Friday, 12 February 2016

Housing the Knowledge Economy in China: An Examination of Housing Provision in Support of Science Parks

Julie T Miao, University of Glasgow

I was delighted to be awarded an early career grant from the Regional Studies Association (RSA) which enabled me to explore the potential disjuncture between the centralised social-institutional arrangement and the decentralised techno-economic system in China. I was inspired by the studies (such as Peck & Zhang, 2013) on the emerging Sino-capitalism regime but disappointed by the reductionist ‘neoliberalism’ label that broad-brush China’s distinctive social and economic evolution. As a scholar who witnessed China’s reforms over the past three decades, I am more than aware that the Central government retains a firm hand over a wide range of social-institutional management and activities. Ironically, the faster economic ‘neoliberalism’ has advanced, the more the state has asserted bureaucratic-authoritarian control over its social affairs, because of the fear for social disturbance.
Within this context I focused my attention on three science parks, specifically the imbalance between housing provision and labour market within and surrounding these science parks, to explore the disjuncture between China’s social and economic subsystems. The three science parks chosen were: Beijing Zhongguancun Science Park (Z-Park); Shanghai Zhangjiang Science Park (Z-SHIPs), and Wuhan Optics Valley of China (OVC). They were selected because the housing-labour imbalance is at its most acute around these industry agglomerations. Three research aims were set for this project:
   (1) To profile Chinese policy evolutions and governance for labour markets and affordable housing; 
   (2) To identify disjunctures in the different mixes of state-market relations in different regions;
   (3) To discuss civil society and government responses to emerging problems.
This paper on ‘Housing the Knowledge Economy’ mainly addressed the latter two questions, in particular the awareness of social housing providers to the housing needs of knowledge workers. These issues were analysed mainly through secondary data, complemented by interviews with local and national authority and science parks’ managers. This method was chosen because the supply (rather than demand) effect of social housing was the main concern of this paper. Based on extensive documentary coding and analysis, it was found that for China as a whole, its labour market has been liberalised to a similar extent as that in the West, but Beijing is still the ‘central command centre’ in setting targets for social housing construction, which has resulted in a substantial disjuncture between where people work and where they live. Nonetheless, regional variations were prominent.
In Z-Park, where the most acute work-home imbalance was identified, the local authorities were least explicit in their social housing (or even commercial housing) commitment. Along with spatial expansion of Z-Park outside the central districts of Beijing, more social housing (financed by the municipal government) for Z-Park employees was provided around it. In Z-SHIPs, attention to the housing needs of science park employees was much more noticeable than Z-Park. But what made Z-SHIPs stood out was its reliance on the private rental sector, whereas the municipal government offers small subsidy to on-park workers. In OVC, where the land constraint was not as severe as in the other two cases, the real estate sector has long been identified as the pillar of local development. Social housing was public financed and distributed, and often located far from city centre, in a pattern similar to Z-Park. But the much more aggressive real estate development in OVC might distract the public resources, such as land and capital, from industrial development.
By distinguishing China’s social-institutional and techno-economic domains, this research could uncover the multiple faces of the widely debated Sino-capitalism. Another novel aspect of this research lies in identifying the possible inconsistent pace towards neoliberalism both temporarily and regionally, which in turn could hamper China’s overall system function. This draws policy attention to a systematic approach in promoting knowledge economy. A following paper from this project, which is based on questionnaire survey of knowledge workers, will explore further such inconsistencies around the three Science Parks from the demand side.  

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