the hierarchy in metropolitan development, while also illuminating the regional intensity of the restructuring of the desakota. Shanghai’s agricultural belt surrounds a megapolis and shares its space with an immense megalopolitan area, whereas Hanoi has no such regional system, with urban growth predominantly centred within the city limits. Lastly, issues revolving around political ambition and government leadership are exacerbated in Shanghai and magnified by the international status of the city. The Shanghai agro-food complex is held up to other Chinese cities as a showcase not only of agricultural modernization but also of industrial might.

Looking beyond individual cases and national idiosyncrasies, this investigation of the desakota model in Hanoi and Shanghai has highlighted the importance of the transformation of peasants’ settlements in Asian countries. Also, it has identified and described the differentiated spaces of production emerging from diffuse urbanization, capitalist development and metropolization in Asian countries.

References

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Labbé D. and Musil C., 2017. « «Les nouvelles zones urbaines» de Hanoi (Vietnam): dynamiques spatiales et enjeux territoriaux », Mappemonde. URL: http://mappemonde.mgm.fr/122as1/

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Monin E., 2016, « Les autorités publiques et la modernisation agro-industrielle : l’exemple du groupe alimentaire Guangming » [Public authorities and agro-industrial modernization in China: the case of the Guangming food company], Géoconfluences, URL: http://geoconfluences.ens-lyon.fr/informations-scientifiques/dossiers-regionaux/la-chine/corpus-documentaire/groupe-alimentaire-guangming.

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Footnotes

[1] Rural areas can be defined spatially by the relative dominance of farmland cover and prints of village settlements, observed with satellite imagery or aerial photography. They are also identified by their administrative layout, and recorded in statistics. However, social mobility and changes of residence mean population statistics can be inaccurate.

[2] Shanghai’s gross domestic product (GDP) was US$400 billion in 2015, 14 times that of Hanoi and twice the national GDP of Vietnam. The average individual revenue was US$7,700 in Shanghai and US$3600 in Hanoi, higher than the national averages (in Shanghai, 2.5 times the Chinese national average of US$2,800, and in Hanoi 1.5 times the Vietnamese average of US$2000). There are also differences in the distribution of wealth within the two cities. In Shanghai, for example, the rural revenue of US$3,570 is less than half of urban revenue (Municipal Bureau of Statistics of Shanghai, 2016; General Statistics Office of Viet Nam, 2015).

[3] In this interpretation, desakota refers to the spatial designation of a megalopolitan area (Milhaud, 2014).

[4] Vietnam proclaimed independence from France in 1945 and was subsequently separated into two parts until 1975. During the Vietnam War (1955–75) the southern part was allied with the USA while the northern part was backed by (among others) China.

[5] Under the Communist government the Chinese countryside underwent profound political and socioeconomic reorganization, starting from the agrarian reform of 1951, followed by State monopoly over the purchase and sale of agricultural products in 1955. During the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), collective farming was organized on communes to ensure food supplies for the urban sector through State procurements and economic planning (Aubert, 1990).

[6] In the 1960s and 1970s Vietnam, under the banner of communism, adopted a similar domestic policy to that of China, with some years’ delay and despite the conflict between the countries. The two regimes imposed planned control over their respective economies before converting to a market economy and reopening to the world under China’s Reform and Opening policy (gaige kaifang) of 1978 and Vietnam’s Doi Moi a decade later.

[7] The four “Dragons” that emerged in the 1970s were Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. From the 1990s, the term “Asian Tigers” referred to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines (Franck et al., 2012).

[8] Rural collectives, established at village and township level following decollectivization, have control over collective land and capital, and provide for the economic organization of local resources (Oi, 1999).

[9] Field observations from Hanoi were contributed by Professor Nguyen Tuan Anh, sociologist at Vietnam National University, in November 2017.

[10] Though the comparison is somewhat unbalanced: this case study of Shanghai rests on the findings of PhD research, while the Hanoi case is based on existing academic literature combined with data provided by Professor Nguyen Tuan Anh.

To cite this article:

Etienne Monin, “Periurban farming in an Asian context: metropolitan processes affecting agriculture in the Shanghai and Hanoi countryside”, DCUN (Diffuse Cities & Urbanization Network) Research Note No.1, June 2019. URL: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/1520

Document Status:

This research note is based on the oral presentation given at the international conference “Emergent forms of Urban densification in Asia – Shared perspectives”, organized by the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), the Center of Population and Development (CEPED – IRD/University Paris Descartes) and the Hanoi Architecture University (HAU) (Hanoi, 13-16 November 2017). The author would like to thank Nguyen Tuan Anh (sociologist, Vietnam National University) for providing evidences on the case of Hanoi. The production of this research note was funded by the DCUN.

 

 

 

 

DCUN Methodological Note

Should We Compare the Processes of Urbanization in Paris, London, and Shanghai, or Paris, Marseille, and Vesoul?

Strategies of Comparison in Urban Research

Joël Idt (Assistant Professor, University Paris Est Marne la Vallée, Lab’Urba)
Contact: joel.idt@u-pem.fr

Abstract

People who do research on cities and urbanism spend their time making comparisons, just like their colleagues in other social science fields. Depending on the specific subjects of their research, they compare towns and cities, urban mobility and consumption, and urban projects. The question as to what is or is not comparable regularly comes up.

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People who do research on cities and urbanism spend their time making comparisons,[1] just like their colleagues in other social science fields (Vigour 2015). Depending on the specific subjects of their research, they compare towns and cities, urban mobility and consumption, and urban projects. The question as to what is or is not comparable regularly comes up. Paris and Marseille are often cited as cities that are so unique, each in their own way, that they cannot be compared to any other. The size of the Paris conurbation means that its only parallel in Europe is London; for some people this immediately rules out any comparison with smaller municipalities in France, whether other large conurbations or small and medium-sized towns. Marseille is said to be characterized by its highly unusual forms of local governance, a situation which impedes any attempt to compare the processes of urban production taking place there even with those of cities similar in size.

Criticisms made by those who are sceptical of a comparative approach consist, for example, in pointing to differences in situation, or to specific local conditions which are too individualized to make any one case comparable to others. However, simply because two cities or two urban phenomena are radically different does not mean that they should not be compared. To the contrary, comparing such cases can sometimes be even more rewarding. What we see creeping in here is a misinterpretation of the verb ‘to compare’, which is sometimes used to express a similarity (‘The two cities are comparable in terms of size’; ‘The social composition of the two neighbourhoods is comparable’; etc.). But in a research context, this term refers first and foremost to the action of comparing, not the result of the comparison. Comparison must be understood here as a research method or analytical tool, or a scientific project (Bourdin 2015).

By sticking to this definition, we would like to argue for a radical position: everything can be compared to everything else (which does not mean that everything is similar), even the ‘incomparable’.[2] What matters is to know why and how, and of course to show the limits of comparison and to carry it out in accordance with the rules of the discipline (that is to say, methodological considerations, which we will address here only in passing). Now that urban allotment cultivation has become such a success, we may permit ourselves a vegetable metaphor: it is possible to compare cabbages and carrots – we see that they are certainly different in colour and taste but they can be grown on the same farm, and by mixing them together we end up with tasty coleslaw. If we replace our ingredients with urban projects or urban agglomerations, the argument still holds.

In this article, we propose to approach comparison in terms of the research strategy it underpins and the reasoning behind it. We describe several strategies for constructing a comparison, that is to say several ways to compare things: comparing areas which are similar but not entirely so, comparing areas which are different but not too different, and comparing in order to export or import research topics and questions. Our typology is by no means exhaustive; however, it is extensive enough to demonstrate that when it comes to comparison everything can be envisioned but not everything leads in the same intellectual directions or to the same results.

For our demonstration, we will rely on previous and current research which analyses processes of scattered urbanization, taking place outside urban centres on more or less distant peripheries. This research focuses on what happens outside major urban development projects, in the everyday dynamics of the kind of urbanization with a low media and political profile that Dominique Lorrain has called ‘urbanisme 1.0’ (Lorrain 2018): individuals who divide up their plots of land in order to build at the far end of the plot, farmers who sell land for subdivision, developers who combine two residential plots to build a small block of flats, and so on. An initial study has addressed the response of public authorities faced with ‘spontaneous’ densification, through a comparison between Paris and Rome.[3] Another study concerns the transformation of farmland at the interface between urban and rural areas, through a comparison of several sites in the Ile-de-France and another region nearby.[4] A third investigates illegal urbanization, through a comparison between Paris, Rome, and Hanoi.[5] We will refer only in passing to the results of this research, just enough to assess the comparative strategies at work and their potential contributions.

Taking what seem to be rather similar areas

– to confirm that the dynamics of urbanization are similar

This is probably the most common strategy used in comparative research. In the case of our research topic, it consists of choosing fairly similar areas in order to verify whether the processes of urbanization are similar. What we seek is to increase the level of generality: comparison shows that the description of the processes applies to more than one singular case, and confirms that there are correspondences between a particular type of area and the processes of urbanization taking place there. This type of argument can be used to strengthen existing categories of analysis (by refining or slightly modifying them) or to develop new ones. We are close to a Durkheimian form of reasoning,[6] establishing correspondences between several variables (in this case an area and processes of urbanization).

Our research on spontaneous densification provides an illustration of this. Specifically, we compared municipalities in the first and second ring of suburbs in the Ile-de-France in order to understand where ‘spontaneous’ densification of building stock was taking place, unconnected with public construction projects. Comparing the different cases we studied enabled us to increase the level of generality in our assessment of the sites and forms of these phenomena. For example, the largest operations are carried out by major developers, and are mainly located along major highways, close to public transport infrastructure, or in town centres. Smaller developers or individuals who want to make a property deal will undertake operations in other, more outlying neighbourhoods. This observation has been confirmed in towns such as Montreuil, Bagnolet, Vitry, and Sucy-en-Brie, among others. Such a level of increased generality can only be reached by comparing a fairly large number of cases.

– or to bring out differences

A situation in which the urban areas being compared are relatively similar but radically different processes of urbanization are observable can also be of interest heuristically. Here the strategy consists rather in disconfirming correspondences between urban situations and the processes of urbanization that go on in them, and/or in showing that extremely diverse processes can produce fairly similar outcomes. On occasion it is possible to identify a contextual variable which had not initially been thought of, and which would help to explain the variations. As in the previous case, the results obtained are general in scope, but reached through different reasoning.

Still on the subject of ‘spontaneous’ densification, in our research we have observed that communities whose geographical situation and social composition are fairly similar (briefly: formerly communist-majority towns in the inner ring of the Paris suburbs, now undergoing partial gentrification) can have sharply divided views on densification. Some are fiercely against it, while others look on it more favourably and even encourage it. Some have acquired the effective capacity to negotiate with developers, while others are relatively lacking in this respect, and so on. Without going into more detail, we see here that the forms that official public action takes are not over-determined by the social geography of these towns. Other variables must be brought in to explain these differences, such as the history of local institutions, the mayor’s interest in intervention or development, and so on.

Research on the transformation of farmland at the urban/rural interface provides another illustration of this type of reasoning. We have studied several peri-urban municipalities located within the boundaries of a regional nature park (PNR). One might have thought that they would be quite restrictive and ‘Malthusian’ (Charmes 2011) when it came to permitting further urbanization, since peri-urban PNRs have the reputation of encouraging such a strategy. In fact, our research shows diversity in the positions taken by elected representatives in this regard, including representatives from the same municipality: they are sometimes torn between restricting urbanization to preserve the rural way of life, and permitting it in order to attract a new, younger population or to diversify the residential opportunities available within the municipality.

Taking what seem to be rather different areas

– to show the common features of processes of urbanization

On the other hand, it can sometimes be appropriate to choose areas which are rather different from each other in order to show that the processes of urbanization observed in them have features in common. This may be a necessary stage before the development of more detailed classifications of the observed phenomenon, putting the emphasis on secondary differentiations. Such an approach makes it possible to broaden the scope of the phenomenon we observe, by showing that it can occur in very different kinds of area. Here again, comparison makes it possible to increase the level of generality: what might have been viewed as local peculiarities turn out to be common features. It is thus in our interest to take cases that seem in principle to be quite dissimilar if we want to be able to generalize.

The two urban agglomerations we chose for our research on the spontaneous densification of building stock (Rome and Paris) are structured administratively in significantly different ways. The city of Rome is very extensive, covering an area almost twelve times that of Paris proper (‘intra muros’). In contrast, around Paris the Ile-de-France is fragmented into a large number of municipalities. One might expect, looking at this situation from a strictly institutionalist perspective, that Rome would be better than the Ile-de-France at planning its urban development over a wide geographical area. Our research largely disproves this hypothesis. In Rome, the procedure for drawing up and approving planning documents alone takes so long that they are out of date even before they are ready to be executed. In the Ile-de-France, the fragmentation of the municipalities masks the extremely active development of plans at the local level, as new projects are constantly being implemented. In both cases, that is, planning mechanisms have shortcomings which get in the way of managing the plans. Another result of our research relates to a similar argument. Even though the two urban agglomerations we studied are very different (in their geographical, political, sociological, and other characteristics), they share observable features: the parties concerned play around with the regulations governing land use, and the local authorities and would-be developers negotiate building permits. The variety of situations enables us to classify the forms that these games can take (Idt and Pellegrino 2018).

A somewhat similar approach has been adopted for research on the transformation of farmland. In our comparisons of the peri-urban municipalities of the Ile-de-France, we have used the typology of the 2013 SDRIF (Schéma Directeur de la Région Île-de-France / Master Plan for the Île-de-France Region), which differentiates the approach to urbanization in the municipalities located on the ‘urban interface’, the ‘population hubs to be strengthened’, and the other ‘small towns, villages, and hamlets’, which are to be allowed ‘moderate expansion’: the rules designed to govern new urban development are significantly different in these cases. However, our research shows that very similar types of negotiation with the rules occur in all these areas, meaning that their degree of individuality is only relative. An interesting secondary result of our research is that the SDRIF’s capacity to manage urbanization should be called into question, since the actual processes of urbanization are indifferent to the distinctions it has established.

– or to accentuate differences

The situation in which very different areas undergo very different processes of urbanization is not without interest, contrary to what one might think at first glance. International comparisons very often address such configurations: there are too many contextual variables to make one-to-one comparisons, so other strategies have to be developed to take account of this situation. The approach may focus on emphasizing the most significant differences, possibly by accentuating or even caricaturing them, in order to construct broad analytical categories. This approach is along the lines of the Weberian method of constructing ideal types,[7] which is based on an examination of cases that are sufficiently different, and which can be modelled through comparison.

In our research projects on the densification and transformation of farmland, we analysed municipalities of very different sizes, ranging from a few hundred residents to tens of thousands. In both research projects, the size of the municipalities proved to be a significant variable determining their ability to negotiate with private developers who file permits for building on farmland. Size in effect determines the engineering resources available in the relevant municipal offices for analysing the permits and going over them with the permit filers. This finding is in line with a similar analysis by Olivier Morlet (1997), which demonstrates the extent to which the size of the municipality can affect the ability of elected officials and technicians to negotiate, either with private developers or with the state.

In a different register, our comparative research on illegal urbanization in Rome, Paris, and Hanoi leads us to emphasize to the point of caricature the differences linked to the existence of extremely strong growth in Asia and relative stagnation in Europe. Illegal urbanization obviously does not have the same meaning in the two cases; the thinking which leads to it and the games which underlie it are radically different. In the first case, illegality can be extensively practised and central to new processes of urbanization. In the second case, it is often more marginal and less overt, but its role as an adjustment variable can be crucial in regulating urban transformation (allowing a few illegal activities on the margins, for example, may be inevitable during a very serious housing crisis).

Applying research questions and topics to other areas

A final strategy for comparative research is the import and export of questions and topics, analytical frameworks, and research methodologies. For example, a question developed and tested in one area can be applied to other areas, in order to refine the analysis or query the initial results; alternatively, categories of analysis developed elsewhere can be imported for application to an area that we want to study in a different way, in order to make us look at it from another angle. In all these cases we are seeking to produce a different interpretation of the phenomena or to open up new avenues of analysis.

Research on the spontaneous densification of building stock is one example of the transfer of questions, topics, and categories of analysis. The urbanization of greater Rome is characterized by very extensive abusivismo edilizio, that is to say illegal construction, outside the areas authorized in the official plan or without a construction permit. Almost a third of the volume of construction in the city of Rome seems to have been done illegally (Nessi 2010). Abusivismo has been a public problem for a long time, and is addressed by specific action plans on the part of the authorities as well as being analysed by urbanists. This particularly Roman phenomenon led our research group to treat illegality as a particular category of analysis for understanding spontaneous densification in Rome. We have now applied this to the Ile-de-France region. While the phenomenon is far from being as extensive as in Rome, we have found that it does exist. In most of the municipalities we studied, violations of plans or building permits were reported to us, though generally on a small scale. The local authorities say they are aware of the problem but have few resources to deal with it.

Our current research on illegal urbanization in Rome, Paris, and Hanoi confirms our observation that in this case a North/South comparison is worthwhile even though the three sites may seem at first sight to be too dissimilar. In fact, illegal and informal urbanization has been extensively researched in the countries of the South, far more than in the North. Analytical frameworks have been developed and hypotheses tested. From this point of view, comparison opens up the possibility of applying existing research to other situations, as long as the limits of its transferability are clearly defined. For example, although the scale of the phenomenon is very different in the two cases, as we think more generally about the boundary between legality and illegality we may recognize very clear echoes from one to the other.

Conclusion

In each of the comparative research strategies described here, the usefulness of the comparison is that it enables us to increase the level of generality with respect to a single case, and to build, test, and modify categories of analysis. But the level of generality can be increased in several ways. In the first strategy, the aim is to construct correspondences between types of area and the processes of urbanization which take place there. In the second, in contrast, we seek to disconfirm these correspondences by showing that very different processes can take place in areas that we had thought were parallel. In the third strategy, we show that very different areas can give rise to very similar processes of urbanization. The fourth is that of the construction of ideal types, which are naturally different from one another. This strategy is based on the import/export of analytical frameworks constructed elsewhere and tested for validity on a new case.

But although in principle it is possible to compare everything, this does not exempt researchers from doing a substantial amount of work to avoid the methodological pitfalls inherent in comparison. We will not restate the rules governing this kind of work, which have already been largely set out elsewhere (in particular Vigour 2005). Differences in socio-geographical and cultural conditions should be taken into account. Access to data is not always parallel for the different areas studied. The categories of analysis and pre-defined terms (town or city, the urban, density, public interest, etc.) do not necessarily have the same meaning in all the situations studied; and so on. Everything can therefore be compared as long as the limitations of the exercise are clearly spelled out and the comparison is properly ‘constructed’. Otherwise, our scientific coleslaw will probably taste very strange.

Bibliography

Blanc M. and Chadouin O. (2015), ‘Editorial’, Espaces et sociétés, 2015/4, No. 163.

Bourdin A. (2015), ‘La comparaison telle qu’elle s’écrit’, Espaces et sociétés, 2015/4, No. 163.

Charmes E. (2011), La ville émiettée. Essai sur la clubbisation de la vie urbaine. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Detienne M. (2000), Comparer l’incomparable. Paris: Seuil.

Idt J. and Pellegrino M. (2018), ‘Les acteurs publics face aux phénomènes de densification spontanée. Une comparaison franco-italienne’, in Leger J.M. and Mariolle B. eds, Densifier/Dédensifier les campagnes urbaines. Marseille: Parenthèses.

Lorrain D. (2018), L’urbanisme 1.0. Enquête sur une commune du Grand Paris. Paris: Raisons d’agir.

Morlet O. (1997), ‘Les pratiques locales de la préemption’, Etudes Foncières No. 86, ADEF.

Nessi H. (2010), ‘Action publique et étalement urbain à Rome: une lecture par les services en réseau’, Flux, 2010/1, Nos. 79-80.

Vigour C. (2005), La comparaison dans les sciences sociales. Paris: La Découverte.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Footnotes

[1] See for example the issue of the journal Espaces et Sociétés on international comparisons in urban studies (Blanc and Chadouin 2015).

[2] Borrowing Marcel Destienne’s formula (2000) which argues for a similar approach from a different perspective, by showing the usefulness of a radical comparative approach to historical analysis.

[3] Research undertaken for the PUCA: ‘Les acteurs publics face à la densification spontanée du bâti: une comparaison franco-italienne’ (http://www.urbanisme-puca.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport_final_puca.pdf), by Joel Idt and Margot Pellegrino, carried out between 2014 and 2016 (Idt and Pellegrino 2018), with the assistance of Sarah Baudry.

[4] Research in progress, carried on within the framework of the PSDR CapIDF programme, segment 3 of the research project (with Roxane de Flore).

[5] Research in progress, carried on within the framework of the Réseau International sur l’urbanisation diffuse du Labex Futurs Urbains de l’Université Paris Est: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/ (research network coordinators: Adèle Esposito, Joel Idt, Clément Musil).

[6] For a more extensive analysis of the links between classical sociological theory and the comparative approach, see Vigour (2005).

[7] For a more extensive analysis of the links between classical sociological theory and the comparative approach, see Vigour (2005).

To cite this article:

Joël Idt, “Should We Compare the Processes of Urbanization in Paris, London, and Shanghai, or Paris, Marseille, and Vesoul? Strategies of Comparison in Urban Research”, DCUN (Diffuse Cities & Urbanization Network) Methodological Note, April 2019. URL: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/1492

Methodological Note No.1

Should We Compare the Processes of Urbanization in Paris, London, and Shanghai, or Paris, Marseille, and Vesoul?

Strategies of Comparison in Urban Research

Joël Idt (Assistant Professor, University Paris Est Marne la Vallée, Lab’Urba)
Contact: joel.idt@u-pem.fr

Abstract

People who do research on cities and urbanism spend their time making comparisons, just like their colleagues in other social science fields. Depending on the specific subjects of their research, they compare towns and cities, urban mobility and consumption, and urban projects. The question as to what is or is not comparable regularly comes up.

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People who do research on cities and urbanism spend their time making comparisons,[1] just like their colleagues in other social science fields (Vigour 2015). Depending on the specific subjects of their research, they compare towns and cities, urban mobility and consumption, and urban projects. The question as to what is or is not comparable regularly comes up. Paris and Marseille are often cited as cities that are so unique, each in their own way, that they cannot be compared to any other. The size of the Paris conurbation means that its only parallel in Europe is London; for some people this immediately rules out any comparison with smaller municipalities in France, whether other large conurbations or small and medium-sized towns. Marseille is said to be characterized by its highly unusual forms of local governance, a situation which impedes any attempt to compare the processes of urban production taking place there even with those of cities similar in size.

Criticisms made by those who are sceptical of a comparative approach consist, for example, in pointing to differences in situation, or to specific local conditions which are too individualized to make any one case comparable to others. However, simply because two cities or two urban phenomena are radically different does not mean that they should not be compared. To the contrary, comparing such cases can sometimes be even more rewarding. What we see creeping in here is a misinterpretation of the verb ‘to compare’, which is sometimes used to express a similarity (‘The two cities are comparable in terms of size’; ‘The social composition of the two neighbourhoods is comparable’; etc.). But in a research context, this term refers first and foremost to the action of comparing, not the result of the comparison. Comparison must be understood here as a research method or analytical tool, or a scientific project (Bourdin 2015).

By sticking to this definition, we would like to argue for a radical position: everything can be compared to everything else (which does not mean that everything is similar), even the ‘incomparable’.[2] What matters is to know why and how, and of course to show the limits of comparison and to carry it out in accordance with the rules of the discipline (that is to say, methodological considerations, which we will address here only in passing). Now that urban allotment cultivation has become such a success, we may permit ourselves a vegetable metaphor: it is possible to compare cabbages and carrots – we see that they are certainly different in colour and taste but they can be grown on the same farm, and by mixing them together we end up with tasty coleslaw. If we replace our ingredients with urban projects or urban agglomerations, the argument still holds.

In this article, we propose to approach comparison in terms of the research strategy it underpins and the reasoning behind it. We describe several strategies for constructing a comparison, that is to say several ways to compare things: comparing areas which are similar but not entirely so, comparing areas which are different but not too different, and comparing in order to export or import research topics and questions. Our typology is by no means exhaustive; however, it is extensive enough to demonstrate that when it comes to comparison everything can be envisioned but not everything leads in the same intellectual directions or to the same results.

For our demonstration, we will rely on previous and current research which analyses processes of scattered urbanization, taking place outside urban centres on more or less distant peripheries. This research focuses on what happens outside major urban development projects, in the everyday dynamics of the kind of urbanization with a low media and political profile that Dominique Lorrain has called ‘urbanisme 1.0’ (Lorrain 2018): individuals who divide up their plots of land in order to build at the far end of the plot, farmers who sell land for subdivision, developers who combine two residential plots to build a small block of flats, and so on. An initial study has addressed the response of public authorities faced with ‘spontaneous’ densification, through a comparison between Paris and Rome.[3] Another study concerns the transformation of farmland at the interface between urban and rural areas, through a comparison of several sites in the Ile-de-France and another region nearby.[4] A third investigates illegal urbanization, through a comparison between Paris, Rome, and Hanoi.[5] We will refer only in passing to the results of this research, just enough to assess the comparative strategies at work and their potential contributions.

Taking what seem to be rather similar areas

– to confirm that the dynamics of urbanization are similar

This is probably the most common strategy used in comparative research. In the case of our research topic, it consists of choosing fairly similar areas in order to verify whether the processes of urbanization are similar. What we seek is to increase the level of generality: comparison shows that the description of the processes applies to more than one singular case, and confirms that there are correspondences between a particular type of area and the processes of urbanization taking place there. This type of argument can be used to strengthen existing categories of analysis (by refining or slightly modifying them) or to develop new ones. We are close to a Durkheimian form of reasoning,[6] establishing correspondences between several variables (in this case an area and processes of urbanization).

Our research on spontaneous densification provides an illustration of this. Specifically, we compared municipalities in the first and second ring of suburbs in the Ile-de-France in order to understand where ‘spontaneous’ densification of building stock was taking place, unconnected with public construction projects. Comparing the different cases we studied enabled us to increase the level of generality in our assessment of the sites and forms of these phenomena. For example, the largest operations are carried out by major developers, and are mainly located along major highways, close to public transport infrastructure, or in town centres. Smaller developers or individuals who want to make a property deal will undertake operations in other, more outlying neighbourhoods. This observation has been confirmed in towns such as Montreuil, Bagnolet, Vitry, and Sucy-en-Brie, among others. Such a level of increased generality can only be reached by comparing a fairly large number of cases.

– or to bring out differences

A situation in which the urban areas being compared are relatively similar but radically different processes of urbanization are observable can also be of interest heuristically. Here the strategy consists rather in disconfirming correspondences between urban situations and the processes of urbanization that go on in them, and/or in showing that extremely diverse processes can produce fairly similar outcomes. On occasion it is possible to identify a contextual variable which had not initially been thought of, and which would help to explain the variations. As in the previous case, the results obtained are general in scope, but reached through different reasoning.

Still on the subject of ‘spontaneous’ densification, in our research we have observed that communities whose geographical situation and social composition are fairly similar (briefly: formerly communist-majority towns in the inner ring of the Paris suburbs, now undergoing partial gentrification) can have sharply divided views on densification. Some are fiercely against it, while others look on it more favourably and even encourage it. Some have acquired the effective capacity to negotiate with developers, while others are relatively lacking in this respect, and so on. Without going into more detail, we see here that the forms that official public action takes are not over-determined by the social geography of these towns. Other variables must be brought in to explain these differences, such as the history of local institutions, the mayor’s interest in intervention or development, and so on.

Research on the transformation of farmland at the urban/rural interface provides another illustration of this type of reasoning. We have studied several peri-urban municipalities located within the boundaries of a regional nature park (PNR). One might have thought that they would be quite restrictive and ‘Malthusian’ (Charmes 2011) when it came to permitting further urbanization, since peri-urban PNRs have the reputation of encouraging such a strategy. In fact, our research shows diversity in the positions taken by elected representatives in this regard, including representatives from the same municipality: they are sometimes torn between restricting urbanization to preserve the rural way of life, and permitting it in order to attract a new, younger population or to diversify the residential opportunities available within the municipality.

Taking what seem to be rather different areas

– to show the common features of processes of urbanization

On the other hand, it can sometimes be appropriate to choose areas which are rather different from each other in order to show that the processes of urbanization observed in them have features in common. This may be a necessary stage before the development of more detailed classifications of the observed phenomenon, putting the emphasis on secondary differentiations. Such an approach makes it possible to broaden the scope of the phenomenon we observe, by showing that it can occur in very different kinds of area. Here again, comparison makes it possible to increase the level of generality: what might have been viewed as local peculiarities turn out to be common features. It is thus in our interest to take cases that seem in principle to be quite dissimilar if we want to be able to generalize.

The two urban agglomerations we chose for our research on the spontaneous densification of building stock (Rome and Paris) are structured administratively in significantly different ways. The city of Rome is very extensive, covering an area almost twelve times that of Paris proper (‘intra muros’). In contrast, around Paris the Ile-de-France is fragmented into a large number of municipalities. One might expect, looking at this situation from a strictly institutionalist perspective, that Rome would be better than the Ile-de-France at planning its urban development over a wide geographical area. Our research largely disproves this hypothesis. In Rome, the procedure for drawing up and approving planning documents alone takes so long that they are out of date even before they are ready to be executed. In the Ile-de-France, the fragmentation of the municipalities masks the extremely active development of plans at the local level, as new projects are constantly being implemented. In both cases, that is, planning mechanisms have shortcomings which get in the way of managing the plans. Another result of our research relates to a similar argument. Even though the two urban agglomerations we studied are very different (in their geographical, political, sociological, and other characteristics), they share observable features: the parties concerned play around with the regulations governing land use, and the local authorities and would-be developers negotiate building permits. The variety of situations enables us to classify the forms that these games can take (Idt and Pellegrino 2018).

A somewhat similar approach has been adopted for research on the transformation of farmland. In our comparisons of the peri-urban municipalities of the Ile-de-France, we have used the typology of the 2013 SDRIF (Schéma Directeur de la Région Île-de-France / Master Plan for the Île-de-France Region), which differentiates the approach to urbanization in the municipalities located on the ‘urban interface’, the ‘population hubs to be strengthened’, and the other ‘small towns, villages, and hamlets’, which are to be allowed ‘moderate expansion’: the rules designed to govern new urban development are significantly different in these cases. However, our research shows that very similar types of negotiation with the rules occur in all these areas, meaning that their degree of individuality is only relative. An interesting secondary result of our research is that the SDRIF’s capacity to manage urbanization should be called into question, since the actual processes of urbanization are indifferent to the distinctions it has established.

– or to accentuate differences

The situation in which very different areas undergo very different processes of urbanization is not without interest, contrary to what one might think at first glance. International comparisons very often address such configurations: there are too many contextual variables to make one-to-one comparisons, so other strategies have to be developed to take account of this situation. The approach may focus on emphasizing the most significant differences, possibly by accentuating or even caricaturing them, in order to construct broad analytical categories. This approach is along the lines of the Weberian method of constructing ideal types,[7] which is based on an examination of cases that are sufficiently different, and which can be modelled through comparison.

In our research projects on the densification and transformation of farmland, we analysed municipalities of very different sizes, ranging from a few hundred residents to tens of thousands. In both research projects, the size of the municipalities proved to be a significant variable determining their ability to negotiate with private developers who file permits for building on farmland. Size in effect determines the engineering resources available in the relevant municipal offices for analysing the permits and going over them with the permit filers. This finding is in line with a similar analysis by Olivier Morlet (1997), which demonstrates the extent to which the size of the municipality can affect the ability of elected officials and technicians to negotiate, either with private developers or with the state.

In a different register, our comparative research on illegal urbanization in Rome, Paris, and Hanoi leads us to emphasize to the point of caricature the differences linked to the existence of extremely strong growth in Asia and relative stagnation in Europe. Illegal urbanization obviously does not have the same meaning in the two cases; the thinking which leads to it and the games which underlie it are radically different. In the first case, illegality can be extensively practised and central to new processes of urbanization. In the second case, it is often more marginal and less overt, but its role as an adjustment variable can be crucial in regulating urban transformation (allowing a few illegal activities on the margins, for example, may be inevitable during a very serious housing crisis).

Applying research questions and topics to other areas

A final strategy for comparative research is the import and export of questions and topics, analytical frameworks, and research methodologies. For example, a question developed and tested in one area can be applied to other areas, in order to refine the analysis or query the initial results; alternatively, categories of analysis developed elsewhere can be imported for application to an area that we want to study in a different way, in order to make us look at it from another angle. In all these cases we are seeking to produce a different interpretation of the phenomena or to open up new avenues of analysis.

Research on the spontaneous densification of building stock is one example of the transfer of questions, topics, and categories of analysis. The urbanization of greater Rome is characterized by very extensive abusivismo edilizio, that is to say illegal construction, outside the areas authorized in the official plan or without a construction permit. Almost a third of the volume of construction in the city of Rome seems to have been done illegally (Nessi 2010). Abusivismo has been a public problem for a long time, and is addressed by specific action plans on the part of the authorities as well as being analysed by urbanists. This particularly Roman phenomenon led our research group to treat illegality as a particular category of analysis for understanding spontaneous densification in Rome. We have now applied this to the Ile-de-France region. While the phenomenon is far from being as extensive as in Rome, we have found that it does exist. In most of the municipalities we studied, violations of plans or building permits were reported to us, though generally on a small scale. The local authorities say they are aware of the problem but have few resources to deal with it.

Our current research on illegal urbanization in Rome, Paris, and Hanoi confirms our observation that in this case a North/South comparison is worthwhile even though the three sites may seem at first sight to be too dissimilar. In fact, illegal and informal urbanization has been extensively researched in the countries of the South, far more than in the North. Analytical frameworks have been developed and hypotheses tested. From this point of view, comparison opens up the possibility of applying existing research to other situations, as long as the limits of its transferability are clearly defined. For example, although the scale of the phenomenon is very different in the two cases, as we think more generally about the boundary between legality and illegality we may recognize very clear echoes from one to the other.

Conclusion

In each of the comparative research strategies described here, the usefulness of the comparison is that it enables us to increase the level of generality with respect to a single case, and to build, test, and modify categories of analysis. But the level of generality can be increased in several ways. In the first strategy, the aim is to construct correspondences between types of area and the processes of urbanization which take place there. In the second, in contrast, we seek to disconfirm these correspondences by showing that very different processes can take place in areas that we had thought were parallel. In the third strategy, we show that very different areas can give rise to very similar processes of urbanization. The fourth is that of the construction of ideal types, which are naturally different from one another. This strategy is based on the import/export of analytical frameworks constructed elsewhere and tested for validity on a new case.

But although in principle it is possible to compare everything, this does not exempt researchers from doing a substantial amount of work to avoid the methodological pitfalls inherent in comparison. We will not restate the rules governing this kind of work, which have already been largely set out elsewhere (in particular Vigour 2005). Differences in socio-geographical and cultural conditions should be taken into account. Access to data is not always parallel for the different areas studied. The categories of analysis and pre-defined terms (town or city, the urban, density, public interest, etc.) do not necessarily have the same meaning in all the situations studied; and so on. Everything can therefore be compared as long as the limitations of the exercise are clearly spelled out and the comparison is properly ‘constructed’. Otherwise, our scientific coleslaw will probably taste very strange.

Bibliography

Blanc M. and Chadouin O. (2015), ‘Editorial’, Espaces et sociétés, 2015/4, No. 163.

Bourdin A. (2015), ‘La comparaison telle qu’elle s’écrit’, Espaces et sociétés, 2015/4, No. 163.

Charmes E. (2011), La ville émiettée. Essai sur la clubbisation de la vie urbaine. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Detienne M. (2000), Comparer l’incomparable. Paris: Seuil.

Idt J. and Pellegrino M. (2018), ‘Les acteurs publics face aux phénomènes de densification spontanée. Une comparaison franco-italienne’, in Leger J.M. and Mariolle B. eds, Densifier/Dédensifier les campagnes urbaines. Marseille: Parenthèses.

Lorrain D. (2018), L’urbanisme 1.0. Enquête sur une commune du Grand Paris. Paris: Raisons d’agir.

Morlet O. (1997), ‘Les pratiques locales de la préemption’, Etudes Foncières No. 86, ADEF.

Nessi H. (2010), ‘Action publique et étalement urbain à Rome: une lecture par les services en réseau’, Flux, 2010/1, Nos. 79-80.

Vigour C. (2005), La comparaison dans les sciences sociales. Paris: La Découverte.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Footnotes

[1] See for example the issue of the journal Espaces et Sociétés on international comparisons in urban studies (Blanc and Chadouin 2015).

[2] Borrowing Marcel Destienne’s formula (2000) which argues for a similar approach from a different perspective, by showing the usefulness of a radical comparative approach to historical analysis.

[3] Research undertaken for the PUCA: ‘Les acteurs publics face à la densification spontanée du bâti: une comparaison franco-italienne’ (http://www.urbanisme-puca.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport_final_puca.pdf), by Joel Idt and Margot Pellegrino, carried out between 2014 and 2016 (Idt and Pellegrino 2018), with the assistance of Sarah Baudry.

[4] Research in progress, carried on within the framework of the PSDR CapIDF programme, segment 3 of the research project (with Roxane de Flore).

[5] Research in progress, carried on within the framework of the Réseau International sur l’urbanisation diffuse du Labex Futurs Urbains de l’Université Paris Est: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/ (research network coordinators: Adèle Esposito, Joel Idt, Clément Musil).

[6] For a more extensive analysis of the links between classical sociological theory and the comparative approach, see Vigour (2005).

[7] For a more extensive analysis of the links between classical sociological theory and the comparative approach, see Vigour (2005).

To cite this article:

Joël Idt, “Should We Compare the Processes of Urbanization in Paris, London, and Shanghai, or Paris, Marseille, and Vesoul? Strategies of Comparison in Urban Research”, DCUN (Diffuse Cities & Urbanization Network) Methodological Note Series, No.1, April 2019. URL: https://dcun.hypotheses.org/1448