The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.
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.
The entr’acte between a thriving urban village and its gentrification into mall-burbia occurs as developers scramble to get the last hold outs to sign compensation packages. To ensure that noone moves into buildings that have already been acquired by the developer, windows and doors are often cemented over and 拆 the character for “raze” is painted in bright red stencil.
In Nanmendun, Buji (布吉南门墩), for example, the entr’acte has been in progress since May 26, 2011, when the Kaisa Group announced that it had begun the renovation project. According to the announcement, 18,879 people lived in 479 buildings (mostly handshakes, but some early 80’s and Mao era dormitories). Of this population, roughly 10% were Nanmendun residents and entitled to relocation and compensation. Roughly two years later, the process of getting holdouts to sign and stragglers to move on is still in progress.
Nanmendun is one of five renovation projects in Buji and the usual suspects — Vanke, China Merchants, Huarun, and Xinyi are also busy gentrifying the area. What the map below makes clear, however, is how extensive rural urbanization has been in Buji. Indeed, it is hard to speak of an “urban village” when handshake buildings and unregulated development have been the dominant form of urbanization for over thirty years.
Lay of the land:
Nanling and Danzhutou Village-Communities are located just next to Dafen in Buji Precinct. Walked the area today with Sarah, Carina, and Lorena. Impressions, below:
In Shenzhen, village renovation and urban renewal involve transferring land use rights from villages and housing rights from homeowners to developers, which have won project bids from the government. Importantly, the developers must negotiate compensation packages both with village corporations (if transferring collectively held property) and with individual homeowners. Compensation packages include monetary compensation for housing and land, compensation for moving expenses, and compensation for livelihood losses. Here’s the point – even though compensation for housing type and land use is standardized, compensation for moving expenses and livelihood losses are negotiated, opening a space for differential treatment and corruption. Continue reading
How to interpret the following soundbite?
The spokesman for the Municpal Planning and Land Council stated that through 2010, the City had approved 96 proposals to raze 832.77 hectares and build on 637.08 dedicate hectares, and plans to build 32.77 million square meters of architecture. 市规划国土委有关负责人介绍，截至２０１０年，全市累计批准拆除重建类改造规划９６项，涉及拆除用地面积约８３２．７７公顷，建设用地面积约６３７．０８公顷，规划建筑面积约３２７７万平方米。 Continue reading
A few days ago, I went to the Buji crossing, one of seven border crossings internal to the Shenzhen municipality. This border is called the 2nd line (二线), and divides Shenzhen into the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and Baoan and Longgang Districts. Buji is one of Shenzhen’s major manufacturing areas. It is also a center of migrant laborers, who either work in Buji, or enter the SEZ at Buji. So it is an area filled with semis and buses, as goods and people are hauled from one place to another.
Buji is one of those places where I viscerally feel the contradiction between vague research commitments to, if not the truth, then at least some version of the whole story and my bodily aesthetics. Here, goods and people clog the area, pressing into my skin and I inhale carbon monoxide and sweat. I walk quickly past numerous terminals where thin, sun-darkened men load and unload semis, while rural migrants get off long-distance buses carrying bulging plastic bags and dragging wheeled suitcases. Some stare back at me and my camera remains dormant; I am embarrassed to be seen observing what many would rather hide, or failing that, disavow. Along these streets, women hawk fruit, prepared foods, and bottled drinks. Venders and homeless migrants have variously occupied the areas under pedestrian overpasses; these spaces stink of rotting foods and urine and I find myself wondering if there are any public bathrooms nearby. Is it possible to bathe or defecate in private? I notice children working beside adults and am reminded that many of my students are in summer school, already preparing for next semester’s tests. I have come to take photos, but find it difficult to stop and pose my objects because I want to be already beyond the crowded heat and stench. Instead, I snap a photo here and there, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze, moving determinedly forward. I am reduced from methodological exposition to shamed confession. Such are the lessons of the Buji crossing. Continue reading