earthly abstractions

Coming into Shenzhen on the Tianjin-Shenzhen train, I heard a broadcast about the City’s historic importance and sites of touristic interest. Nothing out of the ordinary, until the broadcast introduced the Daya Bay Nature Conservation Park. I tend to think of Daya Bay in terms of nuclear power and French technologies thereof, rather than in terms of conservation. Today, the unexpected juxtaposition of nuclear power and nature preserves has me thinking about paradoxes in urban planning.

Urban planning paradoxes in Shenzhen arise because the city is nested in  network of competing rights to land, ocean, and air space. Daya Bay, for example, is bordered by Huizhou City in north and Shenzhen in the south, which means that both cities have planned land uses for the coastal area. At the same time, Guangdong Province also has rights to the entire bay. These rights are usually expressed by approving and veto Shenzhen and Huizhou urban plans, but may also take the form of required infrastructure and investment. However, as watersheds do not notice administrative jurisdiction, changes in the Daya Bay ecosystem also impact (what a word) Hong Kong, creating a space for a Hong Kong voice in Shenzhen and Huizhou urban planning. Indeed, at some level, the establishment of the Qianhai Bay Shenzhen Hong Kong Modern Service Cooperative Zone actualizes recognition in both cities that some form of cooperation is needed to manage the scale of regional transformation.

The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant has two reactors,which started commercial operation in 1993 and 1994. Ling Ao Nuclear Power Plant also has two reactors, which started commercial operation in 2002 and 2003, respectively. A third Ling Ao reactor started operating commercially on July 15, 2010, a fourth is still under construction, but should open soon. All six reactors have been built with French technology, providing electricity for Shenzhen and Hong Kong. The Shenzhen Daya Bay Nature Preserve is a nesting spot for sea turtles, which must swim past the nuclear reactors to reach the beach. Further north, Huizhou is planning the Daya Bay Industrial Zone, petrochemical processing, a large port, upscale housing estates, and tourism.

Of course, it all looks good on paper – as if rational development might satisfy desire and only sea turtles need a stretch of clean beach. But in fact, this cursory review of the uses of Daya Bay reveals the competing and yes, often incommensurable desires that structure urban planning in Guangdong, Shenzhen, Huizhou, and Hong Kong. As becomes clear, these are not simply ideological differences, but the contradiction between what we want (clean power, beautiful natural sites, wealthy and comfortable populations) and our means of achieving these goals (exploiting natural resources, rather than looking for sustainable lifeways).

But maybe the more practical lesson is simply that we need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves: when is enough is enough is too much? And can we live with our answer?

One thought on “earthly abstractions

  1. I love you thoughtful analysis. I wonder if people who make decisions on these matters see what you have to say?

    Meanwhile, yesterday I spent a good amount of time exploring Wikipedia and other informative sites about Shenzhen. One site stated that “tourists will be brought to climax at the sight of the views glory and magnificent.” SO I am definitely looking forwards more and more to visiting.

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