Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
The holdout homes are a symbol of underdog defiance of wealth and power.
In Chinese cities, investment in new real estate and infrastructure is flowing unabated. High-rises, train stations, and airports are popping up at a velocity that's sometimes faster than the government can convince people to move.
There are often already people living on the primo land parcels that developers prize most, especially in and around existing cities. These people are generally either evicted with the help of local government or get bought out, often for far less than the original value of their properties. Most residents acquiesce, whether or not they want to.
But sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, Chinese homeowners refuse to cash in, either because an offer is too low or for more principled reasons, and their property remains standing while the new project shoots up around it. Dingzihu, or "nail houses," as these won't-budge properties are called, have become symbols over the past several years of brave defiance of the powerful wealth that's driving new development. These photographs of nail houses throughout China underscore, in visual terms, their underdog identity—though some of them also show the final nail in the coffin for most nail houses: Demolition.
Nail houses are hardly a strictly Chinese phenomenon. One of America's most famously resolute properties, Seattle's tiny Edith Macefield house, goes up for sale on April 20. Demolition, writes the New York Times, is a distinct possibility.