from bamboo curtain to the silicon valley of hardware

For the 2019 edition of the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB), Handshake 302 installed Electronic Lifestyles at the Futian Station Main Venue. To situate the installation with respect to Shenzhen’s cultural geography, I wrote From Bamboo Curtain to the Silicon Valley of Hardware, which was published at as part of e-flux architecture‘s Software as Infrastructure project.

From the essay:

Located on the “bamboo curtain” at the Sino-British border, Shenzhen’s spatial liminality facilitated national political and economic restructuring, which ultimately had international effects. In the ordinary order of things, liminal spaces have recognizable thresholds and boundaries; one crosses from one side to the next. Most liminal spaces are located at the edges of mainstream society. In contrast, the geopolitical logic of Shenzhen has been to place liminal spaces at the center of society, making perpetual transformation—of the self, the nation, and the world—a key feature of the model. The transformation of Luohu-Shangbu from a riparian society into the earliest iteration of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) can give a sense of how liminality was deployed to as metaphor and strategy. Today, the Luohu area is known as Dongmen, a bustling cross-border shopping district, and Shangbu is known as Huaqiangbei, the world’s “Silicon Valley of Hardware.”

Curious? Please give it a read.

hubei ancient village update

Images of the recently demolished area of New Hubei Village, including Luohu Culture Park, which used to be one of my favorite downtown sites. For those who have following the resistance to the demolition of “Ancient Hubei Village,” the demolitions have incited architects, urban planners, and public intellectuals to submit detailed counterproposals and cultural events to protect the area. These demolitions have risked destroying the older settlement. In the pictures you can see the section of Hubei New Village that is still standing, the blue steel roofs of Hubei ancient village, and and the surrounding skyscrapers of Luohu.

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hubei: bearing witness

So, Hubei Old Village isn’t being demolished, but it’s not being protected from the fallout of master plans and hammer drills. I walked the edges of the demolition area in and around New Hubei Village and the former Luohu Culture Park, which used to be one of my favorite public spaces downtown. Impressions of the withering practices that encroach on the “Old Special Zone, below.”

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changling village: spring festival traditions

Tonight, I was one of roughly 2,000 people who welcomed spring in Changling Village (长岭村) by eating pencai together. Like a wedding banquet, a pencai banquet constitutes society table by table. The hosts were the 40-odd families who belong to the village, and their guests came from the Hong Kong side of the family, affines from neighboring villages, friends, street office officials, and representatives from the developer who aims to transform Changling into high end real estate on the Shenzhen River.  Continue reading

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

hubei: recognizing “value”

The current focus on preserving Hubei Old Village obscures just how much Special Zone history and everyday life will be demolished to make way for the new China Resources development downtown. What’s at stake are competing understandings of what makes a good life for whom and who gets to decide the form and function of the city. Continue reading

of migrants and immigrants, shenzheners and locals: some definitions

Talking about migrant workers in China (and throughout the world’s booming mega-cities) usually means “rural to urban migration”. However, this is not the case in Shenzhen, where “urban to urban immigration” has been as fundamental to the city’s success and growth. Indeed, the diversity of Shenzhen’s migrant population complicates easy understanding of what it means to be a Shenzhener, let alone academic debates about urban belonging and ideologies of exclusion. Continue reading

Crossing the Border Between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, 1951

great photos of the luohu border crossing, when it was just being established!

Everyday Life in Mao's China

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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

population number games

There are three resident statuses in Shenzhen: Shenzhen hukou, long term residence permit (常住证), and illegal residents or the floating population (流动人口). In turn, these different statuses are reflected in two kinds of population statistics: the long term population (常住人口) and the administrative population (管理人口).  The long term population is divided into those residents with hukou and those with permits. The administrative population refers to the number of renters who have been registered at a local police station. In practice, the difference between the long term and administrative populations provides insight into how large the floating population is.

Here’s the rub: Cities and districts usually only release population statistics, even though the actual population is on record via individual precincts, which report their statistics to the District. In turn, reporting practices vary widely between districts, making it difficult to ascertain how many people actually live and work in a district, let alone in an urban village. Continue reading