Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure of participating Shenzhen: From Factory of the World to World City, a conference hosted by the International New Town Institute. What did I learn?
From INTI Director Dr. Michelle Provoost I learned about INTI’s work in other new towns, including Cape Town, São Paulo, and Chandigarh, cites that like Shenzhen are forcing us to rethink and reevaluate urbanization, it’s densities, opportunities, and all too familiar dead ends. The burden–as Sophie van Ginneken so elequently put it–of being planned.
From Juan Du, I learned that much of this learning would entail humility. On the one hand, the industrial west can ask, what is it about accessibility to the city and its concentration of work opportunities have allowed Shenzhen to thrive, while Euro-American cities shrink? On the other hand, Juan emphasized that what we truly can share are our unfortunate experiences with development that results in environmental degradation, growing inequality, and the exclusion of most from urban centers and its opportunities. As Gayatri Spivak emphasized all those years ago, true learning begins with unlearning our privilege and the blinders it enables.
From my Shenzhen friends, Huang Weiwen, Dorinne Heng LIU, and Tat Lam, I learned more about their research and diverse perspectives on Shenzhen’s complex developmemt. Huang Weiwen outlined the SEZ’s complex relationship with Hong Kong, Dorinne explored the idea landscapes in today’s PRD were once future dreams, while our own future may lie in learning from the region’s more sustainable past landscapes, and Tat Lam celebrated the diversity and strengths of Shenzhen’s hardware hacker know-how.
From new Dutch friends, Markus Appenzeller, Han Feenstra, and Tiffany Tsui, I learned about their work in Shenzhen specifically and Holland’s efforts to cultivate productive relationships with and within Shenzhen. Most interesting scenario? MLA+ has been using the idea of “add ons” to introduce community workshops into the planning process in Pingdi. This has not been an easy road and no one knows where it will lead. I hope that continued goodwill and effort will benefit citizens of both countries as well as the rest of us.
All in all I re-learned the importance of meeting each other in a space of open and engaged inquiry. I am increasingly convinced that we need less accomplishing and more responding, less talking and more listening not only to each other, but also to the good intentions in which we frame our inquiry. Yes, we are often stuck in vanity and greed, but. That’s not all we brought to the table. In fact, the most useful gift that I recieved from this conference may be the recognition that my work matters. In turn, I can bring this rejuvenated sence of confidence to my projects in Shenzhen, possibly helping others gain confidence in their own work and ability to contribute to the heavy project of transforming our cities into viable and equitable societies.
Thai you Linda Vlassenrood for organizing and offering such a wonderful day.