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.

baoan district: new and improving

rubble, baoan district

yang qian teaches acting to dance students at the baoan district art center; saturday i went with him. while he taught, i tracked new and improving baoan, which lives very differently from “shenzhen”, or the area that is still technically the sez, even though the second line no longer functions. basically, the district is razing the remnants of factory areas and old villages, to be replaced by upscale housing developments. pictures of the rubble, here.

海田路: rough edges


haitian road (海田路) is one of the short, but not narrow roads that run north-south (perpendicular to shennan road) within the expanding city center. with the completion of the new city hall, library, concert hall, as well as much of the environmental landscape around the city center, nearby construction has begun to smooth out the rough edges, those remnants of previous development. of course, many of the tall office buildings on nearby shennan road have been completed as have nearby residential areas. few rough edges remain.

sometimes i feel like i’m doing salvage anthropology of disappearing factory districts in shenzhen. sometimes, it seems like i’m simply trying to keep up with the change. sometimes, i just want to remember where i’ve been, when those places just keep vanishing. what happens to memory when nothing remains as it was? not that it was what i thought, but those buildings nevertheless anchored my thinking, placed limits on what might otherwise drift away. and then where would i be? while walking from the city center toward tianmian, i happened to walk down a bit of haitian road and took 4 pictures of razed buildings, which now form the protective wall around a new construction site. i have an idea of what used to be here, but can’t say for certain.

南油文化广场:urban facelife, rural fairs

nanyou cultural plaza

the nanyou cultural plaza, like most shenzhen cultural centers was built to promote high culture. however nanyou, like most shenzhen governments doesn’t actually budget all that much money for cultural production, instead requiring that center or plaza administrators capitalize on the space to keep it running. most cultural centers have achieved this by showing movies and renting space for cultural consumption (weiqi clubs, dance lessons, and martial arts instruction, for example).

the success of a cultural center depends on access–in all senses of the word–to the center. many village level cultural centers are in fact quite active because they not only target their cultural production to villagers and migrant workers, who (as rural people) share similar cultural tastes, but also are located within walking distance of most of their patrons. in contrast, street level centers, like nanyou, have to mediate between rural and urban tastes, which don’t really overlap, making it difficult to build a cultural community. consequently, these centers depend upon public transportation and private cars to bring their patrons to them.

the construction of the western corridor bridge has compounded nanyou’s economic difficulties because the street in front of the plaza has been under construction for over two years now. although the nanyou cultural plaza continues to screen movies, the entire space has been rented out to mom and pop vendors, who have transformed the space into a market for the many migrant workers who live nearby.

about five years ago, the area around nanyou was a thriving restaurant district that catered to urban white-collar workers. most of those restaurants (including macdonald’s) have moved out, replaced by small eateries and street level grills. five years ago, there were also villas and upscale residential complexes in this area. these are now being rebuilt, in anticipation of the opening of the western corridor bridge, when nanyou will again and perhaps as suddenly change character, becoming prime real estate for those commuting from western shenzhen to hong kong.

for a sense of how migrant workers occupy shenzhen spaces, please visit nanyou.

improvements, again

temporary roadblock, nanyou

just when i thought it was safe to wear sandals, shenzhen embarked on a project to upgrade city sidewalks, ripping up roads that had been set only a few years previously. so once again, as the city improves its image, we pick our way through rubble and bricks, dust and exposed sewage pipes. a few photo-gripes here.