Model of the New Chinese City from Gaubatz (1999)My research career began with an undergraduate thesis in Sociology on public participation in the urban planning process (Princeton, 1984) and an MA thesis in Geography on change in a North Oakland, CA neighborhood (UC Berkeley, 1986).  I then carried out dissertation fieldwork (1986-1989) on the historical and contemporary transformations of five multi-cultural cities on the Chinese frontiers, building on studies of Chinese language and society which I began at Princeton University in 1980.  Subsequently, I established two new and quite different research trajectories: one focused on contemporary transformations of large cities in eastern China, and the other on urban transformations in Japan and the U.S.  In recent years I’ve expanded my research repertoire with studies of environmental history, urban ecology and urban-rural interactions in northern China and research on processes of globalization and regional inequality in contemporary urban development in western China. My current research is centered on  understanding the transformations of public space in Chinese cities – particularly the large open squares, modelled on Tian’anmen Square, established in many Chinese cities after 1949.

Research Approaches and Themes

My approach to geographical theory and research is grounded in a critical reading of cities as representations of power, knowledge, culture, economies and social relations and dynamics within and beyond the urban community.  I explore four main themes: urban form, in which I analyze the production of cities as manifestations of economic, social, and cultural dynamics; urban change, in which I analyze the reproduction and transformation of cities over time; urban ecology, in which I analyze environmental change in cities and their hinterlands; and social justice, in which I analyze the role of marginalization and inequality in the production of urban space.

These themes lend themselves well to the interdisciplinary approaches to research and analysis which I have been developing along with geographers, urban and regional planners, architects, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists and historians.

Synopses of Ongoing Research Projects

  • Public Space in Chinese Cities: Re-defining Socialist Space in the 21st Century. This on-going research project examines the transformations of the large public plazas established in the 1950s and 1960s for the staging of mass rallies in revolutionary China. The project includes fieldwork in twelve different cities, a China-wide GIS/remote sensing analysis, and ongoing analysis of planning documents and news reports.
    Publications: Gaubatz, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2019a, b.
    Grants: UMass Interdisciplinary Studies Institute, 2015-16.
  • The Chinese City Transformed: Globalization, Urban Development, and Urban Change in the Reform Era. This on-going research project examines the post-1979 transformation of socialist cities in the context of globalization, economic change, and new trends in planning, emphasizing Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.  It focuses on housing, commercial development, economic development areas and transportation in the contexts of the impacts of devolution of urban planning to local governments, internationalization of urban design process, and private contractor participation in planning competitions.
    Publications: Gaubatz, 1995a,b; 1999a,b; 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008; Wu and Gaubatz, 2012, 2013, 2021
    Grants: National Academy of Sciences Committee on Scholarly Communication with China, 1993-94; Association of American Geographers, 2005.
  • Beyond Globalization: Regional Inequality in Chinese Urban and Environmental Planning through Comparative Analysis of Large Cities in the Core and Periphery. This project explores the urban spatial, social, and economic restructuring of cities within differing regional contexts in China.  It contrasts regional disparities and uneven development between large cities in the core area (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) and the periphery (Xining, Kunming, Lanzhou, Höhhot).  This project also traces the formation, diffusion and application of planning and development theories,  models and practices as they are transmitted between different localities and regions.
    Publications: Gaubatz, 2003, 2008; Wu and Gaubatz, 2012, 2013, 2021.
    Grants: National Geographic Society, 1999-01; Association of American Geographers, 2005; University of Massachusetts, 2008).
  • Beyond a ‘Green Beijing’: Environmental Planning, Urban Development and Urban Design in Contemporary China. While making the transition from socialist capital to would-be global financial center, Beijing became one of the world’s top-ten most polluted cities. Automobile ownership alone has grown by as much as 25% annually, total suspended particulates are nearly four times the World Health Organization (WHO) standard, and smog and acid rain have become concerns.  This research project examines the ways in which the ambitious “Green Beijing” agenda, backed by large-scale economic investment, international attention, and an imminent 2008 Olympics deadline for completion not only transformed this historic city of more than 14 million people, but also produced new models and practices for cities throughout China. The study analyzes the inter-relations between planning, environmental management, and urban form at the scale of the city as a whole, and explores the implications of the trend toward more environmentally-sensitive planning for cities throughout China.
  • Publications: Gaubatz and Hanink, 2020; Wu and Gaubatz, 2013, 2021.
  • Grants: Association of American Geographers, 2005; University of Massachusetts, 2008).
  • Nature and the City in Late Imperial China: an Environmental History of Höhhot and its Hinterland (1572-1911). This project explores three centuries of urban/rural political, social, economic, and environmental dynamics on the northern, Mongolian frontier of China with a focus  on the development of the Mongol/Manchu/Han/Hui city of Höhhot, now the capital of Inner Mongolia, and the ramifications of these dynamics for land use and ecologies of the city’s site and across its vast agrarian, grassland, and mountain forest hinterland. It integrates perspectives from political ecology, environmental history, urban ecology and urban geography.
    Publications: Gaubatz, 1996; 1998; 2002; Gaubatz and Stevens, 2006
    Grants: Luce Foundation 1998-03, 2004-05; 2006-09; National Geographic Society, 1999-01; National Natural Science Foundation of China, 1998-05; Yale University, 2005-06).