Nick R. 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, Smith investigates how urbanization inscribes the “rules of the game” into the space of the city. Using a combination of ethnography, spatial analysis, and archival research, he primarily pursues these processes through investigations of peri-urban villages—contexts of instability, liminality, and rapid change where new forms of urbanization are produced and contested.
Over the past decade, Smith’s work has focused on peri-urban China, where he has conducted extensive research on the development and planning of village communities. His forthcoming book, entitled The End of the Village: Planning the Urbanization of Rural China, investigates an epochal shift in Chinese urban policy that aims for the near-total urbanization of China’s territory and population. For decades, social justice in rural China has been based on the nation's urban-rural divide and the egalitarian redistribution of rights and resources within each village. The new urbanization program promises to rewrite this social contract, uprooting existing village institutions and integrating rural people more tightly into state-led processes of urban transformation. 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 urbanization of an experimental village in Chongqing.
In his current research, 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. Smith's research traces these experimental practices through an international network of planning and policy exchanges across the Sinosphere, offering a new narrative of China's early reform era in which marketization, urbanization, and democratization were all tightly intertwined. Smith is also pursuing related research that follows the proliferation of planning knowledges and practices in Southeast Asia during the twentieth century.
Smith is currently Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. Prior to joining Barnard, he was a founding member of the Urban Studies faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. At Barnard, he teaches a variety of courses in the Architecture Department and the Urban Studies Program, including Urban Elsewheres, Urbanizing China, and Key Debates in Urban Planning and Policy.
Smith received his A.B. (East Asian Studies), A.M. (Architecture), and Ph.D. (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). 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, Smith served as Secretary of the International Association for China Planning. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Urban China Research Network.
Smith, Nick R. 2020. “Spatial Poetics Under Authoritarianism: Graffiti and the Contestation of Urban Redevelopment in Contemporary China.” Antipode 52 (2): 581–601. doi.org/10.1111/anti.12607.
Smith, Nick R. 2019. “Community Self-Organisation in Contemporary China: Efficiency, Equity and Affect in the Process of Institutional Transformation.” International Development Planning Review 41 (3): 399–418. doi.org/10.3828/idpr.2019.12
Smith, Nick R., Daniel B. Abramson, and Mi Shih. 2019. “An Introduction to Planning China’s Communities: Between People and Place.” International Development Planning Review 41 (3): 247–67. doi.org/10.3828/idpr.2019.20
Smith, Nick R. 2019. "One Village, One Product: Agro-Industrial Village Corporatism in Contemporary China." Journal of Agrarian Change. 19 (2): 249-269. doi:10.1111/joac.12301
Smith, Nick R. 2018. "Planning Powers as Property Rights in Contemporary China." Journal of Planning Education and Research. doi:10.1177/0739456X18787623
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.
Smith, Nick R. 2019. “Suburban Stories.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies, Anthony Orum, ed. John Wiley & Sons. 1-4. doi.org/10.1002/9781118568446.eurs0330.
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. Amazon
Smith, Nick R. 2014. Book Review: “Chinese City and Regional Planning Systems.” China Quarterly 220 (December): 1161-1162.
Smith, Nick R., Daniel B. Abramson, and Mi Shih eds. 2019. "Community Development and Planning in China." Special Issue of the International Development Planning Review 41 (3).
Smith, Nick R. 2021. "China’s rapid urbanization is likely to trigger another pandemic." Washington Post. March 31. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/31/who-report-pandemic-china-cities/
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.