Promises and perils of collective land tenure in promoting urban resilience: Learning from China's urban villages

Linda Shi, Zachary Lamb, Xi (Colleen) Qiu, Hongru Cai, Lawrence Vale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New frameworks for “urban resilience” frequently overlook the role of property rights and tenure security in shaping vulnerability, as well as how different property rights regimes shape societal capacity to adapt to environmental and developmental disruptions. We contribute to these discussions by examining how collective urban land tenure affects community-scale resilience, defined as environmental wellbeing, productive livelihoods, and empowered governance. We use urban villages in Shenzhen to study how this widespread phenomenon of collective land ownership in Chinese cities allowed rural villagers to adapt as cities spread around them over time. Drawing on a literature review, interviews, and a field visit to Shenzhen, we find that collective tenure in Shenzhen's urban villages has helped them avoid some of the limitations seen in household-level tenure formalization efforts elsewhere. Collective tenure enabled rural villages to create self-governance mechanisms that allowed them to transform individual and collective assets into vibrant, well-serviced, and mixed-use neighborhoods. Urban villages house most of Shenzhen's residents and have helped underwrite the region's industrialization process. However, collective tenure also has hindered integration with Shenzhen's urban infrastructure, governance, and taxation systems, resulted in astronomical profits for village elites, and repeated historic patterns of unequal land ownership in China. The promises and perils of collective urban property rights seen in Shenzhen call for research on other such models around the world to further inform whether and how such property rights regimes can support equitable and holistic notions of urban resilience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalHabitat International
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Collective governance
  • Community governance
  • Land tenure
  • Property rights
  • Resilience
  • Urban villages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies


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