To whom do Cities Belong?

Do cities belong to those who bring in more money or those who live there? I think the former. I want to illustrate this point with the example of my hometown city; Dalian, China.

Dalian is a coast city in northeast China. It is not very big but kind of developed comparing with most cities in China. Although the economy of Dalian is growing rapidly, it seems that it has little effect on people’s living standard. The wage level of Dalian is not very high, but the price level always stays ahead in China cities price level ranking list. Because of its beautiful coast sceneries and less-polluted environment, Dalian is orientated to be a tourist city. However, I do not think this can be the reason of low income and high consumption.

The high house prices in Dalian should be mentioned. The average wage is 3000 RMB/month, and the average house price is 6000 RMB/square meter. There are many people who come from Dalian who go out and work in some big cities in which they can earn more money and live better, such as Beijing and Shanghai, because they believe they cannot afford the high house rent in Dalian. At the same time, people that are from some smaller cities are trying to live in Dalian, so they come to Dalian and work there. They feel good to live in a relatively nice and developed city and earn more than in their hometown. Their emersion intensifies the reduction of wages, since bosses can give them lower wages than local workers and also make them happy. Thus I feel Dalian people don’t have the ‘right to the city’, because it is not them who can make decisions of the city’s development direction, but someone that have power or money such as the government and investors who set up companies in Dalian.

Moreover, I want to give another simple example. I’m not sure if you know the Summer Davos in China? It is a global economic forum. In the summer of years 2007, 2009, 2011, the Summer Davos is held in Dalian. There were people from the 500 top companies around world coming to Dalian. However, my example is not about Davos but the environment during the Davos period. We can easily find that when Davos is coming, the whole Dalian city will become much cleaner than ever. It makes people feel the clean environment is only made for people who will attend Davos, but not for the people who live in Dalian all their life. In addition, almost all of fairgrounds are forbidden as they are thought to damage the appearance of Dalian city. This makes some inconveniences to people’s living.

Generally speaking, I think the city belongs to the ones who bring in more money and the development of the city is also for them. People who live in a city do not really have a ‘right to the city’.

by Xue Wang

2 thoughts on “To whom do Cities Belong?

  1. Very intriguing thesis.
    However, I encountered some difficulty following your argument supporting your conclusion. So, I have a few questions.
    First, how could people from smaller cities working in Dalian with lower wage than the local Dalian workers live in Dalian and not the local Dalian people?
    Second, is the housing price lower in Beijing and Shanghai than that of Dalian? According to this article(, it is not. And if not, it means that the Dalian people were not pushed out of Dalian or losing their rights to live due to the financial reason.
    Third, this is not a question but a comment on how you concluded why you felt Dalian people don’t have the rights to the city. You ascribed the deprivation of the rights to the city to the government and investors who holds a financial sway over the city. However, you touched little on this issue before reaching conclusion. Your conclusion can look better if you explain how the rich people depriving the local people of their rights a little bit more before the conclusion.

    All in all, I agree with your thesis that the local people are losing their rights to a handful of people not only in China but on a global basis. But I found some issues in how you got to that conclusion. If you could make the points I mentioned clearer, this article will be awesome. Sorry if I misread your article, though..

  2. What about an election?
    In Japan, people can, to some extent, control their cities by choosing who’s gonna govern the cities in election.
    I’m not familiar with Chinese governance system, so If you are OK, please explain me some detail.
    Nice posting!

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