Transformation of municipal squares in early reform-era China, 1994-2006

Jiang, Min; (2022) Transformation of municipal squares in early reform-era China, 1994-2006. In: Annual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form. University of Strathclyde Publishing, Glasgow, pp. 946-933. ISBN 9781914241161

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Reform and opening-up profoundly changed the urban image and urban life in China. One of the most conspicuous phenomena was the nationwide boom of municipal squares in the early reform era. With clear authoritative representations, the municipal square is a concrete manifestation of the top-down political-economic reform. By comprehensively analysing gazetteers of major Chinese cities and specific case studies, this article aims to examine the transformation of municipal squares from the lenses of form and physical environment as well as function and use, highlight their legacies and changes, and elucidate the relationship between political-economic reforms and publicly owned and managed public spaces. Most municipal squares built in the 1990s were reconstructed from historical squares located in urban central areas and are relatively small in scale, designed with a fixed form and a high greening rate. Commercial facilities were usually separated from the square by a road or different floors, and cultural facilities built in or around the square mainly included museums and auditoriums. With the goal of building ‘international cities', many municipal squares built after 2001 belong to large-scale developments of new urban centres with comprehensive functions. Axes of organising space and buildings, separation of municipal squares and commercial facilities, and an emphasis on the greening rate are two legacies inherited from the 1990s. Functions and uses became more diversified, and the municipal square changed from an independent and dominant element to one important component of a largescale development. The transformation of municipal squares in early reform-era China embodied changing political, economic, environmental, and cultural goals, and the connotations of municipal squares have evolved to be less political and more pluralistic.

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