SZ8X80204//The Myriad Transformations//City on the Fill: The Cost of a View

So romancing the ocean, or is it oceans of romance? At any rate, once we’ve cordoned off and sold the coastline, it seems that all we’re left with romantic sunsets, looking toward the horizon that we’ll never reach. Poetic. Deliciously melancholy, even. And I do like looking off into the sunset. It’s just that the reduction of the coastline to commodified views distresses me. I keep wondering, what about the other senses? In Shenzhen it is incredibly difficult to smell fishing nets, feel of water rippling over our toes, listen to seabirds diving for crabs, and taste a gritty ocean breeze because we have been reduced to a pair of eyes in bodies that do not move beyond high rise window sills.

2009-2010, I lived in a room with a view. It was an impressive view that impressed many; in fact, we were encouraged to offer it for housing exchanges with folks in North American and Western European cities.

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The view from our window, 2009-2010. In the distance was the recently opened western corridor bridge and just beyond that Yuanlang (on the left) and Nanshan (on the right. The high rise apartments on the left of the apartment appear in views from our Nanshan apartment, which we moved to a year after this photo was taken.

The catch, of course, was that on our salary we couldn’t afford to visit American and Western European cities. Instead, we were able to live here (at 3,500 a month!) because the Landao Banwan Estates abutted Shazui, once one of the more (organic? wild? disorganized?) Futian urban villages. You see where this is going. By shifting our gaze from the horizon, we were able to see what the romance would have us overlook: convenient food, cheap labor, the remains of village industrialization, and no access to the coastline.

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We left Futian because once I stopped working in Shuiwei, the view wasn’t enough to compensate for a thirty-minute round trip from our apartment to breakfast in Shazui via the escalator. We ended up living  in a seven story walk-up where we had a view of late 1980- and early 2010-construction. The thin edge between these two developments used to be the coastline and yes, these high rises and mountain were visible also from our Futian room with a view, giving a sense of how Shenzhen Bay has been surrounded by developments with views. In fact and without any sense of irony, both of these estates were called Peninsula something. In Futian, we lived in “Blue Bay Peninsula Estates” and in Nanshan we lived in “Peninsula Garden Estates.”

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Shenzhen is famous as the city where experiments with commercial housing took off. During the Mao-era, work units provided housing. During the 1980s, Shenzhen work units did provided employees with subsidized housing, while in the 1990s, the city built resettlement housing in Futian along its border with Shangbu. However, by 2000 the city was already transitioning from work-unit and subsidized housing to a full-on real estate market, eliminating housing from corporate budgets and demolishing the resettlement housing to make way for new development. In turn, this transition led to the urban village housing boom, which really took off during the 00s.

Now when I pick up my mug of coffee and gaze out the window, I’m not watching the sunset, I’m thinking about how the desire to build and sell homes with sunset views of the ocean has been ongoing for as long as they’ve been building commercial real estate in Shenzhen and wondering: do rooms with a view make us settle for less than we might be?

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