Since the 1950s, there have been three distinct types of
slums in Chengdu, each corresponding to a specific phase in economic
development and policy change. The first slums of Chengdu were formed
on the banks of the Fu and Nanrivers. Originally established as
low-rent flats on the fringe of the city, from the 1970s onwards
they became inner-city slums with the growth of the city and the
spontaneous settlement of rural migrants and returning youth sent
to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Although by no
means destitute, location, low levels of income and education and
a poor living environment contributed to their social exclusion.
These slums were eradicated during the late 1990s, together with
other inner-city substandard housing, and the inhabitants benefited
from favourable housing-and-relocation policies and strategies.
The second phase in slum formation in Chengdu came as a result of
economic reforms starting from the late 1980s. These reforms created
much sudden unemployment and poverty, and a new group of suburban
poor whose employer-provided pre-1970s row housing and flats became
substandard and are now considered slums. Although access to physical
and social infrastructure is more or less guaranteed, and while
the entire area cannot be considered a slum, it is often perceived
as a slum by association. The improvement of their living conditions
is contingent upon new sources of employment.
Rapid urbanization and urban development during the 1990s have also
created a category of about 1 million loweducated peri-urban dwellers
known as the ‘floating population’. Recruited on a temporary
basis from the rural areas, most live in rental accommodation provided
by farmers on the urban border. Although adequate in terms of size
and structure, they are located outside the scope and coverage of
municipal services. Therefore, their long-term social, economic
and living conditions are of direct concern to the municipality
in terms of public health and the environment. Their status as non-resident
is cause for social exclusion, as is their role and share in petty
crime and prostitution.
Slums are simply defined as shanties in low-lying areas. More than
60 per cent of Chengdu’s slum housing belongs to those residing
within them. Of the remaining 40 per cent, all had secure tenure;
but many owners of the shanties did not have legally recognized
property rights. The floating population tends to live on the fringe
of the city either by renting their accommodation from farmers or
by constructing sheds and shacks on uncontrolled or unused land.
A small percentage is homeless, choosing to sleep in the inner city
in such public places as bus and train stations.
The number of slums and slum dwellers in Chengdu is rapidly decreasing
due to effective low-income housing and urbanization policies and
strategies. Slum dwellers include those without income; those with
no work ability (long illnesses, injuries or the handicapped); those
with no one to care for them (retirees); those people waiting for
new jobs owing to the collapse of their enterprises; low-paid employees
with heavy family burdens; and people who receive relief funds.
Chengdu started its lowest living standards guarantee system in
1997, and implemented it in all of its areas of jurisdiction. From
2001, it focused on poor living conditions in the city centre’s
single-storey houses, implementing a large-scale rehabilitation,
relocation and ‘low-rent housing programme’. The households
whose living conditions are below the poverty line standards specified
by the city government can apply for apartments appropriate to their
needs, with the government paying the rent. In 2001, less than 500
households filed an application with the city government and were
provided with appropriate houses. The city government has planned
to provide 1000 households with new ‘low-rent apartments’
Chengdu’s successes in poverty alleviation, slum eradication,
urban transformation and environmental improvement of the city and
its rivers is based on a holistic, city-wide approach that emphasizes
the thorough understanding of poverty’s underlying causes.
The eradication of inner-city slums involving 100,000 urban poor
and the alleviation of their poverty were successfully carried out
through an affordable housing policy involving one-time equity grants,
and through parallel improvements to urban infrastructure, transport
and the environment.
The participatory approach adopted in the slum relocation initiative,
involving the residents themselves, as well as other social groups
and the public at large, was a key contributing factor to the success
of the endeavour. Public meetings and consultations raised the awareness
of citizens of the need to simultaneously address the issues of
slums, urban poverty, urban renewal and environmental improvement.
The issue of migrant workers will still require more harmonized
approaches to economic development, social services and welfare.
While many migrant workers witness an increase in cash income by
coming to work in the city or on the fringe of the city, they represent
the most recent trend in urbanization. Most of them inhabit the
grey area that falls between urban and rural jurisdictions, calling
for a concerted approach to rural and urban development policies.
Another possible aspect to Chengdu’s success is its three-tier
local government management system that covers governance issues
of a metropolitan area with unusual effectiveness. The first tier
– the metro-level – is in charge of formulating macro-policies
and overseeing their implementation by subordinate departments.
The second tier – the district government and its subordinate
departments – is in charge of implementing the policies established
by the first tier. The third tier – neighbourhood committees
– are in charge of specific political, social and economic
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',