This paper presents the results of two years joint-research-project settled between University of Pavia, Italy, and Tongji University, Shanghai, China. The main purpose of this cooperation was to initiate an investigation to foster understanding on rural-urban condition focusing on the urbanization of small towns in China. China’s urbanization is rapidly progressing and has improved the living standards of the Chinese people, but it also caused huge environmental and resource pressures. Moreover, China’s urban planning system includes two scales of intervention: the big scale and the small scale. The core hypothesis of our project is that between the two scales there is a third land of investigation, which includes small towns and villages in rural areas. The scope of this project is not only to explore new ways of urbanization, but also to create best practice for regeneration of existing rural villages prioritizing design thorough social inclusion. This approach has two crucial aspects of innovation: first, open-dialogue and authorities engagement; second, participation and social engagement. The achieved results can be summarized as follows: First, creation of awareness on developments and innovations in which different crucial elements of modernization and tradition have found a common ground of interaction; second, contribution to the rural resilience of China’s Mega-cities suburbs, which will become the future bearers of the cultural heritage of China, and also paradigm for European cities. These two aspects together can be considered of great impact and innovation in and for the Chinese system. In contrast to the state control of urban planning prevalent in many East Asian cities, these bottom-up actions suggest an alternative mode of development that embodies the subjectivity and agency of rural dwellers, and we can begin to pursue a more open, democratic, and dynamic form of planning in China and beyond.
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