Although city governments continue to exert effective control over urban planning in most areas of Chinese cities, the regeneration of industrial districts is a market-driven process where government plays a strategic role. The industrial regulatory regime in these districts permitted rapid transformation, propelled by new urban rail infrastructure. Exceptionally high-density development on small industrial leaseholds is encouraged by municipal investments in public transport that render these industrial properties highly accessible and valuable. The complex pattern of land holdings combined with a permissive regulatory regime that allows a mix of land uses without car parking provisions in particular, also promotes the development of a de facto non-motorized zone. This paper documents the pattern of redevelopment and the consequent evolution of the non-motorized environment in the Huaqiangbei industrial zone in Shenzhen between 2007 and 2013. The significant growth of the pedestrian environment in particular, which is driving some of the new real estate activity, is also recasting the municipal role as strategic player, project coordinator and manager of the public environment. Although local government is supporting such bottom-up development through strategic investment, it is not yet formally recognized as part of the urban planning process.

There is growing interest in the evolutionary aspects of urban fabric particularly under conditions of limited extrinsic control. Such bottom-up processes of development describe self-organization according to limited rules at the local level, contributing collectively and by interactions to a global pattern (Batty and Xie, 1999). The social and economic dynamics of cities is also likened to self-organizing and bottom-up processes (Krugman, 1996) that also have impacts on urban form. Such bottom-up urban development is particularly relevant in cities building mass rapid transit.

This case is interesting for China because of the many industrial districts undergoing redevelopment, especially in South China. But the case is also of interest for rail investment and urban development worldwide, especially in the context of the rapid build-up of urban rail transit. We can use cases like these to better understand how such environments can be managed and what to expect as outcomes in the short- and long-term.