the shape of space: buji village #1

In the urban villages around the Old Buji Market (布吉墟), alleys and narrow roads wind upward, accomodating dense settlement and inadvertant public spaces. The most notable feature of the space is the proliferation of walls and determined privatization of small plots, or homesteads (宅基地). The isolating spatial organization of Buji reflects what urban planners disparagingly call “small farmer mentality (小农民意识)”. In practice, this means only investing in one’s own home, and minimal investment in public spaces and programs. Obviously, not only farmers have this mentality.  The Shenzhen Dream entails homeownership, while Tea Party populism represents one version of the US American  urge to privatize land and resources. However, the term “small farmer mentality” is usually a pretext for urban renewal programs that involve razing neighborhoods where the working poor live and replacing them with mall-burban settlements, where only the upper middle class can buy into the dream. Spaces like a Buji urban village  illustrate one of the key conundrums facing not only Shenzhen, but cities everywhere — creating livable neighborhoods for the working poor, rather than leaving urbanization in the hands of privatizing opportunists, whether they be individual farmers or employees of an urban planning board.

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