Nick R Smith

Social Sciences (Urban Studies)

Assistant Professor
J Y Pillay Fellow


View Curriculum Vitae

Dr Nick R Smith is a scholar of urban transformation, planning, and policy. He received his AB (East Asian Studies), AM (Architecture), and PhD (Urban Planning) from Harvard University. He has also held visiting positions at Oxford University (Oxford China Centre), Chongqing University (Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning), and Renmin University (History). Dr Smith’s work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (USA), the Fulbright Scholarship, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Kaifeng Foundation, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Ministry of Education (PRC), and the Ministry of Science and Technology (PRC). In 2011 and 2012, Dr Smith served as Secretary of the International Association for China Planning, and he is currently a member of the Advisory Board for the Urban China Research Network. Dr Smith is also the current JY Pillay Fellow at Yale-NUS College.

Dr Smith is a scholar of urban transformation and planning. His work explores the city as an institution and planning as a process of institution building. Combining the perspectives of new institutional economics, development anthropology, and urban sociology, Dr Smith investigates how urbanisation inscribes the ‘rules of the game’ into the space of the city. Using a combination of ethnography, spatial analysis, and archival research, he investigates these processes in contexts of instability, liminality, and rapid change where new forms of urbanisation are produced and contested.

Over the past decade, Dr Smith’s work has focused on peri-urban China, where he has conducted extensive research on the development and planning of village communities. His book manuscript, entitled Urban Furnace: The Making of a Chinese City, investigates an epochal shift in Chinese urban policy that aims for the near-total urbanisation of China’s territory and population. The book argues that this radical new policy constitutes an unprecedented expansion of party-state power and an existential threat to China’s villages. For decades, social justice in rural China has been based on the egalitarian redistribution of rights and resources within each village. The new urbanisation programme promises to rewrite this social contract, uprooting existing village institutions and ensuring perpetual dependence on the redistributive justice of the party-state. However, the reshuffling of urban-rural relations also creates openings for village actors to contest the party-state’s hegemony. The book investigates these differing visions for the just ordering of Chinese society as they intersect in the urbanisation of an experimental village in Chongqing. Based on his research in China, Dr Smith is developing a longer-term comparative project that investigates villages’ institutional responses to rapid socio-spatial transformation in East and Southeast Asia.

In his current research, Dr Smith is investigating Shekou, one of the first industrial zones to be established during China’s post-1978 reform era. Used as a laboratory for testing and adapting international approaches to urban development and governance, Shekou offers an opportunity to understand the origins and logics of widespread Chinese development and planning practices. Shekou’s history suggests that China’s rapid urbanisation may be rooted in China’s short-lived efforts at political liberalisation in the early 1980s rather than the economic liberalisation of the late 1980s and 1990s. Dr Smith is also pursuing related research that follows the proliferation of planning knowledges and practices across Asia, particularly within the Sinosphere.

Refereed Journal Articles:

Smith, Nick R. 2018. “Planning Powers as Property Rights in Contemporary China.” Journal of Planning Education and Research. (Forthcoming) doi:10.1177/0739456X18787623

Smith, Nick R. 2018. “One Village, One Product: Agro-Industrial Village Corporatism in Contemporary China.” Journal of Agrarian Change. (Forthcoming) doi:10.1111/joac.12301

Smith, Nick R. 2014. “Beyond Top-Down/Bottom-Up: Village Transformation on China’s Urban Edge.” Cities 41, Part B (December): 209–20. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2014.01.006.

Smith, Nick R. 2014. “Living on the Edge: Household Registration Reform and Peri-urban Precarity in China.” Journal of Urban Affairs 36 (S1): 1-15. doi:10.1111/juaf.12107.

Refereed Book Chapters:

Smith, N. 2017. “Suburban Stories.” The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies. (Forthcoming)

Smith, Nick R. 2014. “City-in-the-Village: Huanggang and China’s Urban Renewal.” In Village in the City: An Informal Portrait of South China, edited by Stefan Al, 34–46. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Book Reviews and Conference Reports:

Smith, Nick R. 2014. Book Review: “Chinese City and Regional Planning Systems.” China Quarterly 220 (December): 1161-1162.

Smith, Nick R. 2014. Conference Report: “Building Resilient Cities in China: The Nexus Between Planning and Science.” Town Planning Review 85, no. 1 (January 1, 2014): 127–42. doi:10.3828/tpr.2014.8.

Published in China:

Smith, Nick R. 2014. “Change and Continuity: Chinese Villages in Transition (IV) – Wanmin Village.” China City Planning Review 23, no. 2.

Smith, Nick R. 2014. “Change and Continuity: Chinese Villages in Transition (III) – Hailong Village.” China City Planning Review 23, no. 1: 68-75.

Smith, Nick R. 2013. “Change and Continuity: Chinese Villages in Transition (II) – Panyang Village.” China City Planning Review 22, no. 4: 67-72.

Smith, Nick R. 2013. “Change and Continuity: Chinese Villages in Transition (I) – Longmei Village.” China City Planning Review 22, no. 3: 66–72.

Community Development: In Search of the Kampung Spirit
Key Debates in Urban Planning and Policy
Living on the Edge: The Experience of Peri-urbanisation
Modern Social Thought
Urban Studio
Urban Theory
Urbanisation in China