Pseudo-public spaces in Chinese shopping malls : rise, publicness and consequences

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Shopping malls in China create a new pseudo-public urban space which is under the control of private or quasi-public power structure. As they are open for public use, mediated by the comingling of private property rights and public meanings of urban space, the rise, publicness and consequences of the boom in the construction of shopping mall raise major questions in spatial political economy and magnify existing theoretical debates between the natural and conventional schools of property rights. In particular, (a) how have pseudo-public spaces emerged in China, and why does this particular urban space grow so rapidly; (b) to what degree pseudo-public spaces are public, and how they affect the publicness of Chinese cities; and (c) what are the economic, socio-spatial, and environmental consequences of their rise? Using a trans-disciplinary spatial political economy framework and original data collected in selected Chinese cities, this thesis finds that (1) the rise of pseudo-public spaces in China is a conventional process driven by a series of major institutional fixes and reforms which have significantly changed the relations between the state, capital investors, and the public in China after the country’s turn to neoliberalism; (2) Chinese pseudo-public spaces are generally less public than publicly owned and managed public spaces. However, at the same time, the rise of pseudo-public spaces does not necessarily result in what many western urban scholars call the ‘end of public space’ in Chinese cities; and (3) the rise of pseudo-public spaces is intimately connected with the economic restructuring, spatial transformations, massive evictions, growing inequality, and rising pollution levels in China. The rapid growth of pseudo-public spaces, as a result, threatens to undercut any progress that Chinese cities purport to have made. These findings stand the ‘doxy’ of existing literature on its head and provide insights that can help to better understand – and ultimately transcend the ‘doxa’ of urban development in China. In turn, apart from enriching theoretical and empirical debates, these findings also have the potential to inform urban policy in China.
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