Journey to the Northwest

If Cyber City housed the National Capital Region’s elites and their high-culture status, the city’s middling aspirations have taken root just outside the northern edge of Old Delhi. On our final morning of field research, we traced the stubborn history of Delhi’s entrepreneurs on its first metro line. Older metro routes to get people, revolts against it. Placed on broad roads and convenient for construction. With changing technology and demands for metro they are taken tracks and station to people. So more risks in terms of construction. Cut through neighborhoods to build tracks. Red and yellow were first. To get away from politics of naming got exceptions to archaeological laws, land acquisition laws. Making money through real estate. 2010 women only. Indeed, the stations of the metro not only offer a sociology of the living city, but also comprise a catalogue of shifting allegiances, reminding us that Southasia stretches northwest from the capital region into Bangladesh and Afghanistan, hinting at the deep trade networks that once sutured the ancient civilizations of Eurasia and their redeployment toward the adhoc construction of the modern nation state, as well as the ways in which regional histories and cultures meet like opposing currents, creating whirlpools. Most often the whirlpools of everyday life are very small, like when a bathtub drains. But sometimes, maelstroms form and when the wind calms, the survivors wash ashore in another world.

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fuyong new village / bao’an road

It’s instructive to jump off the number 11 subway line, once its passed the airport station. In Bao’an District, the No 11 line runs parallel to Bao’an Road, which delineates the inner border between the older, historic village settlements and their industrial parks. East of Bao’an Road, one heads toward the Pearl River, land reclamation, and scattered reminders of this deeper history. West of Bao’an Road, one heads through large industrial parks toward National expressway G107, which was the road that first connected the original Special Zone to Guangzhou via Songgang (images of a 2008 walk, here). At Nantou Checkpoint, National Highway 107 becomes Shannan Road and a fast track to the inner district real estate boom. Continue reading

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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china’s 2011 clinker production capacity

It’s true, in searching for statistics about how much cement has been used in Shenzhen (I keep hoping some social statistically minded engineer will do the calculations), I stumbled across China’s cement web. One of the articles, relevant to aforesaid search, was the clinker production capacity of China’s ten largest cement producers in 2011.

As of Jan 1, 2012, China’s big cement ten are, in order: Hailuo (海螺水泥)、Southern (南方水泥)、China United (中联水泥)、China Resources (华润水泥)、Sinoma (中材集团)、Hebei East (冀东水泥) 、TCC (台泥水泥)、Sunnsy (山水集团)、Huaxin (华新水泥)、and Hongshi (红狮集团). Together they have the capacity to produce just under 581 million tons of clinker, annually. Just how much can be built with all that cement? Well, the Empire State Building weighs in at 370,000 tons. This means that ten Chinese cement factories produce the mass equivalent of 1,570 Empire State Buildings.  Continue reading

Government Re-Contextualizations, or how the plan gets fixed


boxed methane pipe, part of the rennovations on dongbin road

Upgrading continues in Nanshan. This morning we received notice that the Nanshan Bureau of Public Works will begin the second part of its 6 + 1 street scenery renovation project (街景整治工程). All the neon is part of this project, which includes upgrading walls (remember the air-conditioner cages?), planting trees and flowers (have I posted pictures of the wooden pots for methane gas release on Dongbin Street yet?), and replacing old billboards, presumably with new billboards (I know I’ve taken pictures of World of War characters creeping across buildings…) Pictures here.

It’s a very Shenzhen approach to governance: build something. It’s as if the constant construction and reconstruction of space will keep people in their respective places. So, for those of you wondering how renovation functions as a means of governance (and I know you’re out there), I’ve translated part of the brochure we received. What I’d like to call attention to is the history captured in the street names. These street names chart the historic progression of development in Nanshan. Some streets are “old” from before reform, some are “new”, built in close proximity to old centers in the eighties. Some streets speak to reform dreams. Still other streets were laid on landfill more than twenty years after old and new was defined by governmental policy. The renovation project homogonizes all this history, as if the streets appeared together one day, already complete unto themselves, derived from some perfect, omnipotent plan.

街区再造 品质南山
6 + 1城市改造工程是南山区政府继去年对蛇口新街、海月路、学府路、沙河路口、留仙大道、朱光路等六条街道和南海大道(一期)、创业路、沙河西路、东滨路(一期)的景观整治改造之后,对南海大道(二期)、蛇口老街+海昌街、后海大道(南段)、南山大道、南新路、东滨路(二期)、居仙大厦进行改造整治,改造内容包括建筑里面、路面、人行道铺面、广告招牌等。

Street Reconstruction, Quality Nanshan
The 6 + 1 Urban Improvement Project is a continuation of the Nanshan District Government’s street renovation project. Last year, Nanshan renovated the appearences of Shekou New Street, Haiyue Road, Xuefu Road, Shahe Intersection, Liuxian Main Street, Zhuguang Road, Nanhai Main Street (part one), Construction Street, Shahe West Road, and Dongbin Street (part one). This year, Nanshan will renovate Nanhai Main Street (part two), Shekou Old Street + Nanchang Street, Houhai Main Street (southern portion), Nanshan Main Street, New Nan Road, Dongbin Road (part two), and Juxian Building. Renovations include: building interiors, street fronts, sidewalks and storefronts, and billboards.

鲤鱼门: more landfill


gateway to the coast that used to be, liyumen

school has been open almost four weeks and my life is finally settling down. this weekend, i was back on the nantou peninsula and instead of walking along houhai, i walked along the yuehai side. (facing guanzhou, right near the western railway station which connects shenzhen to hunan.)

in the early 1990s, liyumen was a beach front resort area, somewhat modeled after the hong kong fishing port of the same name, where good seafood might be eaten relatively cheaply. the shenzhen version included saunas, and massage parlors, and a very large badmitten court. over the past fifteen years,land reclamation has proceeded and liyumen is now a good half mile inland. however, the land has not yet been developed and is instead used to park and repair container trucks, which transfer goods from nanshan factories to chiwan port, just around what remains of nanshan mountain.

so liyumen constitutes a strange kind of timewarp, both as memorial to what used to be a shenzhen resort area and as a transition between industrial nantou and the new highrises that are being planned, please visit.

historic houhai

July 1, 2007. ten year anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. Unlike ten years ago, when the city buzzed with anticipatory dreams of what two systems might mean for ordinary people, this year Shenzhen has been relatively unconcerned with commemorating the other of Deng Xiaoping’s two accomplishments. When an American friend asked a Shenzhen friend what they were doing for “July 1st,” my Shenzhen friend looked at both Yang Qian and me, trying to figure out what holiday it was.

May 1st is International Labor Day. June 1st is International Children’s Day. July 1st is the birthday of the Chinese Communist Party, although its an internal holiday, so nobody celebrates it. As we counted, everyone got into the “first” spirit. August 1st is the birthday of the People’s Liberation Army. September 1st is the first day of school. October 1st is National Day. November 1st is All Saint’s Day. December 1st? Nothing. January 1st is New Year’s Day. February 1st? Nothing, but February 2nd is Ground Hog’s Day, which might count in a more generous world. March 1st? Again nothing, but International Women’s Day falls exactly one week later on March 8th. April 1st is All Fool’s Day. We turned to our guest. July 1st?

Tenth Anniversary, she said.

Ahh. We knew that, but it hadn’t registrared. Clearly.

Not that Shenzhen hasn’t prepared a major engineering feat to commemorate the Handover. This morning at around 10 a.m., the Western Corridor Bridge (lit up)officially opened, as did the Shenzhen Bay Border Checkpoint. At 6 a.m,. this morning I made my cursory “in the spirit of documenting history” appearance at the site. I walked down the old Nanyou street. At the intersection between the road and the new Houhai Ocean Front Road, police had set themselves up to prevent cars from going in. Presumably, they were also keeping people off the sidewalk. However, about 10 steps away it was possible to walk through the park that had just been put in (also for the opening ceremony). Walking this way it was possible to go around the police and head toward the new Customs Checkpoint and get a closeup of the Bridge.


heading south the banners read: one country two systems, together build a harmonious society; one land, two checkpoints, achieve scientific development

I came back to the house and told Yang Qian that I felt for the police. Not because I think they should be barricading people away from the checkpoint. Not even because they had to stand in weather that alternated between excruciating sun and thunderstorms. But because they were called on to do a job they couldn’t actually do. Anyone who wanted to walk toward the checkpoint and look at the fuss could and did. There were just too many open spaces from which to access the site. All this reminded me of when I tried to get on the Houhai land reclamation site at Number 8 Industrial Street and ended up walking around to Number 7 Industrial Street. And the funny thing is, once on the site, nobody questioned my right to be there. Likewise, once wandering around the new coastline, noone stopped me. This perhaps an important point about cultural assupmptions about belonging. Difficult access, but once in/on a site noone bothers you. How different from the US, where its not enough to get past the guards, but you also have to remain out of sight. Different forms of regulation. Or assumptions about what regulating means.


heading north the banners read: one bridge connects north and south, shenzhen and hong kong add another connecting passage; enthusiastically celebrate the official opening of the shenzhen bay border checkpoint

Once at the new coastline, much about the topography that the land reclamation project has produced fell into to place for me and I could see a whole, where previously I had only seen partial edges. Those already obsolete pictures, took when looking out toward unbounded space have something immence about them. In contrast, from the perspective of the new coastline, the area still looks big, but now seems managable, within the scope of a retrospectively visible and relentlessly mastering plan. As if we knew what we were doing all along. Or somebody did. So, pictures of historic houhai and a sense of just how banal human effort can suddenly seem.