to fill or not to fill…

…that is the question.

The lead article in today’s Shenzhen Evening Daily provocatively asks if the reader is for or against the China Petroleum plan to reclaim 37.9 hectares of Dapeng Bay. To date, Shenzhen has reclaimed 69 sq kilometers of coastline, an area six times larger than the Shekou Peninsula or 6.5% of Shenzhen’s total area. Moreover, of the Municipality’s 254 kilometer long coastline, only 40 kilometers remain undeveloped.

China Petroleum has proposed building a liquid natural gas (LNG) peaking power plant. Also known as peaker plants, and occasionally just “peakers,” these power stations do not run continuously, but rather provide additional energy during peak hours of demand, such as during summer afternoons when air-conditioning use is at its highest. They command a higher price per kilowatt hour than do base load plants, which operate continuously.

There has been a persistent buzz of protest against the proposed plan. The article goes on to say that in Shenzhen news net online survey, over 82% of respondents were against the plan. Moreover, there seems to be government support for the social push back. Last week, for example, a journalist friend said that Dapeng New District Government had no vested interest in the plant, but did have a interest in the coastline. Consequently, the government was using public disapproval as a means of countering China Petroleum, which is a national, state-owned enterprise.

Currently, Shenzhen is handling the stand-off through a hearing. The question facing the board, is whether or not the proposed station conforms to or is in conflict with Shenzhen’s environmental sustainability laws, which include protection for remaining coastline areas. Zhou Wei, a nature photographer and environmental activist has been at the forefront of bringing public awareness to the proposal and its environmental consequences. It is therefor notable that he is not one of the five members of the board that will hear arguments for and against building a Dapeng Peaker.

Of note. Today’s article phrased the question of “to fill or not to fill” in terms of the well-being of the City’s grandchildren:

We don’t know what the future of Dapeng Bay will be, nor do we know how you will view the decisions that we make today. Today we write this letter in the name of Shenzhen, in the hope that every choice we make will not harm our grandchildren.

blooming contradictions

Unfortunately, more often than not modernization leaves us with street names instead of actual landscape features.

Shenzhen public landscaping, for example, has been defined by its enthusiasm for inaccessible green space that adorn its roads. Throughout the city, there are lovely swathes of topiary and grass that pedestrians (and even birds) can’t actually access except in passing. In part to rectify this problem, but also in response to the city’s white collar residents, a vast network of bike trails have been installed throughout the city. Moreover, these trails have been mapped and the public encouraged to walk and ride through the cities green belts.

Here’s the moment of ecological dissonance: at the same time that functionaries are being encouraged to bike on the weekend, plans have been announced to reclaim 39.7 sq kilometers of Dapeng Bay. The corporate culprit is China Oil, which intends to use the reclaimed land for extracting South China Sea oil reserves. And yes, these plans are moving forward despite the fact that Dapeng New District is an environmental conservation district.

So pictures of the Nanhai (literally “South Ocean”) Road, below and a link to an article about the land reclamation project, here.

What’s in a name, indeed.

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crumbling foundations

The first floor sinking, occupied by migrant workers. Above, several condos have been inhabited, but most floors remain empty, unused except as placeholders on accounting sheets. A section of Houhai Bin Road is being reconstructed. The chilly smog undulates.

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land reclamation continues apace

The relentless occupation of the ocean continues. These images of Houhai Road (the former coastline) show the development that has engulfed Yuehaimen Village, subject of my last post. Clicking the houhai tag will bring up a decade of transformation.

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edgy map

Ryoyu Kido sent me the link to Modeling the influences of land reclamation on groundwater systems: A case study in Shekou peninsula, Shenzhen, China, which includes a map of land reclamation around the Nantou Peninsula, 1983-2005:

shenzhen land reclamation

I colored in the boundaries to give a sense of the progression of land reclamation in in the Qianhai and Houhai areas of the Peninsula:

shenzhen land reclamation-mao

The tags land reclamation and Shekou bring much of this change into cultural perspective.

dongjiaotou: vanishing edges

This afternoon, the old coast that was Dongjiaotou Port abruptly became visible. Until as recently as 10 years ago, Dongjiaotou had been a small port for shipping building materials — sand and bricks and tiles — from other Delta cities to western Shenzhen. However, land reclamation has overtaken the area behind the small mountain. Along the new coastal sidewalk, fishermen and their wives held a remnant market and then, suddenly, the road turns onto Nanshan District’s upscale neighborhoods. Impressions of a shifting landscape, below.

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shenzhen bay coastline, oct 27, 2012

I wandered to the Shenzhen Bay Park, tracking the construction and commodification of the new coastline. Land reclamation has brought views and parks, but I noticed that children and dogs still want to get their feet wet. Impressions, below.

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the new face of shenzhen homelessness?

Yesterday evening, I walked from the Peninsula housing estate along Wanghai Road, which winds around the back of Shekou Mountain through a new section of reclaimed land. I passed the walled off and abandoned construction site in the bit of land that belongs to the military policy (武警) and paused to look at the remaining  fishing boats and tangled nets that hug the remaining bit of coast, before making a left onto Houhai Road. After 8 p.m., small trucks are permitted on Houhai Road, and a line of pick up trucks backed up from the new coastline all the way to Old Shekou Road at the Shekou Oil Depot. Dirt filled the open backs and floated into the air, as the trucks trundled into a new reclamation area. I also saw a family living in a van. The lettering on the outer body of the van announced small repairs, however, the sliding side door was opened to reveal a makeshift bed, a mother rocking a child, and a man fixing an appliance of some kind. It’s not uncommon for neidi wives and children to join working husbands on construction sites, however, this was the first time that I have seen the interior of a service car remodeled for family life. So it seems that Shenzhen’s homeless are paradoxically richer because they have a car and tools for making a living and yet more isolated because the more “traditional” — if I can use the term — Shenzhen homeless families squatted in tent settlements under lychee trees, or more recently have occupied the edges of the reclamation projects, which of course, is where my walk began.

figuring out the street, shekou gongye number 8 road

I live on Shekou Gongye Number 8 Road, translated, my address is “Shekou Industry Road #8”. There are 10 industry roads in Shekou, remnants of the Shekou Industrial Zone. Walking these roads gives a good sense of not only how the city is gentrifying, but also the different street lives that various generations of urbanization have engendered.

To understand my discussion of class differences and symbolic geography of Industry Road #8, please reform to the map below which gives a rough sense of extent of land reclamation on the Nantou Peninsula. For purposes of this discussion, key landmarks, Industry Rd #8 and Houhai Road, which connects to New Shekou Road:

The older core of #8 threads through the residential parts of Old Shekou, linking up with what was the area’s commercial center and industrial parks. However, as part of the stutterstep Houhai Land Reclamation Project, #8 has lengthened with each burst of fill. Houhai Road used parallel the coastline and marked the thick edge where Mangrove trees gave way to piers and oyster cultivation, it now marks the historic divide between the old and new coastlines, between which upscale residential areas and shopping malls continue to be built. Thus, Houhai Road also constitutes a boundary between older but poorer and new rich neighborhoods

On #8, Houhai Road also divides the area into two different kinds of street life. The older section has concrete sidewalks that connect housing developments with 7 story walk-ups, community park areas with local foliage, and simple (also concrete) benches. The gate between the housing development and the street is a security bar that controls traffic flow in and out of the area. The new section has stylized sidewalks that are embellished with granite and marble at residences. The buildings are over 20 stories, the community park areas landscaped with imported topiary, and the benches ornate designs of iron and wood. The gates are over one story high with faux noble emblems that control pedestrian traffic in and out of the development because cars have a separate entrance that leads to underground parking.

During the day, the older section bustles with ad hoc businesses — soybean milk and steamed bun venders, people sitting on plastic chairs chatting, and various kiosks selling drinks, snacks, and newspapers. In the newer section, all these activities take place indoors and no one uses the public benches because the trees haven’t grown in enough to give shade. At night, in the older section a bbq station sets up and older people play chess. In the newer section, several entrepreneurs have set up roller blade classes for the children of the housing estates.

All this to make a simple observation about the ongoing construction of the Houhai Land Reclamation Area — in Shenzhen’s symbolic geography, the reclaimed areas function as a negation of the previous areas. This is not surprising given the SEZ’s historic role as a negation of Maoist space. However, it is important to note the vocabulary through which the ongoing formation of class identities in Shenzhen is expressed. The most recent, the newest is the best, representing the improvement of the past.

In practice, this symbolic geography has depended upon building large projects on unclaimed or reclaimed land. As unclaimed and reclaimed land become increasing scarce, however, this has meant that razing older areas has become the preferred way of creating “new” space. Consequently, these new spaces do not only negate the old symbolically, but increasingly depend razing old neighborhoods and the displacement of poorer residents, so that the negation becomes explicit — you and your type not welcome in the city. At present this logic is most visible and visceral in the urban villages. Nevertheless, here in the older section of #8, we hear the bulldozers on the horizon. More notes and images of the Houhai transformation, here.

海湾村: land locked futures

The Transformation of Shenzhen Villages (沧海桑田深圳村庄30年), Episode 9: Haiwan Village tells the story the Nantou Peninsula and the reclamation of land in Houhai (the southern coast facing Hong Kong) and Qianhai (the northern coast facing Guangzhou). This was the platform from which Hong Kong entered China and Baoan villagers once launched themselves to Hong Kong.

During the Mao era, Wanxia Village was divided into two production brigades, one land based for agricultural cultivation and the other water based for oyster farming. Eventually, the Wanxia Oyster Brigade was renamed Haiwan Brigade, creating two administrative villages through the division of one natural village. This division points to the importance of production — rather than history — in defining Maoist administrative units, especially in rural areas, where villages were integrated or split depending upon production needs. Importantly, however, these administrative categories were not naturalized in the same way during the early years of Reform and Opening, when some administrative villages re-instituted traditional boundaries while others did not. Haiwan retained Maoist status and began building village level factories.

Access to the sea shaped village demographics, with a population gap of people, ages 45-65 who escaped to Hong Kong in the last large flights in 1968 and 78, respectively. Nevertheless, traditional land rights enabled Haiwan to prosper. In addition, we learn from an older, Cantonese-speaking villager that Haiwan Village is an Overseas Chinese village, with many descendants scattered throughout the world with village association buildings in the United States and Hong Kong, representing support, ranging from monetary to knowledge to investment connections. The village has also maintained its identity through traditions and ritual that centered on a small Tianhou Temple.

Watching this episode, I suddenly realized something that was clearly obvious to the filmmaker: Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour coincided with the establishment of guannei villages as stock-holding corporations and urban neighborhoods. In other words, the second tour did result in new policies or breakthroughs as they are known. My a-ha moment was in seeing the connection between politics and the radical restructuring of the south china coast.  The episode ending rhetorically juxtaposes images of Wall Street with Houhai, asking if Shekou can become the next Manhattan. The question is illuminating not for its booster-hype pretensions, but rather because it clearly reiterates the primacy of investment and real estate over traditional livelihoods such as oyster farming. In such a world, insofar as the sea becomes a factor in determining property values and not an independent source of value, reclaiming the sea makes good business sense.