…this is now

Two months ago, I walked from the old Bao’an urban center to Shanghe Village. I first walked this area in 2007, taking pictures of a village renewal project, which focused on demolishing and upgrading the old village settlement. The area exemplifies the first generation of formal upgrades that occurred in the mid-2000s, beginning after rural urbanization was completed in 2004–large public spaces, residential towers, and newly constituted rural identities, comprising the village stock-holding limited company, Qing-era ancestral halls and temples. In the background, traces of the village’s manufacturing history are still visible.

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The Emerging Public Realm of the Greater Bay Area… book launched

I contributed a chapter to The Emerging Public Realm of the Greater Bay Area: Approaches to Public Space in a Chinese Mega-Region, which was edited by Miodrag Mitrašinović and Timothy Jachna. The book matters, not only because the GBA is one of the world’s largest mega-regions, but also because China seems to be strategically planning and developing its mega-regions. Shenzhen matters in all this because even if the GBA ranks second to the Yangzte River Delta, nevertheless, it is one of the world leaders (and first in China) for patent applications and new industries. In 2018, China Briefing published a brief introduction to China’s three leading mega-regions (YRD, GBA, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster).

But back to the book! According to the website blurb, The Emerging Public Realm of the Greater Bay Area “assembles diverse approaches to interrogating the forms of public space and the public realm that are emerging in the context of this region’s rapid urban development in the last forty years, bringing together authors from urbanism, architecture, planning, sociology, anthropology and politics to examine innovative ways of framing and conceptualizing public space in/of the Greater Bay Area. The blend of authors’ first-hand practical experiences has created a unique cross-disciplinary book that employs public space to frame issues of planning, political control, social inclusion, participation, learning/education and appropriation in the production of everyday urbanism. In the context of the Greater Bay Area, such spaces and practices also present opportunities for reconfiguring design-driven urban practice beyond traditional interventions manifested by the design of physical objects and public amenities to the design of new social protocols, processes, infrastructures and capabilities.”

end of the era of urban villages?

So, I developed thoughts on what the demolition of Baishizhou had me thinking about Shenzhen’s urban villages. The folks at Made in China, published it as The End of an Era? Two Decades of Shenzhen Urban Villages. Or, you can download a pdf of the paper, below.

so…qianhai

Biked around Qianhai this morning. It reminded me of the early construction in Hi-Tech park, but on steroids. Not sure what I think about this aesthetic other than it photos better than it lives. It’s as if our cities are now 3D-printed renderings. No small food streets, no everyday life, but perhaps in three years (or so) we’ll be able to bike along the coast and take amazing pictures. Sigh.

what does it mean to be local in shenzhen?

Long-term collaborator, Jonathan Bach and I reflect on the shifting meanings of local identity and local belonging in “Reclaiming the New, Remaking the Local: Shenzhen at 40,” which was published in china perspectives, 2021/2 pp. 71-5.

did you get your second shot?

These past two weeks have been a strange blur. I have some facts to present, but what they actually mean, I don’t know.

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are you involuted?

The caption to the comic reads, “Comrade, wake up, you still have overtime to work.”

There is much talk of neijuan (内卷) or involution in Shenzhen and indeed throughout China. The conversation is so robust, it even made the New Yorker (Yi-Ling LIU, May 14, 2021). Liu explains that China’s “involuted” generation is overworked, burned out, and despairing that life will get any better. Instead, of seeing rewards at the end of their hard work, they’re seeing just more pointless work. Indeed, as the comic suggests, crashing is often the result of neijuan. In popular culture, many young people have expressed their discontent through tangping (躺平), which translates as “laying down” but resonates with what US Americans would call getting out of the rat race. The expression is so popular, Alibaba even came up with a tangping app, which promotes making money through a relaxed, enjoyable lifestyle.

Of course, the tangping app is itself a symptom of involution…

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i got my first covid-19 vaccine in shenzhen

In Shenzhen, mobilization to get people tested for covid-19 continues, as does pressure to get vaccinated. Everything is online and seemingly streamlined–from registering, to getting an appointment, to having the information pop up on your cellphone covid-app. And it works, until it doesn’t.

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about “深圳女孩儿”

The other day, I was asked for my thoughts on the trending hashtag, “Shenzhen girl (深圳女孩儿).” I didn’t understand the question because I don’t Tik Tok. According to my young friend, the hashtag origin story occurred when a couple Shenzhen girls walked into a Beijing bar. The Beijing girls chatted about falling in love and relationships; the #shenzhengirls talked about making money and what they would buy with their cash. Apparently, this generation of #shenzhengirls are too materialistic. I wasn’t shocked by the hashtag because sexing the greed is an ongoing Shenzhen conversation, where people have tended to attribute a woman’s economic success to an immoral character.

But things aren’t so straight-forwardly chauvinistic.

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of affordable housing and high-density schools

A great Shenzhen neighborhood brings together several generations and types of housing. There is usually an urban village or two, danwei housing that was built before 2000 (more or less), and a larger mall complex that brings in the subway. When these clusters of different building types are located within walking distance of each other, you end up with a thriving independent food scene, affordable housing for singletons and low-income families, and upscale spaces that provide air-conditioned comfort for a cup of coffee or a cram school.

Among 90s generation immigrants (who are twenty-something or just turned 30), Meilin has become popular because it not only provides a diversity of housing and shopping options, but also because it is centrally located; anyone who lives here is looking at relatively quick commutes to work. Nearby urban villages are also popular among low-income families, who can rent two-bedroom apartments for 3,000-4,000, which is expensive, but doable with two parents working and an elder who watches children.

The popularity of this kind of mixed housing neighborhoods means that Shenzhen doesn’t have enough elementary school places where most families live. Historically, Shenzhen has lacked school places relative to population, but that was managed through hukou. However, since the city has allowed the children of long-term residents to attend elementary and middle school, high-density schooling has increasingly become an issue in the city, especially in neighborhoods like Meilin, where low-income families live.