xiasha k.k. one

Impressions of the Xiasha Plaza since the opening of the k.k. one mall. Those who follow the cycle of urban village demolition, relocation, and upgrading know the k.k. folks as 京基, the same development company involved in renovating Caiwuwei.

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luohu, dusk: 2016.10.27

Luohu as we knew it is changing. The recent announcement that urban renewal compensation has made billionaires of Shuibei villagers, the decision to selectively preserve and redesign Hubei as a “historic” public park area, and ongoing renewal of Caiwuwei fang (坊) or “branches”–individually, each of these projects entails demolition, evictions, and rebuilding and restructuring of particular neighborhoods, but taken together these projects entail through revision of the Old Special Zone. And yes, we’ve been watching this happen all along, but enough of the earlier urban tecture remained that we could feel where we came from, as we moved between and through adjacent neighborhoods. These new projects signal something else. Continue reading

on shenzhen speed

When I’m free associating about the dovetail between addictions to pharmaceutical and economic speed, the problems of capitalism make uncanny sense.

Deng Xiaoping first used the term “Shenzhen Speed” during his 1984 tour to describe the construction of Shenzhen University, where students designed and built their own campus. During his second tour in 1992, Deng was taken to the revolving restaurant at the top of the the International Trade Building (国贸大厦), which went up one floor every three days. Just recently, the KK 100 Plaza broke that record, going up one floor every two days.

Today, most Shenzhen workers and leaders, in both the public and private sectors need to produce “results” at Shenzhen Speed. In addition to construction times, for example, students are expected to learn more Chinese characters in less time than students in other cities; workers are expected to fill orders as quickly as possibly; and leaders are expected to continue to grow the economy faster than other cities both in China and abroad.

All this speed, of course, is about competative advantage. If a student knows more characters than another, she gets a higher grade and more social status. If workers fill orders faster than in other companies, they get more orders and earn more money for their company. If leaders grow the economy, they get promoted from sub-provincial positions (like mayor) to provincial positions (like minister of transportation, Guangdong Government). And yes, all that social status feels good and is precisely why we push ourselves into the future — we win. If we learn more faster, we become valedictorian. If we make more faster, we get on the Forbes 500 honor roll of largest companies. If we grow the largest economy, we can start interferring in the economies of neighboring countries to our own benefit.

Shenzhen residents are justifiably proud of all they have accomplished in just over thirty years. The Municipality has become not only one of the most important cities in China, but also changed how the developing world thinks about development and how the developed world thinks about China. Sometimes, however, when I think about Shenzhen speed, my mind wanders off the question of rising gross domestic product (GDP) free associates to questions of drug addition and how good a rush can feel, even as it fries our brain.

Speed is the street name of
amphetamine, a psychostimulant drug that produces increased wakefulness and focus in association with decreased fatigue and appetite, which is to say amphetamine makes us feel more awake, happy, and sexy, without giving us the munchies. We feel like we’re moving. Fast. It turns out that Methamphetamine or ice or crystal meth is basically amphetamine squared, which is to say that meth does everything that amphetamine does and then metabolizes into amphetamine and so the body gets to go through the whole process again. Faster and faster and faster and faster. And moving fast can be fun.

One of the earliest uses of methamphetamine was to keep soldiers awake and fighting during WWII. In fact, it went under the names Pilot’s chocolate and tankers’ chocolate. After WW II, Japanese companies used meth to keep workers awake, while the United States and Western European countries imported methaphetamine to treat narcolepsy, Parkinsons, alcoholism, depression, and obesity. Methamphetamine was also marketed for sinus inflammation or for non-medicinal purposes as “pep pills” — and there’s the connection between pharmaceutical and economic speed. “Speeding up” feels good and enables us to achieve what we otherwise couldn’t. Indeed, students and workers take amphetamines to gain momentary competative advantage, while leaders constantly stimulate the economy.

Downside to amphetamine? It’s highly addictive and if we keep taking amphetamine we experience delusions and paranoia that are indistinguishable from a schizophrenic psychotic episodes. The crash and burn that comes from amphetamine abuse happens faster on meth. Unfortunately, the downsides of meth and regular amphetamine addiction can also metaphorically describe the downsides of cram schools, forced overtime, and urban planning that emphasizes real estate development rather than social wellbeing. Students are worried about getting good grades, workers are deluded into thinking that overtime will get them out of debt, and our leaders are paranoid about the aims and intentions of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, environmental deterioration continues accelerate.

Thought du jour: to the extent that profit under global capitalism is a function of time, we are all on speed. Moreover, that rush is about ranking and inequality and ultimately about how we define membership in world organizations. If nothing else, Shenzhen Speed set the pace for development in the Post Cold War order and it would behoove us to think about whose pushing the drug and why.

the view from the top, circa 1997

The 69th floor observatory of the Diwang Building remains an important tourist destination, albeit something of a time capsule.

The Diwang building was completed in time to celebrate the Return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. The 69th floor observatory includes a museum that commemorates Shenzhen’s history from 1980 through 1997, a kitchy “Lan Kwai Fang” bar street, and observation maps that date from 1997. The key exhibit is a wax figure installation of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher’s iconic 1984 meeting. The installation symbolizes the ideological function of Shenzhen circa 1997 — the buffer zone between Beijing and Hong Kong, which enabled the PRC to push forward its “one country, two systems” policy.

The juxtaposition of Shenzhen then and now resonates precisely because the interior design of the museum hasn’t changed since 1997. In fact, all one has to do is look at one of the maps and compare it to the view from the observation platform to remember that in 1997 Diwang precipitated the city’s glass and steel makeover. Notably absent from the 1997 maps — the civic center, the kk 100 building, and the Binhai Expressway and Northern Loop. Obviously present in the 1997 maps — the extent to which the construction of border town urban villages such as Caiwuwei, Dengba, and Hubei had shaped urban possibility in Shenzhen . Moreover, in the 1997 images, Buji and the second line seem distant, far far away from the booming border region. Nevertheless, villages still show up in the images below — the relatively dark patches are urban villages, including the remains of Caiwuwei after the construction of the KK 100.

Visiting the museum and observatory costs 80 rmb a ticket and if memory serves (because sometimes it doesn’t), fifteen years ago the price of admission was 80 rmb.

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luohu culture park: the antidote to mall-burbia

DSCI0079 I prefer early Shenzhen urban planning to the rush to mall-burbia that is the current trend. Early planning assumed small scale, low cost urban living that promoted street life. In contrast, mall-burban developments raze central areas of the city to build large scale, high cost gated communities and attached mall, where security guards keep out the riff raff, effectively suburbanizing densely populated urban areas.

Luohu Culture Park (罗湖文化公园) exemplifies the latent urbanity of early Shenzhen planning. The 2,000 sq meter park includes underutilized cultural infrastructure, a lake, and my favorite kind of public art — a sculpture that children can easily appropriate. Continue reading

connect the dots: kk through caiwuwei to songyuan

Walked a stretch of Old Shenzhen yesterday, winding along shaded boulevards past work unit housing, 90s upgrades, and remnants of Caiwuwei finally arriving at the KK 100. Should you wish to retrace my steps, head north through the Caiwuwei entrance just behind Shenzhen’s latest landmark.

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new village origin stories: Caiwuwei redux

What to make of the following quote by Terry Farrell, architect behind the KK 100?

The site of KK100, [Farrell] says, used to be Caiwuwei village, a poor and rundown area. Kingkey had to build seven towers to rehouse local people and a further seven for other locals to own and rent out, so that they might share in the boom. It’s an extraordinary idea: even as China hurtles into capitalism, it does still show remnants of old socialist ideals.

It echoes a quote from archello, a website dedicated to world architecture. Although archello has erased the reference to socialism:

The 3.6-hectare site [for the KK 100] was previously occupied by a dense residential quarter, Caiwuwei Village. The developer had the creative vision to form a company with the villagers, initiating an entirely new approach to the art of place-making in Shenzhen. This serves as a model for 21st century for urban change all over the world. Existing buildings were run down and living conditions were poor. As part of initiating this transformation, a Joint Development Initiative was formed in which villagers became stakeholders. Each owner was offered a new property as well as a second home which serves as an income generating asset. This meant the preservation of community links that are built over generations.

Origin stories for Shenzhen and its various buildings continue to use “poor backward Baoan villages” as a foil for their own achievements. In Mandarin, stories about the KK 100 are more detailed (深圳城中村专题-罗湖蔡屋围蔡屋围:梦想的真实围绕, for example), but in essence no different: the KK100 symbolizes urban proress.

What’s more these stories share an enthusiasm for height, illustrating how phallic aesthetics not only bridge the social distance between England and China, but also between the Shenzhen Municipal Government, KK 100 developers, and Caiwuwei Villagers. Indeed, Farrell has received acclaim both for his design and the fact that it is the tallest building ever realized by a British architect, a neat illustration of the link between competitive masculinity and nationalism.

Importantly, the idea of the KK 100’s height is established through explicit comparison to low (level, quality, income) Caiwuwei. Continue reading