玉律–thoughts on the shifting cultural geography of shenzhen urban villages

One of the driving forces behind cultural preservation Xinqiao (新桥) and neighboring Yulv (玉律) is the 新桥曾氏仕贵公理事会, which for the moment I’m translating as the Xinqiao Zeng Surname Council, rather than Zeng Family or Zeng Clan. The reason I’m opting for literal translation of 氏 is that during the times that I have visited Xinqiao and now Yulv, the emphasis has been on the family connection, rather than on explicit kin connections.

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interested in the hubei story?

If so, please check out, The New Companion to Urban Design, which includes a copy of my paper, “Heart of Shenzhen: The Movement to Preserve ‘Ancient’ Hubei Village.” Of course, there’re many more cities and ideas to read about. Continue reading

preservation ecologies

Guanhu (官湖) and Shayuchong (沙渔涌) Villages are within walking distance to each other along the Dapeng coastline. Guanhu is the village that has developed Jiaochangwei. A small settlement at the mouth of a river, Shayuchong is undergoing a complete renovation that is reminiscent of the horrific universidade paint-overs. Both villages are in various stages of redevelopment. And in the details I trace Shenzhen’s complicated preservation ecologies, where beauty, kitsch desires, and too much money take strange and curious form. Impressions from today’s walk, below.

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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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the “village” thing

This past week, I toured Shangling Old Village (上岭村) in Dalang. Decaying villages like Shangling contextualize the “what came after” success story that is SHENZHEN! And yet. This contextualization depends upon one, standardized (and quite frankly boring) narrative of rags to riches, sudden wealth, boom boom boom, etcetera etcetera and so forth.  Continue reading

shatou renovations. again

So, as the Xiasha Kingkey project finishes up, another urban renovation project begins in neighboring Shangsha. Below, impressions of the Xiasha plaza, the Kingkey complex along Binhe Road, and the state of unmaking in Shangsha.

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大鹏所城 (II): history in the making

Almost seven years ago to the day, I posted thoughts on cultural history. The prompt for my speculations was Dapeng Garrison, which at the time was the lack of recognition for the site, which is Shenzhen’s only national level cultural relic. Two days ago, I returned and the space was hop, hop, hopping in all sorts of telling ways. What changes had allowed Dapeng Garrison to suddenly attract students, busloads of tourists, and random day-trippers? Like most Shenzhen stories, the answer is a twisting, convoluted story of profits, grey economies, the allure of accomplishments, and the real consequences of administrative failure. Continue reading

礼貌 and 文明, thoughts

The difference between 礼貌 and 文明 matters because I bumped into a group in the Shekou Sihai park. They were members of 格 (RGLove). the charitable fund of the Shenzhen based high-tech company, 荣格科技集团. RGLove had brought in people from all over the country to explore and develop their civilization levels through Confucian studies. The goal, of course, is to intervene in the world by expressing correct relationships, that of course included 礼 which maybe 礼貌, but I’m not for sure. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know: just what does all this mean? Continue reading

traveling impressions/ hong kong international airport

Marc Augé famously suggested that airports are non-places because they are too transient to have an identity. Other non-places include highways, hotel rooms, and waiting rooms. Augé used the idea of the non-place to describe the dislocations and standardizations that characterize super modernity.

Of note, our shopping mall cities, Shenzhen for example, offer few concrete (literally!) objects that have particular and recognizably distinct identities. At the MixC in Luohu and coastal City in Nanshan, for example, we see the same mix of chain stores, domestic and international arranged in a space that is more luxurious than the Rockaway mall of my teenage years, but in essence no different. The comparison, chez Shenzhen is with an imagined countryside and the urbanized villages. In other words, supermodern shopping malls are a place holder in the search for something better, but not interesting in and of themselves.

Today, I am in Hong Kong international airport and have noticed a few replicas of preserved buildings. Such is the anonymity of the super modern city that we even become nostalgic for colonial architecture — smaller and distinct from the airport, which dwarfs these toylike memories of a quaint accessible, familiar and endearing city that never was.


…and the juggernaut rolls on

By the year 2017, Shenzhen plans to have built 95 shopping malls, totaling 17.8 million square meters. Moreover, the raze and raise juggernaut seems unstoppable, even in the face of growing support for historic preservation and public recognition of the social, cultural, and historic value of village settlements.

In October this year, the Municipality announced that  China Resources (华润) will raze Hubei Village and raise another high-end mall despite the fact that Hubei was built during the Ming Dynasty between 1465 – 1487, boasting a settlement history of almost 550 years.

The “three horizontal and eight vertical roads (三纵八横)” layout of Hubei exemplifies Guangfu (广府) or Cantonese style. The village also includes an ancestral hall that was rebuilt in 1804, a village gate, well, and over 200 houses. In addition, the ancestral hall used granite, a building material rarely seen in the area.

Hubei Village was part of the original Shenzhen Market (深圳墟), which has already been extensively razed. Indeed, Hubei Village is the largest and most concentrated of historical architecture in the area. Moreover, the village also serves as cheap housing for those who work in the surrounding hotels, spas, restaurants, and malls.

The recent and loudly protested decision to raze Caiwuwei and build the KK 100 is the immediate context for ongoing calls for some kind of preservation effort.

Impressions from a recent walk in Hubei, below:

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