Since the 1990s, with peoples living requirements getting more and more advanced, the speed of the residential commercialization gets higher and higher, which promotes the residential construction deeply. To some extent, the construction of residential area has accelerated the urbanization and impacted the progress of urban renewal. It has already happened in most Chinese major cities and is progressing right now. But it has not been shown clearly in existing researches how and how deeply it impacts the development of urban construction.

This article discussed how the development of urban residential space impacted the progress of urban renewal, based on the theoretic researches of urban renewal, taking the old town of Nanjing for example, and using the methods of quantitative evidence method and kernel density estimation.


Residential space ; The old town of Nanjing ; Urban renewal ; Kernel density estimation

1. Introduction

1.1. Background and purpose

Since the beginning of Chinas Reform and Opening Up, the urban construction in China is undergoing outward expansion and inward reform simultaneously. Both of them are driven by both inner social and economic model-transfer upgrading and external promotion. He and Cui (2000) mentioned that it is the pressure from people living density and the lack of land together that has caused the urban space great extension out beyond the city wall of Nanjing since the 1980s. Yang and Zhu (2007) also pointed out that the urban living center of Nanjing city had migrated from the old town to the Hexi area. But we should notice that, even though, the old town was still the most attractive living environment in the whole city with its mature serving infrastructure.

The high-speed growth of China economy leads to cities' rapid changing, but also brings unavoidable problems such as old town reconstruction, urban renewal and so on. Meanwhile, urban residential space has changed greatly with the different housing systems changing these years. All of these impacted Chinas great change in urban space and inner construction adjustment in recent 30 years.

This article took the old town of Nanjing for example, combined two separate aspects, and analyzed and discussed the impact of urban residential space development brought to the urban renewal process.

1.2. Summary of development of the old town of Nanjing

Nanjing is one of the Chinese ancient capitals, having a history for more than 2000 years. Many dynasties' construction still reflected in current city structure.

Especially after being identified as Ming Dynastys capital, Nanjing entered an unprecedented developing period. The City Wall of Ming Dynasty (Figure 1 ), one of Nanjings World Intangible Cultural Heritage, was built reflecting Nanjings topography, stretching east to the Purple Mountain, west to the Rock Mountain, south to the Qinhuai River and north to the Xuanwu Lake. The City Wall contained all the territory of the previous dynasties into it, and was reserved until today after several wars. Now, the consensus of the meaning of “the old town of Nanjing” is exactly the urban area which Ming City Wall contained. It is not only a space definition, but also a cultural identity planted in Nanjing people. Although the construction of Mings City Wall was completed at the early beginning of the Ming Dynasty, but with the relocation of Ming Dynastys capital (from Nanjing to Beijing), Nanjings development drew less and less attention from its country government. The result is that the space within the City Wall was not fully occupied until the early stage of Republic of China. At that time, most developed areas are at the southern part of the city. But in the northern areas away from Drum Tower area, there are only many graveyards and abandoned wilderness, except some military camps. Then Nanjing got a new chance for its urban developing, because it was established as the capital of Republic of China. Although not strictly adhered to 1927s Capital Planning, this stages development brought great impacts to Nanjing. It not only founded the road network of Nanjings old town, but also founded an upscale residential area which still exists in Yihe Road nowadays.

The city wall of Ming Dynasty.

Figure 1.

The city wall of Ming Dynasty.

After the founding of Peoples Republic of China, Nanjings urban area began to expend beyond the City Wall. However, the developments were still mostly in the old town. Due to the poor economic and social condition at that time, and the counter-urbanization during the “Cultural Revolution” period, Nanjings urban area mainly had two types of development alternating: leap-forward and fill-in blank. In 1978, the formation of the Nanjing old towns urban space was completed after 30 years construction. The urban built-up area began to spread north beyond Drum Tower area, and established many industrial lands along the south bank of the Yangtze River (Figure 2 ).

The land use of Nanjing in 1978.

Figure 2.

The land use of Nanjing in 1978.

The wide-ranging expansion to the area outside the City Wall is driven by the pressure from the population and the limitation of old towns land in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the construction activities did not stopped in the old town. The development of the economy, the upgrade of the industrial structure, and enhancement of the business function of the old town, brought some new constraints to the urban renewal process. Two of them are how to increase land utilization ratio to compensate the high cost of land and how to replace land function to gain extra land.

1.3. Summary of development of residential space

After the Reform and Opening Up (since 1978), Chinas economy module changed from planned economy to market economy, and the housing system changed from physical allocation to commercialization accordingly. The reform of the housing system brought the possibility to improve residents' living quality, and stimulated the further construction of the residential space. Especially since the 1990s, the residential center migrated from the old town to the newly built areas such as Hexi and Xianlin, due to the high land price in the city center. Then this migration promoted the developing of these new urban areas. This process is called “residential suburbanization” in China, and is different from the traditional “suburbanization” in the western countries.

However, although the phenomena of residential suburbanization is obvious, the old town of Nanjing, as the citys core center, still have its unique attraction to residents with its perfect urban infrastructure, medical resource and educational resource. And also, the residential spaces construction is one of the most important parts of the old towns urban renewal in this period.

2. Analysis

2.1. Method

First, the development progress was divided into several stages, according to the different social background in the different period. In order to make the quantitative analysis, all the new residential items (whose area is larger than 30,000 m2 ) built from 1978 to 2008 in Nanjings old town were put into GIS database. F1 or each item, the data collected included spatial location, founding time, name, area and land resource. Then, the volume, speed and density of the residential construction could show the feature and discipline of the development.

Meanwhile, the kernel density estimation was also used for the density analysis to show the core of the residential construction.

2.2. Developing stage

According to the statistical result, 239 items in total were built within these 30 years in Nanjings old town. The overall land area is about 6,900,000 m2 (Table 1 ).

Table 1. Construction volume of residential space.
Developing stage Total land area/ha Total number
1978–1988 189.8 56
1989–1995 172.7 59
1996–2003 186.0 66
2004–2008 141.5 58

This 30-year development can be divided into four stages by the process of Nanjings urban construction and the reform of the housing system (Figure 3 ).

  • From 1978 to 1988 . This is the beginning of the Reform and Opening Up. Nanjing experienced a rapid developing period, and the citys population increased greatly. This is because of the return of many former citizens who went to the countryside during the “Cultural Revolution”, and the relocation of many manufacturing units to Nanjing. The increase in the population, and the trial implementation of housing commercialization in the 1980s, promoted the tremendous growth of Nanjings residential construction.
  • From 1989 to 1995 . The residential construction experienced a short time reduction, but went up soon as the result of the housing system reform policy. At this stage, differentiation appeared in the housing market. There are economical houses targeted to the middle/low income families, which may be taken as some kind of social security, and there are commercial houses targeted on high-income families.
  • From 1996 to 2003 . Nanjings urban residential construction went to a plateau stage. After 20 years housing system reform, China had fully set-up a housing commercialization system under the condition of market economy.
  • From 2004 to 2008 . Nanjings urban residential construction again went to a high-speed developing period. In the year of 2008, the living area per people in Nanjing reached to 16.91 m2 .

The residential project since 1978.

Figure 3.

The residential project since 1978.

2.3. Construction speed

The residential space construction speed of the old town of Nanjing is different in different developing stages (Figure 4 ). Compared to the construction speed of 17.25 ha per year at the beginning of the Reform and Opening Up, old towns speed in the early 1990s had increased a lot to 24.67 ha per year. Although it fell down a little in the late after that, the speed is still higher than 20 ha per year in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then after the year of 2004, the residential construction speed of the whole city went into a very high speed period. The situation in the old town is the same, the speed raised to 28.30 ha per year.

Construction speed of residential space.

Figure 4.

Construction speed of residential space.

2.4. Spatial distribution

The distribution centers are also different in each stage, except for the construction speed. Using the kernel density estimation in GIS data analyzing, we can get the construction density distribution for each stage, by analyzing the spatial distribution of the newly built residential items. The darker in the density distribution, the higher construction density in this area (Figure 5 ).

Spatial distribution of residential space.

Figure 5.

Spatial distribution of residential space.

The distribution shows that, the residential space renewal in the old town is relatively balanced in every part. Even in the southeast of the old town or in the north to the Drum Tower area. In the early 1990s, the construction began to be concentrated in the southern part of the city, where there are many Shanty towns at that time. Then in the late 1990s, the northern part began its transformation, along with the transformation of the southern part.

2.5. Land resource

The land resource of the newly built living space was analyzed by comparing the current status with the Urban Land-use Map 1978. The result shows that the urban land experienced renewal can be classified as following 9 types: (Table 2 , Figure6 ).

Table 2. Land resource of residential space.
Property of the land resource Total area/ha Total number Area ratio
Residential land 401.5 153 58.20%
Industrial land 105.1 31 15.23%
Military sites 60.8 14 8.81%
Residential & industrial land 47.6 11 6.90%
Green space 26.1 9 3.78%
Municipal utilities 22.0 5 3.19%
Public building 10.8 6 1.57%
University & institutions 8.4 6 1.22%
Transportation land 7.6 4 1.10%

Land resource of residential space.

Figure 6.

Land resource of residential space.

In all of Nanjing old towns newly built residential districts, which were built after 1978, the update of the former residential area has the largest proportion. Its ratio is 58.20%. Although the update from living space to living space did not result in the impact of urban functional structure, eventually, the update defiantly can bring out the increase of the living density or the upgrade of the living quality, due to the higher and higher land price in the old town area. This increase and upgrade promoted the differentiation of the living space among the city residential. And then it indirectly impacted the adjustment of the urban inner function.

15.23% of the land resource in all of the newly built residential districts is the replacement of the former industrial land. And another 6.90% resource is residential & industrial land, which actually also is the residential district development developed by replacing the industrial land and the residential land belonging to one production unit.

In addition to the common upgrade of the residential area and the replacement of the industrial land, the replacement of the military land also makes a big contribution to the urban renewal process. The ratio is 9% and this rate is obviously higher than other China cities. This may be because that Nanjing is an important city in the military aspect, so there are a lot of military lands within the city in the past. Due to the specialty of the land function, these military lands are mostly highly unpublicized area, having a strong self definition and exclusion. So when theses lands are replaced with residential areas, the visual and mental sense of exclusion will be reduced greatly. It is a release of the urban area to a certain extent.

Besides, there is a situation of invading the urban public green space in the newly built residential area since 1978. Once the public space was occupied by private living space, it will be hard to recover because of the ticklish problem of compensation. Thus, the effective maintenance and control of the public resource is also a very important aspect that should be seriously considered during the process of urban renewal.

2.6. Form feature

With high speed development, the form of residential space also had a great change. The new residential items in the old town all grew towards the direction of high density and high height. To some extent, there is no choice but to raise the density, for balancing the expansive cost of land use and resettlement in the old town (Figure 7 ).

The high residential buildings in the old town.

Figure 7.

The high residential buildings in the old town.

They were maybe not much too high or too outstanding to become the landmark of the city, but they always came out in groups. That is the reason why the new residential buildings have already played an important role in the vertical urban space form and the sky line nowadays.

3. Conclusion

In summary, since the Reform and Opening Up, the construction of the residential space has not only renewed the urban physical space by updating the original residential space, replacing the industry land and revising other land use space. At the same time, it has influenced the urban inner function instruction and the external space form indirectly.

Walking into the new century, urban development would not only focus on spreading the built-up area, but also improving the quality of urban life, especially in the old town. More and more people have paid their attention to the “urban renaissance”, which is the promotion of the “urban renewal”. Compared to the commercial, official, leisure and the other public space, the residential space seems not to have so much contribution to the urban renaissance, because of its natural privacy. But since the ancient time, comfortable residence always has been one of the most fundamental functions of city, and also, it is the core of the pursuit of urban development. So it is important to recognize that residential space development plays dual roles in the process of city renewal. One is city renewals method, the other one is city renewals ultimate goal. Only when the limited city space resource is rationally utilized, and the relationship between residential space development and city renewal is understood, can we provide the citizens a more comfortable dwelling environment with more sense of belonging.


  1. He and Cui, 2000 L. He, G.H. Cui; Study on the urban spatial expansion of Nanjing City; Urban Planning Forum, 2000-6 (2000), p. 2000
  2. Tang, 2007 X.L. Tang; Polarization of Urban Residence: Sociological Analysis of Nanjings Urban Residential Community; Southeast University Press, Nanjing (2007) 2007
  3. Yang and Zhu, 2007 Yang, H.P., Zhu, X.G., 2007. The research of the urban extension spaces structural characteristics in the rapid urbanization area——take Nanjing urban developing area for example. Thesis Collection for China Urban Planning Annual Meeting, 2007.


1. Data about these areas is collected from 《Polarization of urban residence: Sociological analysis of Nanjings urban residential community》 (Tang Xiaolan, Southeast University Press, Nanjing, 2007 ) and the data published by Chinese famous real estate information website, house 365 (http://sell.house 365.com ), during Feb, 2010 and Mar, 2010.

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Published on 12/05/17
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