China to remove walls from residential complexes to ease traffic

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-23 0:58:01

Removing walls from residential complexes to ease traffic

A government document that instructs cities across China to open up the enormous numbers of gated residential compounds to ease traffic congestion aroused public controversy on Monday, with many residents arguing that the administrative order, though well-intentioned, may bring personal and property safety concerns.

The Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council on Sunday issued guidelines on urban development to deal with "urban ills" resulting from poor urban design. These ills include congestion, pollution and designing either over-large buildings or those which are too exotic.

The document said China will optimize the structure of street networks to promote an open and easy-access street-and-block system.

"No more enclosed residential compounds will be built in principle," the document said. "Existing residential and corporate compounds will gradually open up, so the interior roads can be put into public use, which will save land and help reallocate transport networks."

Since the late 1980s, many cities have built sprawling gated residential compounds - many with lawns and exercise venues and facilities inside - for safety and a better living environment for the apartment owners.

Congestion has plagued China's cities, despite ambitious expressway-building projects. Freeing up narrower roads and congested street designs have become a new concept in the country's urban planning.

The release of the guidelines comes two months after leaders met for the Central Urban Work Conference, promising to make China's sprawling cities more livable and green. The last time China held such a meeting was in 1978, when only 18 percent of the population lived in cities. That had increased to 56.1 percent by the end of 2015, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"The second urban work conference, 37 years after the first, shows that urban planning is a core problem in China's economic and social development," Niu Fengrui, director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Residents' concerns

However, the government "guideline" to open up the walls which many residents consider the outer border of their homes remains a thorny issue.

Thousands of comments have been posted on Sina Weibo to discuss the prospect, and a majority of netizens said making residential areas more open could create more harm than good.

"Residents will feel like they are sleeping in the streets. Besides, how to deal with environment pollution and other factors that disturb residents and how to collect property management fees? People's happiness index will drop sharply," a netizen named "Pingyuan Journey" commented.

A poll conducted by news website on Monday showed about 76 percent of more than 85,000 respondents oppose the opening-up of their gated communities. Over 60 percent attributed the reason to fear of personal and property safety, another 25 worried that compound facilities, such as parking lots and sport fitness venues, may be used by non-residents.

Urban planning experts countered these fears, saying that more open urban designs will greatly improve air quality and ease congestion.

Ventilation corridors

Smooth traffic flow is important to environmental protection and livability of a city, and this new policy will greatly ease congestion, Niu said.

The guidelines propose lifting public transport use to 40 percent in megacities and 30 percent in other cities.

Li Jianping, an urban planning expert at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that tearing down walls surrounding residential compounds will improve urban air flow, thus dispersing pollutants more easily. 

"Controlling the number of skyscrapers is another way to tackle air pollution," Li noted.

To better facilitate air flow in Beijing, municipal authorities announced Saturday that the capital will build five ventilation corridors connecting the city's parks, rivers and highways.

Gradual process

Implementing the new street-and-block system should be a gradual process, with compounds in densely-populated or downtown areas to be opened first, experts said.

"Resources in residential compounds are public, which should be made available to all members of society. But the current enclosed structure privatized them to only its residents," Li said.

Kang Zhenyu, a Dalian-based lawyer, wrote on his blog that the government has no right to put the apartment owners' private lawns and roads to public use, as they have paid land-transferring fees to the government when purchasing the flats.

Niu agreed that residents' concerns about safety, noise and property management fees should be properly dealt with before implementing the new policy, adding that compensation could be given to residents living next to the streets.

In the long run, enclosed social organizations and universities that are located in the center of a city are also expected to open to ease traffic, said Yin Zhi, dean of the Beijing Tsinghua Urban Planning and Design Institute of Tsinghua University.

The plan also said new buildings should be "suitable, affordable, green and beautiful." Cities will be limited from growing beyond the means of their natural resources, it said.

Currently, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing municipalities all have populations exceeding 20 million.

Newspaper headline: Urban plan opens up cities

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