Based on statistic analysis of the interviews, questionnaire data and observation on the usage of the built environment, problems could be found in the following aspects:
Quality problems of housing
Neighborhoods management and security concerns.
Contradictions between the housing layout and local living habits
Different utilization preferences of open space between the indigenous peasants and the post-disaster migrants
Supply and demand mismatch/disequilibrium of public facility allocation.
Quality problems of resettlement housing
Quality problems generally occurred in the resettlement housing apartments. In the survey of the housing problems, 53.9% of residents (see Fig. 5) pointed out that quality problems were the most prominent housing problems.
The quality problems of the resettlement housing could be mainly divided into two categories. First were the design problems due to insufficient designing consideration of the local rainy climate, such as pipe plugging and windows leaking. Second were the construction problems, including the ceiling leakage, wall cracking and flaking. Those problems were probably caused by the tight project schedule and fast reconstruction process, and some problems in the supervision of the housing design and construction quality.
Due to the wide range, complexity and easy recurrence of the housing quality problems, it was quite difficult and expensive to carry out the maintenance continuously, which made it a thorny issue that troubled the local community management and residents’ lives.
Neighborhoods management and security concerns
According to the survey, security problems were prevalent in both the post-disaster migrants and the indigenous peasants’ communities. As a result of advocating the concept of open communities, the residential area was divided into small units by living streets and each community had lots of entrances. At the same time, railing walls were largely used to enhance the visual connection of neighborhoods.
For example, the Xinchuan Community was divided into six clusters. Each unit had one to two units, with a total of 10 units. Calculated with at least two entrances for each unit, there were more than 20 entrances to the community. For the consideration of management costs and community security, the property company had to close some entrances with low traffic to reduce the number of gatekeepers (see Fig. 6). And in the public pedestrian street of the Muxi Community, outsiders could freely enter the units and reach the building entrance, which greatly weakened the security facilities and brought some hidden dangers to residents’ lives. According to the residents and community leaders, the number of lost bicycles and motorcycles increased significantly in the New Beichuan. As a result of the security consideration, burglary-resistant windows were installed by the most residents themselves (see Fig. 6).
In addition, different views on safety and security issues existed between the indigenous peasants and the post-disaster migrants. The indigenous peasants, who had been used to living in detached village houses, preferred to attribute the security problems to the physical issues including short walls and excessive entrances. The post-disaster migrants who were more familiar with city management preferred to believe that the security problems were caused by the management confusion and negligence. Judging from the status quo, problems of both physical planning and management existed. For the protection of residents’ private property, the practice of open community living should be accompanied with more effective and efficient security management. Only if the safety and security of residents were guaranteed could the openness of communities be better achieved.
Contradictions between the housing layout and local living habits
Besides, housing types and areas also concerned the residents, accounting for 27.8% and 26.1%, respectively (see Fig. 5). The main problems included the housing layouts and areas:
The aisles occupied too much housing area;
Kitchens and bedrooms were comparatively small in size and inconvenient to be used;
The design of housing types and areas were monotonous and uniform. The housing types varied from 90 square meters to 105 and 120 square meters, which means that the original large families had to be broken down and live separately.
The inadaptability to housing layouts was comparatively more severe among the indigenous peasants. Compared with their original housing, the new housing type was not flexible enough. The sitting room was too small to hold large family gatherings. Toilets were too close to the kitchen and did not conform to their traditional living habits.
On the one hand, these problems could be ascribed to lacking considerations of local cultural and lifestyles. On the other hand, it was also due to the sudden passive transformation of the indigenous peasants from the style of rural life to urban life, which had caused their inadaptability. The inadaptability of the transformation was mainly reflected in two aspects, different living habits and employment. According to the interviews with the community leaders, some indigenous peasants refused to start working in the city and relied on the architectural and land compensation for a long time.
Different utilizations of open space
Low utilization of cluster-level open space
The open space in the city could be roughly divided into the city-level open space, community-level open space and the cluster-level open space (see Fig. 7). Low utilization of cluster-level open space with different usage preferences could be found between the community of post-disaster migrants and the community of indigenous peasants.
In both communities, the cluster-level open spaces were minimally used than the community- and city-level open spaces (see Fig. 7). According to the on-site investigation, it could be found that some community-level and city-level public spaces of good scale inside or near the neighborhoods with good accessibility were normally highly used, including the community centers, riverside parks and the main street space outside the neighborhoods. The residents were more willing to wander on the public streets, chat in front of the shops or play cards around a table at the community gate. Therefore, street space, community gates and community spaces equipped with sport and fitness facilities became one of the most popular public activities and outdoor social places for the residents (see Fig. 8), whereas the narrow interior public spaces inside the building clusters and some city-level public spaces such as the cultural axis and leisure belt between the two communities were comparatively less utilized (see Fig. 7b).
Based on the residents’ feedback in the interviews, the low utilization of the small-scale public space inside the communities could partly be ascribed to two reasons. The first reason was the lack of maintenance of the landscape, poorly qualified community infrastructure and debased recreation facilities inside the communities. Lack of activity facilities which had been easily broken was the main reason for the low utilization of the cluster-level open space. In some cluster-level open spaces, there were no pavilions, tables, chairs and other facilities for resting. And some residents of the indigenous peasants’ community chose to put some old, poor-quality tables and chairs, or sometimes stones as chairs in the cluster-level open spaces for the public use. The second reason was the poor spatial feeling of over-enclosed space forms. Some residents also presented their dislike of the over-enclosed space forms. Due to the investigation, most cluster-level open spaces were placed between the buildings, which made the space scale narrow, and a lack of sunlight might lead to poor spatial feeling.
Different spatial use preferences between two communities
Different spatial use preferences of green space and cluster-level open space could be found between the post-disaster migrants and the indigenous peasants.
Compared to the indigenous peasants, the post-disaster migrants living in the Erma and Yulong neighborhoods used the green public spaces more often. In the community of indigenous peasants, the open green space was not so attractive to the residents. Only green space on the roadsides with fitness equipment was used more often. According to interview of the community leaders, the indigenous peasants did not regard the urban public green space as an important landscape resource because they had been living with the vast rural scenery for a very long time. They even called the centralized urban green space “half-side-change,” which means a half is the city and another half is the countryside. They also regarded the green space as a kind of hindrance to their daily trips. On the contrary, they were more interested in the hard-paving open space due to the shortage of the hard-paving space in their original villages.
Also, differentiations on the usage of cluster-level open space existed between the community of post-disaster migrants and the community of indigenous peasants. In the indigenous peasants’ community, an interesting phenomenon was that some agricultural activities often occurred in the cluster-level open space such as putting the cabbage leaves on the railings, public chairs or stones in pavilions to make pickled vegetables (see Fig. 9).
The mismatches of the usage and planning intention of public spaces also reflected the shortage of research and consideration for local cultural and different living habits (Marcillia and Ohno 2012) between the two groups of different people.
Supply and demand disequilibrium of public facility allocation
In the survey, 49.8% of residents thought that shortage of public facilities was the main problem in community development.
However, according to the on-site investigation, a certain proportion of commercial facilities and the tourism facilities were vacant and lack vitality. Disequilibrium could be found with the supply and demand of public facilities, which mainly reflected on (1) vacancy of commercial infrastructure, and (2) monotonous function of tourism facilities hindered the spatial integration.
Vacancy of commercial infrastructures
In terms of commercial facilities, the vacancy rate of shops in residential areas was relatively high. Although the main street space of the central area was vivid, large numbers of the street shops on the fringe of the communities were empty (see Fig. 10), reflecting the depression of commercial vitality. Most of the surviving shops were restaurants or those who were selling retail products and daily necessities like supermarkets, while others like shops providing automobile service or souvenir shops were being painstakingly operated.
According to the staff of the Muxi Community Center, despite the implementation of a tax exemption policy on store renting, there were still around one-third of street shops unleased in the Muxi Community and even the rented shops were not all in operation. However, the one-third vacancy rate of street shops was comparatively not as high as other areas due to the good location and accessibility of the Muxi Community. The situation of the commercial infrastructure operation in other communities was even more depressing.
In addition, the construction of food markets was also not so optimistic. Although the food markets were located in the center of each community, residents still preferred to purchase their daily supplies in Huangtu Town as the prices were lower. It reflected the gap between the commercial infrastructure development and purchase power of the local residents.
The relatively high commercial infrastructure vacancy rate might attribute to the population and consumption structure of the residents. In the survey of family employment, 35% of families had a family member working in another city (see Table 4). The local employment difficulty, caused by the management failure and vacancy of the industrial development district, contributed to the outflow of young people with stronger spending power. The resident population in the city mainly consisted of elderly people, woman and children with limited spending power.
On the other hand, different groups of people had different requirements for commercial infrastructures. Compared with the post-disaster migrants, the indigenous peasants had long been engaged in agricultural activities and were not likely to use business activities. Some residents of the indigenous peasants’ community living on the ground floor even changed their housing to grocery stores and were selling some daily supplies without the cost of rent. Therefore, they were not accustomed to dense, small family living with independent retail space and were more reluctant to rent the street shops.
These aspects explained the contradictions between the demand for commercial infrastructure in the planning phase and the insufficient utilization and vacancy of those facilities after reconstruction. Restricted by the former living habits and economic level, the indigenous peasants were more likely to use the low-cost and public welfare service facilities than the post-disaster victims. Also the outflow of the working population decreased the requirement for commercial facilities. Therefore, typical urban housing design and socioeconomic construction of the new town development might not be totally appropriate for the unstable social and economic reconstruction process of after-disaster off-site resettlement.
Dominant external function of tourism facilities weakened the integration potential
The “Banaqia” commercial street between the two communities was defined as the central commercial district for the citizens and the cultural axis with “Qiang” ethnic features for external tourists. However, the dominant external tourism functions of the commercial street had little connection and relationship with the local residents. Neither the post-disaster migrants nor the indigenous peasants had chances to use the space and commercial facilities of the “Banaqia” streets, which weakened the internal integration potential for the communal shared space. In addition, as the main public space for tourism, the “Banaqia” street was operated worse than expected. The shops and products on the streets were of high homogeneity. Tourists were mainly from the cities nearby for weekend’s excursion and rarely stayed overnight.
Therefore, the main public space axis planned for potential integration turned out to be an obvious physical barrier instead of the integration hub between the two main residential communities.