Michela Bonato

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The making of a “gentry-focused district” in Chongqing, China: political and advertising discourses

The development of Chongqing into a so-called “super-megacity”, is based on a set of material and intangible practices aimed at globally restoring the public image of the city. Within this framework, the processes of urbanization and spatial embellishment are seen as a long-term strategy, whose projects are the result of strong governance decisions.

Analyzing the storytelling flows of political discourses and real-estate marketing campaigns in the 2010s, this paper investigates how the local administration, the real-estate companies and developers have modified the landscape of Yubei District, turning the former county into a cutting edge hub for “smart city” solutions. The findings suggest that since the end of 2000s, there has been an articulated planning that starting from the exploitation of natural resources in an almost pristine area, until then devoted to agriculture and mining industry, has created gentrified zones to serve land monetization. The opening of “model villages” along the light railway stations is also tactical to the formation of a heterogeneous district. However, the uneven access to waterscape heritage undermines the sharing of common values and cultural landmarks.

The article argues that while the development of Yubei District involves practices of gentrification, the local urban planning shows a more complex purpose. In fact, diverse housing solutions cohabit in the same area, and this demonstrates a willingness to avoid a complete division of the population by census. On the other hand, the very presence of gated communities, high-tech investment zones, and Liangjiang New Area headquarters reveal the selective nature of this “gentry-focused district”. Therefore, the study illuminates the particular mechanisms of urban reconstruction in South-West China through a critical understanding of gentrifying practices.

Michela Bonato is contract lecturer in Chinese Language at the University of Catania, Italy. She holds a PhD in Geography (human geography, area studies) from Heidelberg University. In her PhD project, she conducted research on the political entanglements behind landscape modifications in Chongqing, particularly focusing on the role played by the upscale real estate market in changing cultural perceptions and spatial practices related to the local environment.