Suburbia - the word brings to mind an idyllic and quaint community of two to three storied houses that are arranged in neat lines next to each other, separated by a single communal road.
It is a picture perfect scene where neighbours walking their dogs or watering their plants are never too busy to say hello.
We’ve seen the Hollywood movies that portray such a life in suburbia. Everyone is seemingly happy and no one bats an eye at how easy it is for crime to happen. It is a truly inclusive community most would want to be a part of.
Perhaps then, as a means to mirror the high suburban life, developers in Hunan, China, went ahead and built their own version of what a white roof, picket-fenced community would be like.
Only thing was, they built it illegally and too high - on top of a multi-storey shopping mall to be exact!
Erected in 2009, and covering an area of about three football fields or approximately 20,000 sq.m, Wings Group Co built 25 villas atop Wings Housing Plaza in Hengyang, Hunan.
Almost every villa is identical, with blue roofs and painted yellow facades organized around cement yards and large porches, divided by white picket fences. A paved road separates the houses for good measure.
Apparently built without a license, the developers have been harangued by the city government to demolish the villas, a summons they have summarily ignored.
This blatant disregard for the authorities is yet another example of how the property boom is creating a tug of war between the local authorities and property developers with ordinary citizens stuck in between. Numerous officials and developers have been trying to cash in on the property market and in the process, have made plans that perhaps did not have the best interests of the majority populace at heart.
Land grabbing has become such a volatile and frequent occurrence that demolishing houses by developers have been forbidden without the owner's’ consent while the police have been banned from intervening to protect developers.
This was presumably done to prevent a situation like the one in Rui’an - where a homeowner held steadfast against demolishers even when they cut her water and electricity to force her to move - from happening again.
Despite all of this sounding very draconian and illegal for any company to blatantly do, the government had to step in and mediate both sides before the situation could be resolved.
In the case of the shopping mall villas, even after completing construction, the developers did not apply for a construction project planning license and a sales permit from the local government which inevitably, led to a few clashes between the two organizations.
After several rounds of ordering the developers to tear down the villas, the city authorities finally ruled that the developers are prohibited from demolishing or selling the villas, thus entering them into a deadlock situation with no means of monetizing their venture.
Not one to be upped by the government, the Wings Group have deemed the villas fit to serve as dormitories for their employees.
Some of the migrant workers who toiled to build said villas have also been allowed to appropriate the vacant homes as accommodation.
The developer’s general manager, Wang Jianxin, went on the record saying that the reason the orders for demolishing have gone ignored was because a tenant on the fourth floor - Easyhome, a furniture-retailer - believe that doing so would damage the mall’s overall structure.
A construction expert from the China Academy of Building Research had also said that as long as the plaza’s structure is strong enough to withstand the weight of the villas, there was no need to demolish them despite them being illegal.
Besides, any further structural changes made to the mall will require architects to survey and determine if the ongoing stress would put the structural integrity of the mall in jeopardy.
Humorlessly, if this was ever an issue, then would it not have made more sense for Wings Group to have considered the structural integrity of the mall before they built on top of it?
While the law allows for several loop-holes that inadvertently makes developers sort of untouchable, the villas present yet another conundrum in China’s property space.
With so much land up for grabs, loose property laws only seek to benefit the very rich. Even transgressional and illegal acts lack sufficient punishment to deter the select few from building and claiming land at the detriment of others.
Another such example was in the case of the wealthy individual who built a private villa atop a residential building.
In most of these situations, the action taken was reactive. Why would they not step in and stop it while illegal construction was underway? If they did, why could they not prevent it from continuing?
When put in perspective, one really has to ask the question; what is this mad rush for profit doing to people?
Written by: Christopher Chitty
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