Commmunity Participation in Urban Conservation

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Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

Local Government, Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Neighborhood or district

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2004/06

This project aims to improve living conditions of the residents in the Old City area of Yangzhou through Sustainable Urban Conservation.

The project is designed to regenerate existing older neighbourhoods in the inner city, accommodating the needs of residents and reinforcing the cultural heritage of those areas by encouraging residents’ participation.

Initial research for the Community Participation in Urban Conservation programme began in 2004 as an extension of the Eco City Planning and Management Programme, a joint effort of the Yangzhou Municipal Government, GIZ (German Development Cooperation), and with later support by the Cities Alliance. In July 2006 implementation of the programme in the Old City of Yangzhou began in a pilot area.

This programme is a good example of citizen participation in urban governance with a community action plan. The strong partnership between the government of Yangzhou, the GIZ, and the citizens produced a successful regeneration of the inner city avoiding conflicts experienced in other Chinese cities during regeneration projects.

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Yangzhou, China

Size and population development

Political structure
Communist Party Chief and Mayor

Administrative structure
Yangzhou includes seven county-level divisions, three districts, two county-level cities, and one county: These are further divided into 98 township-level divisions, including 87 towns and townships, and 11 subdistricts

The Old City in Yangzhou contains over 117 cultural heritage sites in an area of 5.1km². The area is important to the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The buildings in the Old City are preserved and protected, but economic and urban development in Yangzhou threatens improper development around and possibly into the Old City. New buildings are built direct on the border of the Old City. The deteriorating state of the buildings in the Old City has caused many of the residents to move into newer buildings in the “New City.” The government of Yangzhou created a programme to restore the quality of the Old City and bring residents back. The programme formed a Community Action Plan to ensure the residents’ participation in deciding how the Old City will be refurbished.
In many Chinese cities, redevelopment projects normally lead to the relocation of most residents. The challenge was to develop an approach to win the residents’ understanding and encourage their participation in the rehabilitation process as ‘investment partners’. The target group was the original residents of the neighbourhoods in Yangzhou Old City.
The programme was successful in involving residents in the revitalisation project of the Old City. Buildings were restored, and the number of residents living in the Old City increased.
Community Action Planning (CAP) methodology was used as a medium to involve the residents of the Old City for a holistic agreement on appropriate standards and involvement in self-help upgrading of their houses and facades. The Community Action Planning approach involves and links the citizens of a community or residents of a neighbourhood with local government decision makers and technical staff in a process of planning and decision making and agreement on priorities for action. All participants are involved in reaching a comprehensive understanding of the planning and construction issues. They set priorities for short, medium, and long term measures and develop sustainable concepts for improvement by including the views of all stakeholders. Community Action Planning workshops create a sense of ‘ownership’ amongst the participants for the development process, creating a sense of joint responsibility, and mobilisation of available public and private resources. The Community Action Planning in Yangzhou was based on previous experience in community upgrading in other countries, and was further developed and refined to consider the special circumstances of historic areas.
The Community Action Planning followed a process-oriented gradual upgrading methodology to avoid the need to relocate a large number of residents during the renovation process. The Community Action Planning was conducted in three phases: Pre Community Action Planning, Community Action Planning Workshop, and Post Community Action Planning, the most important of these being the Workshop.
The Pre Community Action Planning phase included the following actions:
  • Identifying existing problems and repair potentials in residents home by conducting on-site visits, and contacting government agencies and institutions
  • Determining discussion topics and organisation of the workshop
  • Framework development to organise residents and encourage resident participation
  • Organising a photography action “Old City in My Eyes” by giving residents disposable cameras and asking them to identify what they perceive as historical and non-historical elements in the Old City
The Community Action Planning Workshop was held in a venue easy for Old City residents to access.
Participants included: 30 residents of the Old City, representatives from government agencies, the local street office, and the neighbourhood committee. The workshop took place over three days.
  • On the first day of the workshop, residents showed the photos from the “Old City in My Eyes” project, and discussed the historical and non-historical qualities of the streets, facades, and houses in the Old City. Residents were then asked questions relating to the historical qualities of the Old City, and problems were identified. Then, the costs and budgeting needs for upgrading the Old City were considered. Finally, the difficulty of implementing certain concerns was assessed, and priorities for upgrading were set.
  • The second day of the workshop involved a field survey conducted by GIZ professionals, residents, and representatives from the neighbourhood committee. They identified problems and issues. Residents opened the doors of their homes for on-site observation.
  • During the final day of the workshop, detailed action plans were developed. All concerns and issues were introduced and thoroughly discussed. The action plan addressed what she be done, who should be responsible, what measures should be taken, how the project will be financed, which policies could provide support, and when the upgrading should take place.
The Post Community Action Planning included:
  • The GIZ Work Team created a guideline for phased upgrading
  • A master plan for development, which was revised according to residents’ suggestions
  • An estimation of the needs and costs to renovate each house and made available to residents
  • Representatives amongst the organisations, neighbourhood committee, and residents were selected as contact persons to provide oversight and insurance that the standards agreed upon during the workshop will be implemented
Actors and their roles in the Yangzhou Urban Upgrading Strategy:
  • Residents participated in the rehabilitation process actively, not only as beneficiaries, but as investors as well.
  • Yangzhou Famous City Company (YFCC) as implementation partner
  • The Old City Office as a coordination institution of the government joined the YFCC in the implementation of the program.
  • GIZ international expert team provided policy and technical support.
Yangzhou Municipal Government provided costs for infrastructure improvement. GIZ provided for local subsidies and community members paid for the renovation of their own houses.
The 30%-70% sharing of housing upgrading costs exceeded expectations. All of the initial houses were successful in meeting their cost contributions, and upgraded to the standards agreed. Moreover, the families invested additional funds and made additional improvements which ranged from 3% up to 36% over the agreed contribution. Essentially, the cost sharing became ‘seed funds’ which mobilized additional investment despite the relatively low financial capacity of the families.
The community participation in urban conservation of Yangzhou Old City reached the following achievements:
  • Residents became more aware of the conservation for the Old City and cultural heritages, and various actors reached a shared common understanding of the existing problems of the community.
  • Residents prepared an action plan to implement short and medium term improvements in their housing environment.
  • The novel approach and activities of CAP attracted attention from the local and other upper level media to have a wide coverage about the workshop, which has led to a wide discussion about the Old City conservation among more residents in Yangzhou.
  • The municipal government paid much attention to the residents’ opinions, embraced and accepted the concepts and methodology of participation, and has argued for its further development and application through the entire Old City.
  • Residents’ houses have been renovated, and infrastructure and open space of the old neighbourhoods have been improved. Majority of original residents have stayed within their neighbourhoods with their living conditions being improved.
  • Participatory approach in Yangzhou has been recognized as a paradigm by many cities throughout China.
By the end of 2007, the upgrading of the pilot area was completed, residents decided to remain in their neighbourhood due to the improved living conditions.

The government lacks funds for upgrading large area historic neighbourhoods. Without participation and awareness of residents, the rehabilitation work would have been feasible, but efficient measures to involve residents are new for local government. In the past twenty years residents had been renovating houses on their own. But in the process insufficient recognition of the values of the historic area, as well as a lack of guidelines for residential house renovation had caused harm to the historic areas. An uncertainty about the future had resulted in a ‘wait and see’ attitude and reliance on the government for direction. These had constituted obstacles for residents’ participation. The focus of the project was to explore a new channel of public participation in old city upgrading, and more effectively encourage residents’ involvement in the upgrading of the historic old city and the improvement of their living conditions as well.

Lessons learned include:
  • necessity to involve residents
  • as incomes increase ability increases
  • consider residents as ‘partners, not just beneficiaries’
  • giving incentive to residents encourages a quicker response, compliance, and mobilisation
  • involving the media is important because it builds awareness, gives confidence and status to the project
  • waiting for high-level policy decision not useful, problems can be addressed in small test cases to guide higher-level policy considerations
The Sustainable Urban Development Programme of the GIZ in China –– which targets small and medium sized cities throughout China towards sustainable orientation and managed in a resource efficient and socially acceptable manner –provides a platform for further dissemination and active support for the Yangzhou approach. The participatory approach in Yangzhou has been accepted at national level and is being disseminated in the partner cities.
The wide exposure received in international forums – for example the exhibits and show in Korea, the Philippines, WUF 4 in Nanjing and WUF5 in Rio– offer future adoption internationally.

- Integrated Urban Governance Manual (see the link below)

- Integrated Urban Governance Manual Annex (see the link below)

On the Map

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Want to know more about this project?
Contact our community manager.

Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community and Content Manager | urban sustainability exchange

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