By 2020, China wants every major urban centre to be easily accessible. Expressways and railways are scheduled to connect all cities with more than 200,000 people. A flood of new airports are meant to make air travel easily available to 90 per cent of the population. This rapid expansion is designed to bring hundreds of millions into urban centres where they will, in theory, have access to higher-paying jobs and middle-class lifestyles. Developers are building as quickly as they can, but sometimes obdurate owners refuse to sell, or tenants refuse government relocation packages. These homes earn the nickname “nail houses,” because, like a stubborn nail stuck in wood, the residents won’t budge.
Often, nail-house owners or renters are simply holding out for more money. Some have larger political objections though, encapsulating the dissatisfaction among people forced out of their homes for the promise of a better tomorrow that might not include them. Certain nail-house dwellers have become national heroes, attracting media attention and public adulation, reflecting the feeling that the needs of common people are often ignored by politicians more interested in keeping powerful developers happy. Most nail houses are eventually razed. But some remain, and massive infrastructure projects, from apartment complexes to mega-highways, are built around them.
A resident of Shanghai’s valuable Guangfuli neighbourhood has been fending off developers for 16 years