Urban Loopholes

Department: Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative;
Active Dates: 2012-2017

PI:  Ying Zhou


Taking cases from the until-now little-analyzed un-demolished remains of city center neighborhoods in Shanghai, the project, culminating in the book Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Production in Shanghai’s City Center (Birkhäuser, 2017, ISBN 978-3035611045) unpacks the seemingly anarchic and opportunistic urban spatial production system of the contemporary Chinese city to address what has perplexed Western public as well as scholars alike. Going behind the scenes in neighborhoods that increasingly appear like trend quarters in the West, the research divulges how the effortless vibe that is experienced today were imagined, constructed, and then scripted. The constellation of actors, from the expanding global network of multilingual cosmopolites to the dialect-speaking local party officials, form the malleable public-private alliances that are producing the newest forms for urban reuse, creative production, consumption, and heritage protection. Under an institutional framework that remains uniquely Chinese, how the ambiguous property rights and the institutional vestiges from planned economy could harbor an entrepreneurial prowess and creative potential that is a remarkable manifestation of globalization in the context of its changing local institutions reveals the logic behind a ‘China Dream.’ The urban loophole, a concept that the author has developed for the mechanism that has mediated the evolving institutions of the transitional economy through spatial production, serves as a red thread through the cases to corroborate the adaptive governance that expedited the appropriation of global knowhow. Pliable and redundant, the urban loophole offers a means of rethinking the presumed stasis and the necessity of urban resilience in face of globalization’s impact for change. They not only mediate between the persistent coexistence of planned and market economies, but also balance economic efficiency for political stability, sustaining the success of what Harvey called neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics.

Publication: Zhou, Ying. Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Productions in Shanghai’s City Center. Berlin: Birkhäuser, 2017.


Impact: The book was presented at venues in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Zürich, amongst other locales, presenting to  experts and academics as well as a more general public, in both English and Chinese language. The book presentation was also accompanied by an exhibition created to show the research in process.


To impact the existing discourse on urban regeneration projects and the effects of gentrification, with the engagement of the diversity of stakeholders for sustainable inner-city development, and to influence future planning modes for creative city cultivation are part of the objectives of the publication.

The book Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Production in Shanghai’s City Center (Birkhäuser, ISBN 978-3035611045) was named the recipient of the “Publisher’s Accolade for Outstanding Production Value” by the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS).The accolade was part of the 2019 ICAS Book Prize, which was established in 2004 and Dr. Zhou’s book is one of more than 60 books reviewed for the recognition. According to the ICAS website : “This in-depth study describes the strategies, players, and processes of a uniquely Chinese model of urban transformation, inviting the reader to rethink the necessity of urban resilience in the face of globalization’s impact for change.”

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