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volunteerism and possible civic identities in shenzhen

In the Summer of 2011, Shenzhen hosted the Universiade. At the time, we complained about the face projects and cost there of. In retrospect, it seems, however, that one of the more lasting effects of hosting what is basically an Olympics for college students was that volunteerism and u-stations took root and flourished.

U-stations can be found throughout the city, and are staffed by young friendly and sufficiently bi-lingual folk, who hand out bike maps to the city and introduce nearby attractions. All wear the highly recognizable Shenzhen volunteer vest. In fact, this new emphasis on volunteer citizen participation may also have contributed to an interesting renaming–Shenzhen migrant workers are now officially called “those who have come to build Shenzhen”. The phase reworks the Shenzhen volunteer slogan, “if you come, you are a Shenzhener”. The Chinese wordplay is from 来了就是深圳人 to 来深建设者.

Several days ago, I met with the director of the Baishizhou Culture Center. We spoke in a comfortable, well lit library which was also a u-station! Other programs run by the Center included an after school program, which is staffed by those young and friendly red-vested volunteers. We were in the station to talk about opening a community learning center under the auspices of this collaboration between multiple levels of government. We would be another NGO sponsored by some level of government to work in Baishizhou.

This is where the administrative structure gets interesting. The culture station is housed in the Baishizhou Five Village corporation, which represents locals’ interests and manages Baishizhou properties, electrical, sanitation, and other municipal services. However, the culture station is funded by the street government, which is responsible for implementing district policy. The volunteers are a municiple level NGO.

So here’s the a-ha moment: u-stations and volunteers have permeated even urban village regulatory structures and may have an important role in redefining citizenship and the role of the city in financing not-for-profits.

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what’s the good of public art…

…in an urban village?

This was the topic of the first Paper Crane Tea 2014.03.09. I’m posting the link because my VPN isn’t fast enough to tunnel video over or under the great firewall. Will upload next time I’m in Hong Kong. Sigh.

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blooming contradictions

Unfortunately, more often than not modernization leaves us with street names instead of actual landscape features.

Shenzhen public landscaping, for example, has been defined by its enthusiasm for inaccessible green space that adorn its roads. Throughout the city, there are lovely swathes of topiary and grass that pedestrians (and even birds) can’t actually access except in passing. In part to rectify this problem, but also in response to the city’s white collar residents, a vast network of bike trails have been installed throughout the city. Moreover, these trails have been mapped and the public encouraged to walk and ride through the cities green belts.

Here’s the moment of ecological dissonance: at the same time that functionaries are being encouraged to bike on the weekend, plans have been announced to reclaim 39.7 sq kilometers of Dapeng Bay. The corporate culprit is China Oil, which intends to use the reclaimed land for extracting South China Sea oil reserves. And yes, these plans are moving forward despite the fact that Dapeng New District is an environmental conservation district.

So pictures of the Nanhai (literally “South Ocean”) Road, below and a link to an article about the land reclamation project, here.

What’s in a name, indeed.

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de-industrialization with chinese characteristics

This past week I have been in Wuhan, the political, economic, cultural, transportation a land educational center of China. Like it’s US American sister cities Pittsburgh and St Louis, once upon an early industrial time, Wuhan thrived and sparkled and offered developmental opportunities that paradoxically challenged and reinforced coastal hegemonies, in New York and Shanghai, respectively.

Wuhan also faces the challenge of restructuring its heavy industrial economy, even as young people migrate to coastal cities for more contemporary opportunities. In Shenzhen I know many Wuhan people involved in the City’s creative industries. In point of fact, Wuhan has more college students than any other city on the planet, which is to say the city grooms talent that leaves for elsewhere, carrying dreams and solid heartland values in suitcases that fuel coastal growth.

I moseyed around two of Wuhan’s historic areas, one famous the other not so. Hankou boasts colonial architecture and a formerly robust mercantile history. Tanhualin in Wuchang was long ago the site of a Buddhist temple and later the location of Christian missions, including churches, schools and a hospital. Impressions of ongoing historic convergence, below.

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fuhua south road

Impressions of a walk along Fuhua South Road. This is one of the oldest areas in the city. Of note, the street is busy and vibrant and runs parallel to Shennan Road, which is wide and long and filled with vehicular traffic, but few pedestrians.

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paper crane tea

Today, we had the first tea at 302. The conversation ranged from why urban villages through the muddled terms–city in village, farmer laborer–of contemporary urbanization to the ubiquity of urban villages throughout China. We also laughed. A lot. Impressions below.

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baishizhou officially slated for renewal

Yesterday, the Shenzhen Government online portal announced that Baishizhou is on the list of areas designated for urban renewal.

The plan to renew “the five Shahe villages” was submitted by the Shenzhen Baishizhou Investment Company Ltd. It calls for razing 459,000 square meters of built area. The area has been zoned for residential and commerce, with at least 135,857 square meters of public space.

Baishizhou is one of 18 projects announced. All plans take place at the street level, and all target communities and/or early industrial areas. All emphasize the planned public area, but do not mention plans for evicted residents or scheduled construction.

Of note, the urban renewal announcements were tucked away in the Bureau of Land, but the announcement of Shenzhen’s plans for its first village preservation project, Shayu (沙鱼涌古村保护项目) made the front page.