The discourse, governance and configurations of polycentricity in transitional China: a case study of Tianjin

Wang, Weikai (2020) The discourse, governance and configurations of polycentricity in transitional China: a case study of Tianjin. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Polycentricity has been identified as a prominent feature of modern landscapes as well as a buzzword in spatial planning at a range of scales worldwide. Since the Reform and Opening-up Policy in 1978, major cities in China have experienced significant polycentric transition manifested by their new spatial policy framework and reshaped spatial structure. The polycentric transformation has provoked academics’ interests on structural and performance analysis in quantitative ways recently. However, little research investigates the nature of (re)formation and implementation of polycentric development policies in Chinese cities from a processual and critical perspective.

This research interprets the underlying meanings and rationality of polycentric development strategy in planning discourse and explains how concrete centres within the polycentric system are created, governed and materialized to facilitate the implementation of polycentric policies in the special context of political system, spatial planning system and socio-economic conditions in China. Referring to existing literature of polycentricity and theories of urban space, this research develops a novel theoretical framework, which holds that polycentricity is produced by the articulation of state power, planning profession and produced space. The research is founded on an embedded case study of Tianjin based on empirical data derived from interviews with stakeholders and secondary data.

Through a discourse analysis of four Tianjin City Master Plans, discourses of ‘polycentric urban settlements’, ‘functional polycentricity’, ‘polycentric growth nodes’ and ‘nested polycentricity’ are identified, which are deployed in different ways with variegated composition of spatial elements. Moreover, rather than being mere technocratic practice, the production and legitimation of distinct discourses is essentially an articulation of multi-scalar power involving various stakeholders, which is disguised and justified by the planning profession. The findings demonstrate that polycentricity is a malleable concept and its fluidity creates space to accommodate consensus or to allow the play of contested interests and policy experiments.

Based on that, this research further selects centres in Tianjin Binhai New Area Core Zone, Wuqing District and Dongli District as embedded cases to explore how the polycentric development policy is implemented in practice. The empirical findings from local perspective show that these centres are created or formed according to different contexts and logics, and they are consolidated by employment of a portfolio of tools and instruments such as new planning and urban design, establishment of financial and development corporations, exclusive preferential policies, manipulation of public sector, land development and institutional innovation. Correspondingly, these centres have experienced distinct development trajectories and shown different spatial outcomes from the perspectives of urban form, functional composition, and spatial identity. It is suggested that significant gaps and contradictions exist between spatial visions and actual development, which poses challenges for sustainable development.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Wang, Professor Ya Ping and Kintrea, Professor Keith
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Weikai Wang
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81666
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2020 08:20
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2020 08:26

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