Yesterday, I visited the former Tanglang Industrial Park, which has been rebranded as 集悦城 (SoFunLand), a residential area for young workers. The first floor of the factories have been rented out for commerce and the second to fourth (or sixth) floors have been retrofitted as dormitories. This, we are told, is the future of post-Baishizhou downtown; young migrants can live in the dorms until they secure housing elsewhere. Continue reading
In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.
My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.
This is just a short note on a conversation that I had a few days ago with an entrepreneur who lives in Baishizhou. She’s a millennial, runs a small business, earns over 10,000 a month, and lives in Baishizhou. Why? Because she wants to buy a house in Shenzhen and living in an urban village is the only way to save money for the down payment. It turns out she’s not alone. Her friends who want to purchase a home in Shenzhen are opting to live in a village, while friends and other millennials who have decided not to buy a home are renting in housing estates. On her account, even folks who are making upward to 20,000 a month are choosing a village if they want to buy a home, while their colleagues who aren’t saving for a home are paying three to four more times a month, traveling, and spending their money and time cafes, microbreweries, and music venues. These are, of course, first generation migrants. Most second generation migrants have houses through their parents, who migrated to Shenzhen before the 2004 housing price boom.
Takeaway? We’ve known for a while that many nearby firms provide dormitory housing in Baishizhou, while many architects and designers who work in OCT firms have opted to live in the village for convenience. It seems, however, what we hadn’t picked up on (or has only recently emerged) is the extent to which the desire to buy a house in Shenzhen is shaping the way that millennials are inhabiting the city and reshaping the urban villages.
Just saw this poster advertising the opportunity to purchase a house on a small Malaysian island next to Singapore. The houses are relatively large and the agent is conveniently located in Shenzhen. The appeal? One can “[R]eturn to Shenzhen ten years ago, and invest in the Special Zone of a Special Zone.”
Here’s the rub. I saw this in an apartment complex in Dalang, at least twenty minutes from the nearest subway station. Everyone wants to by a house, and even places as relatively remote as Dalang are no longer viable options for migrants, even if they have a job, and even if they have savings.
On my way from said subway station to the elevator where this advert was posted, the cabby explained that since Lift (didi) and Uber had come to Shenzhen, it was no longer profitable to drive a cab. He planned on going back home to Jiangxi. When I mentioned that it seemed more and more people were leaving the city, he agreed, saying “there noticeably less people on the street.”
Talking about migrant workers in China (and throughout the world’s booming mega-cities) usually means “rural to urban migration”. However, this is not the case in Shenzhen, where “urban to urban
immigration” has been as fundamental to the city’s success and growth. Indeed, the diversity of Shenzhen’s migrant population complicates easy understanding of what it means to be a Shenzhener, let alone academic debates about urban belonging and ideologies of exclusion. Continue reading
So yes, it seems that affordable housing problems are not simply escalating, but also creating new market niches. Recently on the subway, I pick up a leaflet advertising condominiums for sale in Shenzhen East, out near Dachong. The catch? The developers weren’t targeting single families who are buying their first home or even trading up for bigger and better, but rather the developers are targeting potential landlords. From the copy:
Exquisitely designed hotel apartments, 5 years guarrentied rent, as soon as you buy you can start collecting rent.
It turns out there’s a word for the ongoing architecture of inequality: conspicuous construction.