Conclusion: Exigencies Produced by the Lefebvrian Notion of ‘Right to the City’

College of Resource Environment and Tourism, Capital Normal University, Beijing, China



This chapter summarizes the main research findings covering the specific features of the mobility of migrant workers who have moved location due to the implementation of urban renewals. In this chapter, all the five research questions raised in the book are reviewed. The originality and contributions of the book are also elaborated. The study has particularly inquired into the mobility outcome of migrant workers as a result of their lack of residency status and low wages (in the host city of Beijing) and their disadvantaged status in accessing basic rights. It is concluded that the specificity of the contemporary Chinese urbanization mode requires particular attention. As Chinese society becomes increasingly more affluent (despite the presence of certain disparities) as well as liberal, the policy implications of the anticipated, more innovative, administrative and planning governance are also covered in this chapter.

To sum up, this book fills the gaps existing in studies of low-income migrant workers’ mobility in the transitional and globalizing cities in China. It poses the question of the social justice underlying the involuntary mobility at the primitive accumulation phase where economic performance is given priority, whereby Beijing is representative of this pursuit. The theoretical discourses on residency rights and first-hand surveys have enriched the Lefebvrian notion of ‘Right to the City’ in transitional economies. The study uses Beijing as an example, characterized typically by its ‘Chinese character’. The book ends with a comparison of the ‘Chinese-style’ with other ‘informal housing’ styles in Brazil (using São Paulo as a case study), wherein spontaneous self-help responses are used to tackle the massive structural crisis of social inequality.

8.1 Summary of Findings

In examining the intra-city mobility of Beijing’s low-income migrant workers, theoretical and empirical studies have revealed the ‘urbanization of injustice’ in contemporary China. This points to a critical reflection of urbanization patterns, including a ‘developmentalist’ slogan, which has made for a growth-coalition-dominated urban agenda. China is now experiencing a great transformation from a centrally planned economy to an increasingly market-led economy. To support its ‘developmentalism’, a series of regulations on land uses, housing standards, urban sprawl and migrant growth, which were set by the centrally planned rules, have continued to discourage and constrain any free population movement.

City branding movements, being complicated by ill-defined public-private property relations and an evolving relation between the State and peasants during the rapid urbanization phases, have put a sea of low-income residents including migrant workers, at a serious disadvantage during the (re)production of city space. Figure 3.​1 conceptualizes the way in which the economic surplus has been distributed between the ‘growth coalition’ and dislocated residents, with a small (if not minimal) flow of surplus going to the latter. This form of distribution of social surplus in the urbanization process, often in the name of common good, has opened up the possibilities for the sacrifice of individuals’ ‘Right to the City’ in favour of economic expediency (Ong and Zhang 2008). Section 3.​3 provides an analysis of the perceived unjust mobility policies, which have been retained in order to produce low-cost and fast urbanization characterized by:

  • The State’s city branding movements and specific urban politics towards inhabitants

  • The plan-market dual track system and the bottom-up urban informalities

  • The Hukou system: the ‘invisible wall’ and place-specific welfare mechanism.

In the empirical studies of Chaps. 4, 5 and 6, census analysis, housing surveys and comparative studies were conducted in order to investigate the poor access to decent housing faced by the rural-urban migrants. When faced with the above unjust mobility policies, low-income migrant workers are put at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the production of city space. The housing survey studies of Chap. 5 have displayed a land development conflict in suburban Beijing between the upgrading schemes (Great Zhongguancun Area) aiming towards a ‘world city’ image and the village-migrant informal coalition (chengzhongcun areas), which is against the ‘growth coalition’. These power negotiations, during the production of space, are the mechanism aimed at redistributing the economic surplus generated from the city growth and urbanization. The poor access to resettlement assistance, following dislocation, as revealed by surveys in Chap. 5, has substantiated Chap. 3’s conceptualization of residential mobility mechanism. This is well illustrated by Fig. 3.​1.

In Chap. 5, the ‘precarious tenancy’ is described, after examining the mobility and rehousing pattern of the dislocated migrant tenants. The average duration of a tenancy was reported at 1.78 years, and 99 out of 186 migrant tenants had earlier experienced home demolitions. The replication of informality, poverty and marginalization in more remote villages was explored through a series of data analyses, which found:

  • An increasing spatial mismatch between workplace and living-place after mobility

  • Mobility to peripheral villages did not help tenants reduce their housing expenses

  • A gap in mobility traits between the low-income and higher-income tenant groups

  • Poor access to local services due to the migrants’ inhabitation of urban informalities.

In Chap. 7, the international comparison of city models in São Paulo and Beijing reflects the contrast between their activities in city and property developments in the urbanization process—the urban politics of São Paulo stress the social functions of the city and land, in order to broaden the opportunities for low-income inhabitants to participate in city planning and budgeting; whilst the urban politics in Beijing continue the local states’ entrepreneurial practices and the centrally planned rules of city growth, service provision and land uses.

Cumulatively, these policy reviews and housing surveys have depicted the rehousing constraints of dislocated low-income migrant workers against the backdrop of city-branding movements in globalizing Beijing. This book establishes an exploratory relation between the ‘housing right entitlement/claim’ and the ‘residential mobility pattern’. In citing the Lefebvrian notion of the ‘Right to the City’, the book has made a critical reflection on the urban politics and city growth pattern of China’s globalizing cities. The radical reforms of perceived unjust mobility policies will require a significant analysis of the low-income migrant workers’ claims for the ‘Right to the City’, including their proper residency status, service delivery, and participation in the host city’s policy making.

8.2 Originality and Contributions of This Book

Firstly, in citing the Lefebvrian notion of the ‘Right to the City’, the book has developed the original and critical interpretation of residential mobility mechanisms in transitional Beijing since the 1980s. Drawing on theoretical insights for the conceptualization of spatial mobility mechanisms, it sheds light on the politics of space (re)making as well as the citizenship and right issues. By establishing an integrated framework in order to apply Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the ‘Right to the City’, it criticizes the existing property and planning systems which have neglected the low-income migrant workers’ right to habitation and participation. In tackling the dialectical relations between ‘rights’ and ‘mobility’, the housing access of migrants was surveyed and analyzed as a meaningful measurement tool for examining this relationship. In this sense, this book has offered an innovative explanatory frame vis-à-vis such problems in the housing literature.

Secondly, Fig. 3.​1 illustrates a flow of surplus value distribution among different social groups during the urbanization process. The (re)development-induced mobility is an inevitable result of the structural crisis of China’s urbanization pattern that gives priority to economic development instead of social justice. The book gives a fresh look into the formation and impact of China’s urban politics, and by introducing the Brazilian urban reforms, adds another dimension of reflection on the issue of the social function of property rights and particularly, the ‘Right to the City’ as a collective right. Chapter 7 provides further food for thought by comparing China’s urban informality with other Third World cities.

Thirdly, this book has made a link between the mobility (rehousing) processes and the affordable housing supply constraint which could result in a resettlement constraint. It depicts a complete image of the process of (re)development-induced mobility, which is composed of dislocation and rehousing. The book places special emphasis on the replication of informality, poverty, and marginalization at inferior sites following the (re)development. In linking ‘housing constraint’ issues with the ‘mobility/rehousing constraint’ phenomenon, it has highlighted the strong implication of redistributive injustice problems within the city-branding movements. It also provides a good case study, in China’s context in order to supplement the debate on the relations between city planning and social justice, which is drawn from Harvey’s (1973) seminal book Social Justice and the City.

Fourthly, the rehousing surveys conducted in Chap. 5 have filled the gaps in the research of demolition issues in chengzhongcun areas (urban villages). The surveys have shown the ways and the extent to which the low-wage migrant tenants have replicated their low-rental housing areas in more remote sites, after having been forced to move out following the city-branding movements. This book can rightfully claim its contribution in surveying, as it is among the first to do so, the mechanisms of tenants’ mobilities in chengzhongcun areas, and the resulting replication of urban informalities.