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At first glance, Shenzhen’s 2010-2020 Comprehensive Plan seems a writhing mass of blue snakes and bright hotspots.
However, by simplifying the Comprehensive Plan in terms of the historical relationship between political boundaries and and early infrastructure in Shenzhen development, I came up with the following grid of borders and corridors, which explains the Plan’s horizontal flows, the connections to Hong Kong, and investment initiatives in New District hubs:
Three borders have enabled urbanization in Shenzhen: the border with Hong Kong, the second line, and the city limits, which abut Dongguan in the northwest and Huizhou in the northeast. Two economic corridors have facilitated Shenzhen’s growth: the Guangshen highway corridor and the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The Guangshen highway corridor parallels the area’s riparian trade routes, which were the means of Han expansion from Guangzhou southwardly on the Pearl River and its tributaries. The KCR, of course, was the British attempt to preempt and redirect the PRD’s extensive trade network.
This grid enters everyday conversation through place name protocols. For example, no one today refers to the “second line”, which evokes the yesteryears of early reform. In contrast, ever since the boundaries of the SEZ have been made coterminous with city limits, we now speak of guannei and guanwai, or “inside the gate” and “outside the gate”, respectively. Interestingly, however, I rarely hear people speak of the guanwai area well east of the railroad as “guanwai”, instead, it is more common to refer to that part of Shenzhen as “the east”.
In fact, the SEZ’s historically most important hubs are all located on this grid. Luohu/ Dongmen is the first stop on the Chinese side of the railroad, while Buji was the first stop on the guanwai side of the second line. Likewise, Shekou was the end of the old riparian trade network, activating Delta resources. Bao’an District government is found just over the guanwai side of the Guangshen highway corridor and Shajing Wanfeng Village, once called “the first village in the south” occupies the area just south of Dongguan on the Guangshen Highway corridor. Given the importance of political territorializations and infrastructure to development, it is unsurprising that the poorest areas in Shenzhen are either in (a) the guanwai area between the railroad and highway corridors (Shiyan and Guangming) or (b) the East. With the exception of Guangming, all of Shenzhen’s other three new districts — Pingshan, Longhua, and Dapeng — are located in the east, far from easy access to the railroad, let alone the Pearl River and riparian access to Guangzhou.
In the new Comprehensive Plan the old hubs appear renamed, but their functions unchanged. The Guangshen corridor has been resutured to the Pearl River through the Qianhai Center. The Luohu/ Dongmen railroad corridor has been interestingly diverted into two streams, one that enters guannei at Huanggang/ Lok Ma Chau and leaves guanwai through Guangming and a second that enters guannei at Luohu and then exits guanwai through Longgang. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has been absorbed/ extended into the Shenzhen administrative apparatus at both the Lok Ma Chau Loop and Qianhai Cooperation Zone, begging the question: will the next Comprehensive adjustment will be political integration of the two cities and the re-establishment of a first or second line at Shenzhen city limits? Indeed, the question doesn’t seem too far-fetched when we recall that for 5 months in 1997, the transition government for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Zone met in Shenzhen.
Yesterday, a member of Generation 80 took me to the beaches and mountains of Old Shekou, where he played as a child. He remembers swimming off small docks, crabbing on the dike that used separate the Naihai Hotel from the backwash of Delta waters, and biking safely along narrow, dirt roads. Little remains from his childhood. Even the broadcast tower from Broadcast Mountain has been razed and the remaining structures converted to an upscale Cantonese restaurant. Anyway, the area he used to bike, we cruised in his sports car. Impressions, below:
The new Qianhai Bay Shenzhen Hong Kong Modern Service Cooperative Zone (前海深港现代服务业合作区), which has been billed as “the Special Zone’s Special Zone (特区的特区)” illustrates the principal that in Shenzhen, the character “special (特)” is often most usefully translated as “privileged”.
As yet, the Shen Kong Zone does not exist; it will be created through reclaiming coastal land along the Pearl River Delta. However, it has been planned, approved, and contracts signed. Not unexpectedly, as the City revs up for a prosperous Year of the Rabbit, Qianhai has become a media focus.
What’s special about the new zone? One, it will be administered under Hong Kong law by a joint committee of Shenzhen and Hong Kong representatives and is thus, the latest incarnation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. Two, in order to build the New Zone, the Eastern Coast of the Pearl River will be narrowed and the actual river bed deepened in order to serve even larger and more ships. Three, like Guangming and Pingshan New Districts, Qianhai is one of the few areas in the city with Government mandated competitive advantage.
Clearly, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are cooperating in order to create one of the largest and most comprehensive service ports in the world. The media is gushing about all the money that this project will bring to the two cities specifically and the Delta more generally. However, as development rights have already been allocated, the money that will be earned there has already been divvied up and so what we’re left with is a promise that trickle down economics might kick in at some point.