The shift towards an urbanised world is generating profound social, economic, and environmental complexities. Agglomerating regions require new understandings to capture the socio-spatial restructuring of this planetary urbanisation. In China, top-down rural urbanisation policies such as the Characteristic Town, or tese xiaozhen, address urban-rural polarisation through a ‘one-town-one-characteristic-industry’ model aiming to generate localised rural economic development. Characteristic Towns have been criticised as only superficially addressing local challenges, imposing tabula-rasa developments that extend urbanisation into rural areas, excluding vulnerable groups. Within the mega-urban Yangtze River Delta corridor, the Smart Moulding Town in Huangyan-Taizhou’s hinterland is leading regional industrial upgrading processes, epitomising visions of politicians, planners, and developers. The urban-rural interface is undergoing a fragmented transition towards industrialisation while villagers adapt their local economies and everyday practices, generating new socio-spatial typologies for dwelling. This inductive research reveals the role of villagers in shaping, and being shaped by, top-down rural urbanisation programs. The multi-scalar theoretical framework is structured around private, collective, and institutional layers of dwelling, interrogated through Lefebvre’s spatial production theory. Uncovering hybrid urban-rural qualities and actor networks, the empirical findings illustrate that villagers’ micro-scale tactics are deeply embedded in trans-local industrialisation processes, redefining rural identities and defying top-down spatial compartmentalisation by negotiating informality.
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