baishizhou demolition: the rising cost of shenzhen dreaming

Yesterday, I heard this story: A 30-something farmer from Lanzhou came to Shenzhen in 2013 in order to make his fortune. He started out working for a relative in a Lanzhou Noodle Shop, and then after a few months decided to open his own noodle shop. After looking around for a suitable place, he decided to purchase the rental rights to a noodle shop in Baishizhou, on the western side of Shahe Road. The shop had been recently renovated and came with a hefty transfer fee—180,000 rmb with a high rent. But the man was enthusiastic. So he sold his homestead land (宅基地) as an initial investment and moved his family to Baishizhou, where they worked. Only his youngest son went to school, while his oldest didn’t go to high school so he could work in the shop. As the last of the buildings in the Shahe Industrial Park are being demolished, he is being forced out without any compensation and no way back home. Continue reading

hubei: shenzhen identity comes of age

Those of you who have been following Shenzhen media are aware that Hubei Ancient Village (湖贝古村) has become a touchstone in debates about historic preservation, pubic participation in establishing urban planning values and goals, and the place of “life (生活)” in high-end rent districts.

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next to go: huanggang

The plans for renovating Huanggang have been released–just in case you were wondering, “How quickly can Shenzhen remake itself in its own ever shifting image?” That said, Tianmian has also evicted the design companies and is gearing up to raze and renovate its former industrial park. In fact some areas of the city–looking at you OCT–are preparing the fourth generation of urban plan. Below, the maps and images of Huanggang 3.0, urbanized villages vanishing except as real estate companies.

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baishizhou officially slated for renewal

Yesterday, the Shenzhen Government online portal announced that Baishizhou is on the list of areas designated for urban renewal.

The plan to renew “the five Shahe villages” was submitted by the Shenzhen Baishizhou Investment Company Ltd. It calls for razing 459,000 square meters of built area. The area has been zoned for residential and commerce, with at least 135,857 square meters of public space.

Baishizhou is one of 18 projects announced. All plans take place at the street level, and all target communities and/or early industrial areas. All emphasize the planned public area, but do not mention plans for evicted residents or scheduled construction.

Of note, the urban renewal announcements were tucked away in the Bureau of Land, but the announcement of Shenzhen’s plans for its first village preservation project, Shayu (沙鱼涌古村保护项目) made the front page.

garden city

Spring in Shenzhen brings memories of dustier grasses and bluer skies. 18 years ago, I lived next to a construction site, and the low cost local ornamentals and creepers flourished in moderation. We breathed construction dust and navigated street floods (or “accumulated water” as I have learned to say in Mandarin). But the skies, if organic and digitalized memory serve, we’re blue and vast and clear.

Yesterday I ate brunch on the Intercontinental patio and had an afternoon tea-becomes-dinner meeting at 1 Haiguan Rd. Once upon a developmental time, both were located near Shenzhen Bay. When built in 1982, the Intercontinental perched near coastal oyster beds and provided visitors and investors in the OCT and Shahe Industrial Parks with simple accommodations. That same year, there was no restaurant at the top of “Microwave Hill” as the site of 1 Haiguan Rd is known. Instead, it was the site of the first local (difang) broadcast tower in post Mao China. The tower broke through tree cover to send and receive signals from Hong Kong, which was just across the water. It symbolized a new communication independence from Beijing, but not too much independence; the simple two-story border guard tower still stands.

The original Intercontinental has been razed and in its place a 5-star Spaish-themed hotel stands. Outside is a galleon, while inside the male staff wear bull fighter costumes and the restaurant hostesses sashay in modified flamenco dresses. The patio area has imported flora, a black marble pool with multi-color goldfish, and a break in the lush green buffer that opens to a virtual beach area. The coastline, of course, is now pushed back, placed on the southern edge of the Binhe Expressway and the narrow Shenzhen Bay Park, which stretches along the reconstituted coastline. 1 Haiguan Rd is the physical realization of another chapter in the same history, albeit land reclamation-in-progress to accommodate a larger port area and a yacht marina. The interior of the border tower has been fitted with stage lights that create the nostalgic centerpiece of an elaborate and fragrant garden.

I enjoyed both outings. I was with generous and creative friends, with whom I often collaborate. All have helped with 302, and all are interested in contributing to the cultural life of the city. Moreover, they are truly willing to share what they have. It is a joy to be with them.

And yet.

Our friend dropped us off at our late 80s compound of boxy concrete low rises, crumbling compound floor, local plants, and ordinary pavilion with tacky pseudo-imperial glazed tiles. The combined cost of yesterday’s two meals was more than my monthly rent. Sometimes, my increasing sense of distance from ever-growing areas of the city provokes anxiety. Sometimes it hooks into my sadness about the forms of social segregation that are being built into the city. Last night, the contrast made me nostalgic for a dustier, more industrial Shenzhen, when large tracts of undeveloped land were still accessible for exploration and amenable to common dreams.

Photos taken at 1 Haiguan Rd, where the changing Shekou coastline is visible from the third floor gardens.

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yuehaimen village

When I first arrived at Shenzhen University, Yuehaimen was the urban village where I rented a conveniency apartment for 600 rmb a month. Located at the southeastern border of the SZU campus, there was an open gate between the village and the campus. However, by the time of SARS (2003) the gate was sealed off and students took to clambering over the wall between the village and campus in order to get to school. The university built dormitories at its southwestern border in Guimiao campus. That small, backdoor gate was the easiest to slip through during the SARS quarantine.

Piece by piece, urbanization near the SZU campus isolated Yuehaimen from the city. On its eastern border, Yuehaimen abuts the southern section of the Shenzhen Science and technology park. During construction of the park (from mid to late 1990s), another wall was built between the village and the white-collar work and residential area. The village’s southern border was the coastline that is now Houhai Road, and yes, a wall was built to separate the village from land reclamation, and has remained in place to cordon off ongoing construction of SZU’s southern campus.

These successive construction projects (SZU campus, Science and Technology Park, and reclamation of Houhai Bay) meant that Yuehaimen was an important home for construction workers, SZU students, and office staff. Having limited land resources, villagers built early and tall; these 6-8 story buildings are not prototypically “handshake” buildings, which emerged in the mid-1980s. Instead, Yuehaimen buildings resemble early 1990s work unit housing. More importantly, given land constraints and building styles, villagers did not own individual property, but units within jointly held buildings.

Yuehaimen is scheduled for razing by the end of the calendar year, or early next year. Most of the residents have been evacuated. What remains is an urban ghost village, where a few stragglers wait until the very last-minute before slipping into another urban enclave. In turn, Yangguang Real Estate developers promise to build another gated community on the footprint of Yuehaimen — this one shiny, modern, and meant to house Shenzhen’s technocratic managers and leaders.

Impressions, below.

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more about oysters

Anyone who has crossed from Shekou to Tun Mun via the Shenzhen Bay Western Corridor Bridge has seen the clear line that demarcates the Shenzhen-Hong Kong borridor. South of the border are floating oyster beds. North of the border, it has been illegal to raise oysters since 2006. However, at the remnants of what was once Shenzhen Harbor, those oysters are sold by the men and women who raise them — all of whom live in Shenzhen. Today’s impressions from a walk that stretches from the upscale neighborhoods of the Peninsula Estates and the Shenzhen Bay Park to the impromptu docks, where oysters were being unloaded and sold, along with a yellow fish.

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long ago and far away

The OCT Dongfang Garden villas were built in the 1980s before the age of theme parks and land reclamation. A glance at the relevant OCT real estate webpage indicates how close the villas were built to Shenzhen Bay as well as the basic suburban layout of free standing homes. Over the past decades, the area was forgotten and is in the midst of being re-gentrified by a second generation of homeowners. Nevertheless, the neighborhood still feels abandoned despite being nestled between the Splendid China and Windows of the World. Impressions below.

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scale of gentrification, buji

Gentrification in Shenzhen not only means displacing the working poor, but also rescaling the city. In Buji, the process has just begun and thus the palatable violence of this transformation is more visible than it is in the inner districts, where neoliberal environments have a more polished veneer. The images below highlight the extent to which the construction of massive public infrastructure effectively isolates neighborhoods and privileges car-owners.

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tianmian update

Has been a while since I last visited Tianmian. In the interim, the biggest changes have been to the relentlessly upgrading lay of the land. In the north, renovations to the outer factories have been completed and there are now higher end restaurants and several chains. In the west, the border between New Tianmian Village and the City of Design has been eliminated so that people now pass freely from one section to the other, even though the aesthetics suggest a clear distinction between office workers in Design and New Villagers. To the east, the former red line of the 1980 SEZ at the Shanghai hotel continues to transform itself higher and bigger as Tianmian rents remain higher than service wages in neighborhoods diners, convenience shops, and beauty parlors.

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