Once upon a time, this territory was ocean. There were oyster farms and fishing boats. And the people who lived here had single story homes that came to represent the poverty that these maps and plans would end.
The effort it takes to force territories into maps pulses through each inch of the houhai land reclamation area. Lines imagined elsewhere are being bulldozed, pounded, and moulded into six-lane highways and ten-lane expressways. Beside these roads climb glass buildings and residential developments with exotic gardens – palm trees, English grass, a goldfish pond, which is drained and cleaned once a month.
This is the territory – unmapped, but not unsung: Beneath the grey sky and rising walls of a high-tech research compound, a woman washes vinyl advertizing sheets for indigent tenting, paths veer in hidden enclaves that serve as public toilets, and a child plays on a piece of flatboard that has been placed protectively on top the mud.
Shenzhen’s poor are poorer than they were 15 years ago, when squatters had enough space and privacy to build small shelters beneath the lychee orchards that have also been imaginatively disappeared.
May the new year bring new possibilities.