Monday, September 19, 2011

Chinese cities

Danwei may appear to be a particularly Chinese way of organising living and working space in an urban environment. However, villages in many other parts of the world were traditionally mapped out - deliberately or organically - in similar (though not the same) ways. In addition, many towns and cities were built around businesses, from car-manufacturing in the US to chocolate making in Dunedin (Cadbury). There is now interest in re-creating urban villages, with one recent example being the Transition Town movement. Do you think the danwei model is something non-Chinese cities could learn from, and what would the difficulties in pursuing danwei in a non-Chinese setting? (The hyperlink for danwei is to a book that gives a brief overview to refresh your memory as to what danwei are. I've also posted a paper on Cecil for you to have a look through).


  1. With the concern of socio-economic and environmental issues such as climate change and social injustice, local communities around the world can learn from the success of the Danwei system in achieving more sustainable local environments. However, this system was successful as it addressed the needs of the local population, economic climate and social context. Although the priciples of the danwei system could be helpful in setting an example for communities to reduce reliance on transport systems for example, then these will need to be adopted while being sensitive to the unique community.
    UPI 1016485

  2. I think there are obvious benefits of the danwei model, particularly with regard to urban sustainability. The model completely eliminates the requirement to use cars or even public transport and allows for people to be located near to those that they work, learn and socialize with. However, the system has clear disadvantages in a non-Chinese setting –the model is very restrictive in that people are not given the opportunity to travel in a day-to-day sense and may feel relatively constrained by being constantly surrounded by the places and people in the danwei. It creates a somewhat ‘inward’ looking society that could create issues with regard to governance – people would not be involved with what goes on outside of their danwei. I think that people, particualy those in Western societies, would have huge issues with being constrained in a danwei setting, as the freedom (and even the need to) move around cities is something that people value. I think that Western societies are already seeing their own form of danwei developing in the form of mixed use developments and gated communities, which have the same underlying concept as danweis but in a more ‘relaxed’ sense in that not all social services and workplaces are located within the residential unit.

    Sarah Akers 4888609

  3. I agree with Sarah, she raises some good points about the danweis relateability to western society.

    I myself like the idea of a danwei and really it is the environment I try create for myself- by living in a location close to both university and my work place so I can walk to both.

    A major flaw I see in the danwei system is the fact that some land uses are not compatible- e.g. residential and industrial uses. Such combos could be very detrimental to health depending on the industry. It is for this reason in Auckland the district plan stresses compatible uses in mixed use zones, this idea is also reinforced in Responsive Environments book(Bentley, et al, 1985).

    Georgia Stillwell, gsti009, 4910474

  4. I think there are elements of the Danwei model that non-Chinese cities could learn from. In particularly, the role it plays in reducing traffic congestion. This may be considered valid in a world where sustainability is at the centre of decision-making. Fuel scarcity and pressure for space to develop transport-related infrastructure, makes this model seem an effective solution to some of these issues that modern cities are facing. I also think that non-Chinese cities could look to this model in order to address issues involving housing inequalities whereby the market system pushes lower-income groups to the periphery of cities promoting other implications including increasing transport costs for people to travel to work. This model also provides services such as health care and other social services that lower-income groups find it harder to access due to financial constraints. Therefore, this model provides useful solutions that non-Chinese cities could look to adopting.
    However, in implementing such a strategy to non-Chinese settings, a number of difficulties arise. In settings where the housing market has shaped the physical structure of cities, it would be a challenge to implement such a model because of the well-established communities and infrastructure already in place. A further difficulty involves encouraging people to live in the vicinity of their work places. Although this may seem attractive to many, there are still a large proportion of people who would prefer to be separated from their work places. For example, many university students would prefer to live on campus to reduce their travel and commuting demands. However, students also want to be separated from university after working hours so they can relax. Other key difficulties are related to the social implications of introducing such a model: what does this achieve for social interaction? If people are associating their lives with the same people they work with, there is no social diversity.

    Georgia Sanders 4963525

  5. I agree with the previous comments on the benefits and disadvantages of Danweis in terms of sustainability and the quality of life for many people. However, in my opinion Danweis can only work well in cities that are densely populated similar to Beijing and Shanghai. The population allows for the capacity to create local hubs. Additionally, there would be a higher market demand for the various land uses. However, in other less lively and poorer provincial towns in China, Danweis may lead to areas becoming a “ghost city” (refer to the hyperlink). Ghost cities are where the government attempts to increase the GDP by constructing high density apartments and malls in different areas hoping to be purchased by the local residents. However, in order to create these urban developments, potentially local residents will have to be removed from their properties. This results in the creation of slums. But essentially, the creation of these new developments becomes empty because local residents cannot afford to improve their quality of life and living.

    Rachelle Hui

  6. As others have noted, the Danwei system is useful in some respects for other societies to learn from. I think an interesting lesson to be learned is how productive and supportive society can be when there are strict controls on every aspect of daily life. However, no enlightened society would stand for this type of regime as freedom is such a cornerstone, especially for countries where global economics is such a high priority. Despite this, there are many lessons to be learned, particularly regarding urban design, the actual success of compact settlements and self-sustainability. But Western society is much better at reactively addressing issues in clumsy ways, so these lessons will probably be disregarded as the Danwei system appears very restrictive to personal freedom.

    Anthony Blomfield

  7. Danwei is a concept that works particularly well in China. This is because of its highly centralised government structure. It is possible for the city government to allocate a state-run enterprise at a particular location and decide on the size of the enterprise, thus building corresponding number of dwellings, services etc.
    I think it would be very difficult to implement the concept in a country like NZ. For a start the government does not have the power to plan into such details and it will not be possible to developers, driven by economic gains, to provide for communities in such a consistent manner. Communities built around industries e.g. Detroit are phenomenon’s of various business decisions. Overall, the concept can be altered to suit the local contexts, and should be promoted, but I doubt any truly democratic societies can create Danwei like China did in the 60s and 70s.

  8. Reposted with name:

    Danwei is a concept that works particularly well in China. This is because of its highly centralised government structure. It is possible for the city government to allocate a state-run enterprise at a particular location and decide on the size of the enterprise, thus building corresponding number of dwellings, services etc.
    I think it would be very difficult to implement the concept in a country like NZ. For a start the government does not have the power to plan into such details and it will not be possible to developers, driven by economic gains, to provide for communities in such a consistent manner. Communities built around industries e.g. Detroit are phenomenon’s of various business decisions. Overall, the concept can be altered to suit the local contexts, and should be promoted, but I doubt any truly democratic societies can create Danwei like China did in the 60s and 70s.

    Daniel Shao 4931603

  9. Danwei towns were historially centered around a main source of employment such as a large factory. This model has also been used in small rural NZ towns that are based around a meat works or mining operation. These small towns often make news headlines when the 'meat works' closes down and the economic lifeblood of the town dries up. In this sense the danwei model faces issues over the economic survival and reliability of its main employment source.

    The danwei model of employment/housing also faces challenges with the modern lifestyle of people switching jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, and commuting within a global village. In relation to housing being provided by an employer, I agree with the issues raised previously as I would personally rather be located away from my place of work. Otherwise I would feel as though my life is centered around work with no escape.....however this comes at the cost of commuting

    Andrew Moore 1197247

  10. Danwei in my opinion produces a very mixed set of results, that I would be sleptical of applying it to western planning paradigms. While employment and housing at danwei are developed with strict controls and barriers in the chinese political system, when applying this concept to a New Zealand perspective we could alter and mould the same fundamental regime into something more inline with our socio-political culture. Bringing a housing and employment ratio that incorperates local servicing and interactions in many ways links with many ideals of new urbanism in relation to live/work and commuting patterns, the ARPS bringing much of these ideals into the policy framework already. I disagree with sarah's comparison to gated communities, and loss of freedom of movement.


  11. David Pan 4616910

    There are benefits of the danwei model that non-chinese cities can learn from. In particular it eliminates the need for private vehicles and even public transport. the fact that the model povides all the required services, people can just walk within the danwei model. this allow interaction and increase social capital in the community. the reason why it works so well in china is because of the communist regime as structure must be followed throughout. Bringing the danwei model to non-chinese cities would be difficult as it is too restrictive. western people will want their freedom and be able to explore other parts of the city, therefore be difficult to implement in a democratic society.

    David Pan 4616910

  12. The concept of Danwei model has obviously something valuable to learn from for non-Chinese cities. First of all, Danwei is regarded as a very sustainable form of urban structure/unit, it has been applied successfully across almost all parts of city of Beijing in China; within a confined area, it includes a comprehensive set of community facilities, residence place for workers, commercial space, community garden; and one of its most outstanding features of Danwei is that it doesn’t need to rely on any form of vehicle transport, which has effectively reduced use of cars and has an approach to lower energy consumption. While advantages of applying Danwei in China are observed, some difficulties are present for non-Chinese setting cities to apply this particular concept.
    As I think the application of Danwei is quite constrained in terms of its geographic scale: it leads to a totally separation of different units within a city, the internal connection between each separated unit seems also broken up. While for the cities of non-Chinese urban settings, the connection between different areas is quite well built and developed, such as the concept relating to Transition Towns, which also promotes a sustainable living and response to various challenges of climate change, environment pollution, resource depletion and works within a community. Although areas are named differently and separated in distance, such as Devonport, Grey Lynn, Kingsland, they are closely connected by well developed transport and with shared experience with one another. Therefore, the application of Danwei needs to be carefully designed and based on varying factors and environment of different areas and cities.

    Transition Towns New Zealand Aotearoa, (2011) What are Transition Towns,, (accessed: 20/09/2011).

    Xinyue Wang 1181130

  13. Danweis as a concept provides an intriguing means of providing an environmentally responsible means to achieving urban form; particularly it’s mixing of living and working spaces. In regards to the later, one can see it being echoed in the New Urbanist penchant for encouraging mixed-uses and local employment. It is then rather fitting, that it also faces the problem of ‘enclave-ism’ (for lack of a better term). Expanding on a point raised by Georgia, the self-containment (and in some cases, a physical manifestation as a walled, gated community) of such neighbourhoods could be argued as promoting isolationism, preventing meaningful (and often productive) social and economic interactions amongst the wider city. Continuing on this trend, one needs to also ask: do danweis risk encouraging homogeneity by limiting the diversity of mixes? Furthermore, the close tie of a single community towards a single economic activity is extremely risky as technological advances or changes in the market would seriously jeopardise an entire section of the city.
    Be that as it may, one can see its successes with certain caveats. Obviously as my colleagues have noted, the level of interference and control exerted by central authorities would offset the environmental advantages of danweis. However, it does not require a great stretch of the imagination to envision the model as something similar to TODs wherein each danwei with its economic centre can be orientated towards a transport core, or alternatively, applied to the model of clusters one could see it as representing a new means of promoting entrepreneurship through urban form.
    Finally, while I appreciate jjof001’s opposition to Sarah’s assertions (which are similar to my own), it would interest me to no end to see what it was which lead him to this conclusion.


  14. The Danwei model is definitely something that non-Chinese cities and city planners could learn from. In physical form it represents the type of mixed-use environment that is often sought after in the (re)development of modern cities, it’s walkable, accessible, and includes facilities to service nearly all residents needs. There are obvious features of the Danwei model that those in the western world might not enjoy adopting, such as the more restrictive social controls or influences on social and political activity, though I agree with the point Sarah makes that in some ways such measures are not too distant from those seen in gated communities. Some might consider the more insular and excluding housing cooperatives in American apartment complexes not too distant from the Danwei model either. In the case of emerging transitional towns where action and initiative is encouraged from every component of society some of the socially organising practices of the Danwei, like offering incentives for behaviour and having a board to monitor practices, could be adopted to ensure the direction and benefit of actions. As, in the case of drivers who traded in their Hummers for hybrids and then started driving twice as much and twice as far, sometimes even those trying to do right can make things worse.

    Adam Tung

  15. As others have mentioned the likelihood of the traditional danwei model being applied to any modern society would be very difficult, especially given the socialist aspects of it. However, there are certainly characteristics of the danwei model which I think could be used and applied in non-Chinese cities/towns.

    The idea of the compact city which has a focus on increasing the density around certain growth centres and encourages people to live and work closer together is an approach which the recently released draft Auckland Plan is encouraging. This has definite cross-overs with the danwei approach and therefore it is very likely that there are lessons which Auckland could learn from the danwei model.

    Melissa Spearman

  16. me too, i would love to know the reason behind jjof001 JETHROs comment opposing sarah. it's very intriguing, it sounds like an empty signifier


  17. Danwei model is actullay not restricted in industry, it is a term that can be used in every working place such as government offices and university campus. I myslef used to grow in a Daiwei environment of a publishing press, which is located in a compound that is surrounded by several residential apartments. Basically all the residents who live in this area are involved in this press somehow. There are many benefits for people who live in this environment. For employees who live in these quarters, there is no need for them to use transport to go to work everyday. Daiwei with good benefits can ususally provide communal dining hall for offering three meals to employees and their families, and also provide a kindergarden, therefore parents can send their children to there without troubles of going long way to pick up them.People who live in the Daiwei almost know everyone in their neighbourhood. People who live in the Daiwei almost know everyone in their neighbourhood.Some people may regard Daiwei as a factory centered small town, however, it actually is the most common social and economic unit that involves in commercial, business, residential, recreational and educational uses in China. Including their families, a Daiwei usually have several hundred people. Some large Daiwei can contain thousands of people. In a provincial captial city like the city I grew up within, there may be thousands of Daiwei at different scales.

    Yiwei Zou

  18. It is clear that the Danwei model has the ability to generate significant benefits, especially when addressing the concept of urban sustainability. In a Chinese setting, the model reduces ones reliance on private vehicles by creating conditions for people to live, work, find recreation, socialise and learn within a common area. While this means that less time is wasted travelling from one activity to another, I believe that the system is extremely restrictive as people are deprived of a sense of freedom and variety that are essential to a healthy life-style. Some land uses may also not be compatible and as a result, effect an activities ability to function in a desired manner.

    While there is evidence of the danwei model in places such as Auckland CBD, I believe that it is most successful in densely populated cities such as Hong Kong. This is mostly due to a greater demand for inner-city property and as a result, higher property prices.

    The danwei model is a direct response to the needs of the population, and therefore should be shaped to fit the varied needs of populations within a non-Chinese setting.

    Simon Andrew - 1279947

  19. Cities struggling with urban development can learn many things from the Danwei model. Danwei model sets up a sustainable urban environment that depends only on a person’s ability to move, as everything is located within walking distance. Western societies are trying to establish this kind of settlement, however there is a persistent perception held by the majority of western populations that people should not live and work in the same area. This kind of thinking makes it difficult to convince developers to create a “Danwei” as market demand may not be profitable. It is unlikely that people with families would move into Danwei because the suburbs/country living is perceived to be the ideal place to raise a family, which means Danwei in a non-Chinese setting are likely to attract young singles or older people wanting that sort of lifestyle depending on where it is located this heavily reduces the target market for Danweis. Danweis are a culturally acceptable type of living settlement in China, the difficulty in implementing these elsewhere is that there needs to be a perception shift in this type of living before it can become socially accepted and more importantly desirable.
    Rhezza Layco

  20. The Danwei model is based on the concept that a range of uses and activities are located within the same 'gated' development. Residential dwellings, work, university campus including on site staff living, open space are all located within the same development eliminating the need for people to travel to areas outside the development. This model has many benefits such as promoting a walkable environment that does not rely on private vehicles as the main mode of transport, its accessible and its self sufficient. In this respect there are many things that non Chinese settings can learn from this model.
    However the main thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Danwei model is that it is restrictive in its approach and to a certain extent people are confined to a particular development. This seems unnatural when looking at the Danwei model next to traditional western models as naturally people don't like to be confined to one area and like to explore other parts of the city. This is likely to create issues surrounding the implementation of such a model in non Chinese settings.

    Holly Coates

  21. Of course the Danwei model, and the particular benefits that arise from it, is something that other cities, worldwide, could learn from. It has similarities to the new urbanism movement and therefore has the opportunity to be used within non-chinese settings. Although a range of implementable policies can arise from this type of development in other non-chinese cities i think there is a lack of public collectivism and conservatism. People in cities are generally creative, intelligent, and liberal, they typically want whats best for themselves and not the collective whole, the man vs man mentality, whereas in China there is a strong ethic of collectivism underpinned by its centrist government.

    steven sanson - 1264497

  22. I agree with many of the comments that have been made. What I found interesting about the Danwei system was that they have taken over the government role of providing for welfare and instead of having social security systems have developed relationships to support themselves. New Zealand has an aging population with an estimate that 1 in 4 people will be over the age of 65 years by 2040. The government and communities need to think seriously about how elderly are going to be supported in the future. This is becoming a serious issue which is reflected in the creation of the kiwi saver scheme as in the future the government will not be able to make retirement payments to everyone. The ability of the danwei system to absorb the role of caring for elderly could be a lesson for New Zealand in creating strong self sufficient communities.

  23. In response to Jethro, once again - I think the danwei model can definitely be compared to gated communities. While gated communities are by no means as extensive as danweis - i.e they do not contain employment or social services, they are certainly a step in the direction. The primary purpose of gated communities is security for the residents, but also an enclosed community is created as they often have gyms, pools and social activities within them.
    With regards to a loss of freedom of movement - its not necessarily of loss of freedom to move around but a lack of requirement to. If a person grows up in a danwei- goes to school there, goes shopping there, their parents work there, all their friends live there - they may not feel all that inclined to leave, thus inhibiting their freedom of movement.

    Sarah Akers 4888609

  24. The Danwei system, with regards to working and living in a similar location, is not a new concept. The advent of the motor vehicle, the resulting urban sprawl and also the high demand for inner city land has resulted in concentrations of residential suburbs that empty out each day as their residents head to work. The Danwei system was largely successful due to government intervention requiring employers to provide their employees with housing and other welfare services. This requirement of employers was slowly removed and many Chinese cities are now experiencing significant traffic congestion.

    I agree that the danwei system, with regards to residential developments, was largely successful in China due to the high density of people and the economies of scale involved. Despite this it reinforces how living and working in close proximity contributes to urban sustainability.

    If a long-term view had been taken in the residential expansion on the North Shore and Whangaparoa, to provide increased employment opportunities, commuter numbers travelling across the region for employment could have been reduced. This could have delayed the need for a second harbour crossing and also created more resilient communities.

    Furthermore, the danwei system demonstrated how the responsibility of welfare could be transferred onto the employer. In a period where governments across the world are struggling with high levels of debt, the private sector could take over some welfare services for their employees; thereby reducing the role of central government. This policy would be confronted by great resilience from the private sector and would likely be unsuccessful, as companies would simply relocate to other countries.

    Rose Bayes-Powell 4984035

  25. Danwei model is successful in organising housing, social welfare, shops and services which are very close to people’s workplace – a state-owned enterprise. It avoids congestion resulted from daily commuters. People living in a Danwei know each other and use communal facilities. Those advantages of Danwei can be learnt by non-Chinese cities by encouraging social sustainable, pedestrian focused community with vibrant local economy.
    However, Danwei model on the other hand was just suitable during the period when the Chinese economy was still more heavily socialist. At that time, individual’s behaviour was monitored through Danwei system, eg. one could not marry or divorce without Danwei’s authorisation. This will never be applied in non-Chinese cities, especially in western ones where people value freedom and democracy. Today in China, after economic reform during late 1980s, there are more and more private enterprise and foreign multinational corporations. This leads to further difficulties for Danwei and many big cities in China are facing same problems of urban sprawl as other cities in the world.

    Yuqing Zhou 1560341

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. The danwei model reminds me of how societies may have been like where transportation methods were not as developed as they are today, and developments must be based on walking distances.

    We may learn from both what works well and what doesn’t work well in a particular model. I think there are two factors relevant to the danwei model that should be considered.
    One is convenience and efficiency – The danwei model presents convenient access to places one would regularly visit day to day. This is something that cities should definitely aim to achieve, to also encourage walking or cycling as the main means of travel.
    The other is choice and variety– The danwei model probably limits choice in a huge way, in areas such as transportation methods, housing choice, social network and amenities. It would be difficult to pursue danwei in a non-Chinese setting, as it can be very restrictive.

    I agree that the danwei model would be most appropriate for densely populated areas, where perhaps this sort of model may be a necessary response to sustainability concerns. Non-Chinese cities could learn from the danwei model by taking elements of the model that would work well for the particular city and produce desirable outcomes.

    Hsin-Hua Hsiao
    hhsi021 1144014

  28. I personally think the Danwei model is a relatively good structure for controlling growth in an area that it is applied in. I love how its main purpose is for urban sustainability and that it allows for residents to live close to their work place to avoid the use of private transportation and increased walking.
    I do however have to agree that applying this structure to an existing Western city will be extremely difficult and/or useless.
    I do believe that many lessons can be learnt from this model though and that if we took the best parts of the model and adapted it to our cities, then we could effectively modernise the Danwei model for all (comparative planning anyone?)
    Hannah Good
    ID: 1229712

  29. I agree with many of the comments in regard to the benefits of the danwei model in organising the city to deliver urban sustainability. I believe that the danwei model is something that non-Chinese cities can learn from as many others has pointed out it creates walkable environments, reduces vehicle dependency and establishes local economies. This is particularly relevant in todays context when urban ‘sustainability’ has almost the dominant goal in planning where many planners are striving to achieve compact urban forms that are self-sustaining and car travel is significantly reduced.

    However, there is also the alternative dimension to danwei where I see this becoming very difficult to implement in non-Chinese cities with different political structure and forces. Danwei is seen to be more successful in Chinese cities because of the higher population which increases the efficiency and effectiveness of this spatial arrangement. Say if attempts were made to implement this Auckland, it would not be very successful as the population is much lower and the distances between each spatial arrangement will be magnified. Like Sarah has previously pointed out, danwei appears to be quite restrictive and overly regulated in which I struggle to see the purpose for this other than socialist political structures exerting their influence. In non-Chinese cities with different political structures and population figures, I see danwei as very different to pursue and will require a heap of alteration and adaptation to different contexts. It almost seems bizarre to me that in the danwei model the spatial unit becomes sort of like an individual community with a separate identity to all others. It leads me ask the question of where is the unity and commonality in a city which raises another difficulty in pursuing this model in non-Chinese cities when city branding has almost become a tool in planning today.

    Mary Wong ID# 4920891

  30. I agree with the above comments about the advantages of a Danwei in terms of sustainability, however the concept of a Danwei does not translate well into the society of many non-Chinese cities due to the different social, economic and cultural structures making up these cities. For example in New Zealand, a number of difficulties in pursuing a Danwei are presented. The difficulties revolve around that of the social structure, in which New Zealanders believe in the right to own land freely and in a place which is suitable to their individual needs, it does not have to be in relation to their workplace or local services. This creates a diversity of people located around the city in which a Danwei may not be suited. The placement of residential land and therefore people is due to the zoning and placement of other factors within the city, such as industrial and commercial uses. The concept of clustering creates set areas in which certain uses locate. Compared to that of a Danwei where a number of uses are within the site. I think in the creation of mixed use environments the concept of locating a wide range of services creating a sustainable environment should be implemented within the mixed use zone.
    At the moment within Auckland the mixed use zone allows for a number of compatible uses to be position within the same development, I think the interaction of the uses within the wider environment rather than individual developments could help to formulate an area of similar sustainability principles of a Danwei. The inclusion of these principles in the local setting would be of significant value to non-Chinese cities.

    Charlotte Belsham 1195495

  31. Western cities, such as New Zealand could definitely learn from the danwei model for the following reasons. The danwei model reduces work travel as a wide range of land use activities are located near by and this has a flow on positive effects on decreasing traffic congestion thus creating more sustainable urban environments. With similarities to mixed used developments, transit-oriented developments and compact cities, the danwei model application is already evident on non-Chinese setting. However, I think the danwei model would more successful in non-Chinese cities, if it is to be applied to high-density communities. This is to ensure that the population has the capacity to support the businesses around it.

    In terms of New Zealand, the main difficulty in pursuing the danwei model is the lifestyle that we have right now. According to the recently published news article ‘Kiwis still crave backyard bliss’, a little more than one in 10 Kiwis prefer the idea of living in the central city house or apartment. In other words, the lifestyle that Kiwis are used to do not compliment the features of the danwei model hence would be the main concern as to why it might not work.

    Pamela Santos

  32. I think that there are certain elements within the danwei model that non-Chinese cities can learn from. For example, the danwei provides residents with employment and welfare benefits, such as free housing, schooling and health care. It also reduces the need for transportation methods, such as cars or public transport, as the danwei involves a small area within the city, allowing people to get around via walking or biking. This is similar to the emerging ideas of compact cities, which promotes high density residential areas, along with mixed land uses, and efficient urban layouts that promotes walking and cycling.

    Despite this, there will be difficulty in applying this concept within a Western setting, due to the current urban layout of cities. The danwei concept also has a number of restrictions and constraints in everyday life, which Western cities may object to. These include the lack of freedom of travelling to various parts of the city, as well as a lack of variety within the area, as people are confined to the particular development.

    Sarah Wong

  33. The Danwei model can be recognised as the early sustainable urban design approach that had taken by the Chinese Government. There are number of benefits of Danwei model that could apply to non-Chinese cities, such as no traffic congestion, cheap accommodation and save both monetary and time costs on travelling to work. However, there are also negative aspects of Danwei model that needs to be awarded pre-implementation, potential problems might subject to low quality of living due to number of people sharing one room, and live far away from families which may cause home sick. The model was extremely effective pre late 19th century, because transport system was still under developed during that time in China. However, the model has become lesser significant in the 20th century, because most of new factories should be relatively close to transit route.
    Qiaofeng Hu 4915881

  34. The concept of Danwei’s seems similar to the “compact urban cities” that Auckland has attempted to adopt in its new draft spatial plan. I think it would be useful for Auckland to learn from Danwei’s in future development. There are, however, some difficulties in implementing such a concept, for instance adapting the principles to suit Auckland’s economic, social and environmental setting. As the factors are very different in each country, it would be inadvisable to directly copy this concept and apply it to another country or city without first understanding the fundamentals of how it works. Furthermore, there are difficulties in ensuring that the increased concentrations of industrial and social activities do not cause an acceleration of local climate change.

    Tommy Ma

  35. At this point it is safe to say that most of us agree that the benefits of the Danwei model (reduced travel to work, increased local services, and contribution towards sustainable living) are areas that Western countries are striving to achieve in. However, freedom of choice is too highly regarded for these ideals to be implemented through this model in many non-Chinese countries. The model appears to be most successful in quite highly populated and dense cities, so in a New Zealand context the model would be quite difficult to implement.

    Karl Anderson

  36. I believe the Dunwei model can teach us about creating connection. Leaving out the ‘freedom restrictive’ environments that have been mentioned in discussion, which I too believe is not suited in many non-Chinese cities.
    According to Scott Bernstein, the president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, it is ‘location efficiency’ that refers to the idea of energy efficiency, which captures the extent to which our job, grocery store, social activities are all convenient and connected to us. This analogue is probably a more fitting take on the Dunwei models for Western societies.
    If we take a look at our urban environments (in Auckland in particular), perhaps best from outside an aeroplane window, it doesn’t take long to establish our urban culture. The way we live and build our communities has changed dramatically… from the dense urban grid, to the sprawling suburban neighbourhood. The communities we are designing are making us drive more, and people don’t seem to mind too much, perhaps because they feel they are benefitting from the perception created, that suburban living is ‘safer’, and each man can have his ‘own slice of country’. Many would say this is because of a free market and developers where only giving people what they wanted.
    So the difficulty here is how we go about changing this perception and culture, in terms of enabling a free market to create ‘location efficiency’ in cities and towns. And so to is the manner in which we develop the way streets and people connect with each other.
    It is harder to measure things like the value of connecting with each other and where we want to go. But according to Scott Bernstein, ‘you make a terrible mistake if you plan a city in terms of buildings and facilities and parks, and don’t look at the space that those things occupy’.

    Sophie Elwood

  37. I mentioned in my last post that I thought there were aspects of the danwei approach that could be applied to different settings. I think that it is important to point out that when applying an idea from a different setting it is vital that you take into account the local characteristics of the area.

    Certainly within Auckland the ‘quarter-acre dream’ and reliance on private vehicles are both major obstacles to translating characteristics of the danwei model here. However, given the mixed-use zoning that Charlotte mentioned, the changing family demographic and increasing population size I think that planning for an Auckland which enables populaces to work close to where they live (or vice versa) and use alternate forms of transport to get around is an approach which has a number of merits.

    mspe052 - 1265035

  38. From the article posted on Cecil, I get the impression that whilst Danwei’s are successful in creating an environment that is both conducive to work and home life. However, I don’t agree that this is the best method to engineer communities around work. In my opinion, it seems oppressive, inflexible and clearly socialist. If there were a planning tool to control civil society, this would be it. Through this isolation this creates a disparity between the community and the wider city. Rather than liberating its people through market based initiatives, this sends a clear and direct message to those living in Danweis of their place in society. So whilst it is successful in achieving a “symbiotic” relationship between all aspects of life, the reality of the situation is that there is a need to separate place and functions. In reference to the point made out by Wayne, Danwei’s often are the demise of its own creation because it encourages homogeneity within the confines of the “social enclave”. In doing this, it causes detrimental flow on effects on quality of life.

    I am more concerned with the fact that isolation from the wider community will not only exclude those living in the Danwei’s , but that an isolation will block any external influences which could detriment any advancements which would otherwise positively contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of the community. Organizing a neighborhood in this way can only stunt its growth socially in my opinion. Each society has its moral imperative to adhere and contribute to a wider community in order to function, as the old adage goes, “no man is an island”, however, Danwei’s work counteractive to that.

    Having that said, offering a way to incentivize good behavior may not always lead to the greatest good, I share the same sentiments with Adam concerning the abuse of good behavior. Ultimately, nothing can control erratic human behavior but humans themselves. So the “social engineering” tool of Danwei’s are not likely to promote good behavior as it intends to make work and personal life better for its inhabitants. So whilst Danwei’s serve as yet another example for planners abroad to take into consideration the validity of them within a different local context, the nature of it gives impetus to social detriment to the neighborhood and the inhabitants within it.

    Audrey Songan (4066080)

  39. A strong aspect of similarity between Danwei and the Transition Towns movements is the quest for self-sufficiency. It has been suggested that one of the reasons Danwei arose was through the need for Chinese army units in the 1930’s to produce for themselves due to trade blockades (Lu & Perry 1997: 24). Transition Towns also seek a solution to over-reliance on outside networks for supplies. To counteract the effects of globalisation Transition Towns advocate returning to localised and resilient communities. This is especially related to fears of energy shocks due to peak oil, and the inability to import goods as we currently do. Because of this strong underlying similarity there are perhaps many principles for urban development that can be gained. These include the integration of land use planning for employment and residential development, and the strength of community.

    Lu. X., & Perry, E. 1997. Danwei: the changing Chinese workplace in historical and comparative perspective. [Online]. Available: Accessed 01/10/11.

    Melanie Cripps

  40. The Danwei model has good characteristics that other countries can learn from. It promotes the idea of walkable environments as everything is within good distance. It also encourages sustainability as it reduces the reliance on cars. However, it is restrictive. The Danwei model limits people’s ability to move freely and constrains freedom of choice. Western cities will most likely have difficulty accepting the Danwei model because people value their freedom to move and freedom to own land. New Zealand, for example will have issues with the Danwei model. The lifestyle that we have here is not completely appropriate for it. People love their backyards, lifestyle blocks, big open space and the ability to travel from different parts of the city. However, it would be good to adopt the idea of reducing car usage. We all know that it is a major problem in NZ.
    While there are advantages to the Danwei model, there are also issues that make it hard to apply in non-Chinese cities. I think it is applicable to cities that are compact and have a large population density. A city like Auckland does not have enough population to sustain a model like this.

    atag007 - 1215556

  41. Many people have criticized the centralized, hierarchical and top-down nature of planning in China and of danwei’s, citing this as the reason danwei concepts would not work in New Zealand. I disagree with these absolute rejections, as I think that some of the underlying principles of the physical design of danwei may be applicable. Various current Western trends of planning contain compatible principles: Compact Cities, Transit-Oriented Development, New Urbanism, Transition Towns, gated communities, and integrated landuse-transport planning in the Netherlands. I agree that there would not be the will and desire for New Zealanders to conform to such top-down hierarchical methods of physical and social planning. However, I think if a context-appropriate delivery solution of elements of this concept was found, it could be successful. The Flatbush Structure Plan in Manukau is an example of a local government led initiative that aims to include residential, mixed used development, and employment in one locality. Manukau City Council brought the land to ensure follow-through and appropriate staging of the development of the area. It combined both a top-down centralized approach to planning in partnership with private developers with market-led interests.

    Melanie Cripps

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. The critique by Andrew Moore that single-source employment centres are not sustainable when market conditions change and the source of employment closes down is significant. This means that if Danwei were to be implemented today, both buildings and sources of employment must be diverse and adaptable to changing conditions and uses over time.

    Another critique by Andrew Moore of globalized working conditions where people move frequently negating the viability of Danwei is important. I wonder if the delivery of this type of development was flipped on its head with a grassroots and participatory model used instead whether there could be a greater acceptance of this type of planning. A model is used in Berlin, Germany for collectively building and living in sustainably designed apartment buildings is called Building Group or Baugruppe. Groups of people hire specialized architects to mange the project directly with a group of people wishing to build affordable housing sustainably. It is a longer, participatory process (rather than developer-driven) that produces sustainable outcomes in the long term. There is a high degree of commitment from the apartment owner-occupiers. This leads to a strong sense of identity and belonging to the building, the community within, and the local neighbourhood. It is also compatible with New Zealand notions of private property rights as the apartments are individually owned. I wonder if this concept could be extended beyond an apartment building to include local sources of employment also? It could also be a new model for New Zealand to provide affordable housing for first home buyers.

    Example: When I was in Berlin in July I saw Passivhaus Schönholzer Strasse (click on the thumbnail picture between 2010 and 2009, then use the arrow in the blue box to scroll to this project). There is a video (in French!) that shows the inside of the building too.

    Melanie Cripps

  44. I Agree with Sarah Wongs Comment that “the danwei concept also has a number of restrictions and constraints in everyday life, which Western cities may object to”

    When I grew up in a daiwei environment I never had any alternatives to compare with. However once exposed to the freedoms associated with various other models I do find it very difficult to go back and choose that model.

    For example it is great to talk about the merits of compact city, but in reality people, including me, do prefer the convenience associated with the motor vehicle. Within a danwei, there might be a cinema, but it may not be the cinema I want to go to. Maybe I want to go to a cinema in another danwei 10km away. So despite the danwei model meeting the “needs” of the people, it may not be able to meet their “wants”

    Yiqiang Shao

  45. I think that the danwei model is something non-Chinese cities could learn from as it has many benefits and has the potential to create more sustainable environments. As homes are placed in close proximity to work areas, this reduces the need for private vehicles and people are more encouraged to walk to places. Re-creating these urban villages could therefore be beneficial in many areas. However there would also be many difficulties in pursuing the danwei model in other settings because it is a restrictive model. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to apply this model in NZ because we value our open spaces and freedom too much. Essentially as every town is different, the success of this model is dependent on the people, what they value, their needs and their wants.

    Shilpa Maharaj #1271697

  46. The Danwei model works well within the context of China, but applying it in New Zealand may be difficult. I agree with others regarding how beneficial it would be to reducing congestion and promoting walking, but it comes at a price. This model works best in a dense setting as it ensures all services and employment are located within walking distance. However trying to move New Zealanders away from lower density neighbourhoods that rely on private vehicle and public transport would be hard to implement.

    Therefore making compromises and picking the best parts of the model that could work in a New Zealand context would be the best approach. Like for example in Auckland city, creating small dense clusters encourages people to work and live together and eliminates the need for any real long distance vehicular transport. Consideration also needs to be given to the fact that implementing this plan into a western city that has been around for a long period of time would be beyond difficult

    Ben Christian-Webb

  47. Like many have mentioned the danwei model is something that other cities can consider due to its sustainable nature. It promotes walking, employment and provides everday services. It is a planning system that works in China as it is an old practise that has been implemented for many years. It is based around social status as those living in a danwei were usually better off. A weaknes of the danwei is social exclusion as it is very difficult to move from one danwei to another, giving it a strong sense of communities.

    If a country wants to adopt the danwei model, they need know what makes it work in China, there needs to be an understanding of history and culture. the model would work in a higher density city rather than a scatered density city like Auckland.

    Tin Lo, 1066001

  48. I think that the Danwei model is definitely something that non-Chinese cities could learn from. While the Danwei model as a whole comes across as scarily restrictive and politically charged, it also has many good principles for living and working in relation to urban sustainability. One example that I think non-Chinese cities should really look at is the concept of living close to where you work, thus reducing the need for car usage or long commutes.
    The main difficulty with pursuing the Danwei model in a non-Chinese setting would be challenging the cultural norms of many Westerners. Most Western people are used to, and strongly believe in their right to freedom. Trying to implement something like the reproductive and travel restrictions of the Chinese Danwei in a country like New Zealand would cause major public uproar and protest and would be seen as totally unacceptable, despite the benefits of the restrictions. In order to make the Danwei model work in non-Chinese cities, the basic principles of the model would have to be made city contest specific.

    Elsa Weir

  49. Danwei could simply define as a work unit, which is the name given to a place of employment in China. However, non-Chinese cities could learn series of advantages from the danwei model. Specifically, it practically achieves sustainable management in a relatively small land. It creates a mini society within a walkable and accessible space, which includes all daily needs infrastructures and facilities. Furthermore, different danwei has different rules and organisations structure. However, this danwei management system bases on humanity and moral, which is an unofficially way to organise group of people living together in a safe and sustainable environment. This small scale urban model promotes sustainable development which could be reference to other cities’ urban design. However, from macroscopical point of view, this model is only suit for short term development. The reason is, it will significantly reduce the economic development in a country or world scale. The small scale society blocks people’s opportunity to coming outside of their world. This model suited for China at few decent ago, because it difficult to manage such large amount of population in a big country scales for that generation, which lacked of information and technology. From my point of view, this model is against with globalisation.

  50. The Danwei model has been executing in China for a very long time, it was big when Chinese people can live in ‘Danwei’, especially the one owned by the governments. However, ‘Danwei’ lost its original attraction now, because Chinese people believe it is not the only insurances of entire life, which can provide a living place and standard salary and so on. Because of the rapid development of Chinese economy, people have more opportunities to choose the work they are interested in and live at the place they like. Despite the especial politics in China, I do believe Danwei model has something that other countries can learn from. For example, its theory of living, educating, and shopping near the working place, in order to decrease the time and cost that might spend on travelling from home to danwei. It is one theory in (re)development of a modern city, ensure the accessibility of facilities and its location within walkable distance, so as to incentive the utilitise of walking, cycling, and public transportation, rather than private vehicle.

  51. I find the denwai project to be very interesting, but also so far from the main concepts of main stream planning.where in some respect it makes sense to limit travel, to work where you live and to be sustainable in doing so are all hugely beneficial to both the people within the communities and to the community and country as a whole. As others have already stated social exclusion and social inclusion can be viewed both as negatives and positives. But to me it just seems too restrictive to the point where it limits us as human beings. Where people want to be move about and be free to do so, where exploration and experience pushes us to be better beings. Limitation of such could slowly decrease human nature


  52. The Danwei involves the ideas of village formed development which includes the working place, residential buildings and limited number of leisure, retail or service shops to provide convenience for people who work in the Danwei. For myself when I was in China, I lived in Danwei till I was 12 years old. My perspective of Danwei is that it is relatively isolated from the outside society.
    The re-creation of urban villages for my interpretation is a way to promote sustainability and to be adaptable for the future changes. For non-China countries to pursue Danwei setting, especially the western society, the difficulty could be that the Danwei model cannot adapt to western ethics and lifestyles. For non-Chinese countries the pursue Danwei model, changes are required to adapt to local conditions, the Transit-Oriented-Development is a good example which contains the benefit of Danwei and is more suitable for western countries.

    Xiaoyu Shi

  53. The Danwei model is an example of a planning concept that has significant application outside of its country of origin. As with most examples of cross national planning, simple copying of one technique within a foreign context is not advisable but significant parallels can be drawn from the model and current western concepts of planning. The most significant of these comparisons is with Transit Oriented Development. This modern western planning concept centres a town around a central public transport node and attempts to make the settlement largely self sufficient with significant areas of local employment and service provision. This has strong parralels with the concept of Danwei as a holistic settlement on a larger scale. Whether a formal connection exists between the two would prove an interesting topic of research. Some difficulties arise in the lack of diversity these areas and Danwei promotes as they tend to attract extremely similar residents (in terms of ethnicity, age and income etc).

    Harry Halpin 1023992

  54. The Danwei concept works well in China however in non-Chinese cities it may not have the same benefits. Although this way of living is sustainable, it is not likely to work in an area that does not have a dense population. It would be beneficial to alter the concept to meet the needs of each context in which it is applied.

    There are lessons that non-Chinese cities can learn from such as eliminating private vehicles and the need for public transport. Being located near the workplace does bring a significant amount of benefits, but at a cost.

    I find Harry’s point interesting about there being a lack of diversity within Danwei has they attract a similar demographic. There seems to be a lack of ‘community’ and conservatism.

    Rachael Thomas

  55. Pang Yi
    ypan053 1544405

    The danwei model may be a good attempt for non-Chinese cities to urban sustainable development. In a danwei model, the walkability and accessibility may both be great improved. The distance between the accommodation and factory is walkable, and it consequently eliminates the need for private cars or public transport. The elimination has a contribution to the decrease in the utilization of fossil fuels and the improvement for urban environment.
    Moreover, the danwei models can strengthen the community cohesion and social connections. It provides more opportunities of communication for people who live in the same danwei area. Strong community connection in the danwei model offers a relaxed living and working environment and may also be helpful to improve the quality of life.
    However, on the other hand, within a small area as danwei, individual behaviour may easily be watched and even monitored as the number of people living in it can be very limited. People living in a danwei have to be restricted in a constant environment surrounded by same people and places every day. The social life is relatively monotonous, and people have few opportunities to be involved in the big society. It may be uncomfortable for people who value the freedom and privacy of life to live in a danwei. In terms of this, it is difficult for danwei model to be pursed in a non-Chinese city, particularly in western cities.

  56. I think there are some benefits of the danwei model. in particularly, this model could be more sustainable for development of non- Chinese cities. The danwei model not only reduces the requirement to use the private vehicles, but also eliminate the usage of public transport which people live near to their working place. Meanwhile, it can mitigate the traffic congestion.

    On the other hand, there are some disadvantages of the danwei model. The unwell organized facilities always occur in the danwei model, such as some health facilities and recreational facilities. Also people who live in the danwei model will be restricted in this area, people lost their opportunity to travel in a day to day sense. But in the western countries, people usually want to travel to some else place for their holiday or leisure time.

    The non- Chinese cities can develop and design the cities as gate communities which learn from the danwei model, but they should increase more physical infrastructure and more mix-use facilities at the same time. Furthermore, providing more public transport facilities to increase the opportunities for people’s travelling.

    Ye Kang

  57. i think when talking about danwei the first and foremost would be to consider the chinese social environment, it is established as a unit that is outside of family and firend circles, grouping a population based purely on what they do and where they work. thus as a unit the danwei would operate in unision, and at early stages of china's development, lack of private and public vehicles would force a much more condensed build form that focuses on danwei units, result what seem to be desireble today: reduced private car usage (very few have private cars at the time), walkability and high usage of public transfort.

    it is rather unlikely that such an orgnisation would work in places outside of china, as would require a complete overhaul of city scape that focuses on clusters, dramatic reduction in private cars and very compact urban forms, which is directly contridicting the half acre dream that many people have.

    Fengqiao Han