as shenzhen razes: the baishizhou urban renewal plan online

Shenzhen developer, Lvgem Group (绿景集团) has uploaded a video of the Urban Renewal Plan for the Five Shahe Villages in Baishizhou (白石洲沙河五村旧改专项规划).

Wow. Just wow. And not in the good way.

The current built environment of roughly 580,000 square meters will increase 10-fold, to 5.5 million square meters.

The argument for razing the current settlement and replacing it with high, high rises and skyscrapers is that Baishizhou villagers live in grungy unpleasant conditions that need to be upgraded. The proposed solution is for the developers will work with villagers in order to bring them into the urbanization process.

In a nutshell,  the problem is that the video conflates the idea of “villagers” with the ruralized current residents of Baishizhou. There will be a resettlement area for “villagers”, but who counts as a villager? The actual population of Baishizhou is over 140,000, of which 120,000 do not have Shenzhen hukou. So, inquiring minds want to know: is the plan calling for ten times the space to house the 20,000 residents who do have hukou? Or does “villager” only refer to the actual members of the five villages, which means we’re talking about less than 2,000 people with resettlement rights. And if that’s the case, who will live in all this new, upgraded, hyper-modern space after the current residents have been forced to leave?

A quick visit to 58 net reveals how cheap housing in Baishizhou is relative to the surrounding area. In fact, many young office workers and professionals from neighboring Science and Technology Park (科技园) also live in Baishizhou as to designers and creative talents who work in the OCT Loft. Providing this class with livable (宜居) housing is an ongoing Shenzhen concern. Indeed, there is now an official plaque for hanging on a rental building which confirms a building’s livability.

It is estimated that over half Shenzhen’s population live in the villages, which account for roughly 10% of the area’s land. Arguably, the villages are the city, while high end housing estates and neighborhoods might be thought as wealthy suburbs, with lovely gardens and huge tracks of private spaces. Consequently, the question of who actually belongs to an “urban village” is the social, political, economic question because as Jonathan Bach has argued, the villages have been the incubators where (some of) Shenzhen’s migrant workers transform themselves into urbanites and potentially citizens.

As Shenzhen razes. Stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “as shenzhen razes: the baishizhou urban renewal plan online

  1. Has the Nanshan government already approved this project? I ask because around ’07-’08 there was a proposal for the complete demolition of Huanggang/Shuiwei village, to be replaced with a couple 350m towers and an enormous plaza (a monstrosity of a proposal if there ever was one). In the end, the Futian government nixed the project.

    What I’ll never understand is why these developers insist on completely razing the villages. Shuiwei and Xiasha are good examples of how new development can enrich the villages, while at the same time adding to the livability of the newly built highrises. The price tag of apartments in buildings right next to villages, both in the rental and purchase market, in my own experience have been quite higher than similar development without access to a village.

    Perhaps this could be an interesting study, to look at the selling price of apartments in Shenzhen vs how far of a walk they are away from an urban village? If the data confirms my own anecdotal experience, then in the future the developers might turn away from completely razing the villages, out of their own economic interest.

    • Hi Chris,

      Yes, studying the mobility of residents to and from work as well as within and around villages would make for an interesting study.

      As for government approval, its all up for negotiation. As of yet no action plan has been made public. This is the first step in rallying people around the project.

  2. If to develop this area, the villagers and government will be the beneficiary. And the people who living here are alien workers and they will lose this cheap and convenient residential areas because the high rental fee and high house price. My opinion is do not develop this area. Is there any efficient method to develop it but do not lose its value for the villagers and alien workers?

    • Hi Emma,

      I agree: it’s a dilemma at the heart of capitalism: who benefits? More to the point about urbanization: why build cities? Clearly the build and raze model is an economic model. What we need is a model that redistributes the benefits we all make, rather than concentrates them in the hands — or in this case the houses — of a few people. One of the problems with development in Shenzhen specifically but China and the rest of the capitalized world more generally, is that we are not building homes, but banks — places to put our money. However, in the case of the urban villages, the fact that individuals cannot develop property forces collective development, which in turn raises the cost of development. In Baishizhou, for example, the developers must work with all five villages, while individual villagers can’t put up a new building. If Individuals were allowed by law to build, there would be a cheaper, and possibly more gradual development process.

  3. Hi Mary Ann,
    I am a retired Swede who lived in Xiasha 2009-2011, and I was very glad to find your pictures, I was so happy to live there and really loved the place. I lived on the 12th fllor with a view over the sea with Hong Kong in the background. Do you know if the renovation is finished now? Do you have any recent pics?
    Did you also live in Xiasha or was just visiting?

    • Hi Ingemar,

      I too am a fan of Xiasha, although I haven’t lived there. The KK buildings should be done next year, and folks will start moving in. If you hit the Xiasha tag, it will bring up more photos of the area–the tag urban villages will bring up even more photos!

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