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
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
Today, an elderly beggar approached me. I reached into my purse and pulled out a two-HK dollar coin. He took the coin in a soft, fingerless hand, and I wondered what had happened. Had he had an accident or had he mutilated himself? He squinted rheumy eyes at the coin in his palm and said, “I can’t spend HK dollars.” I fished a one rmb bill out of my bag and gave it to him. He wished me well, pocketed both the 2 HK dollar piece and the rmb, pivoted on his cane and walked away.
Much of what I know about Shenzhen, I know through hearsay. How much might be confirmed through other sources — people, reports, maps, or books, for example — is a methodological question. Sometimes I can track down confirmation, other times I can’t. What I do know, however, is that most folks are willing to talk about other people’s affairs, even when not willing to disclose anything about themselves. The other day, I heard a story about the Baoping Community compound and here’s how it goes:
Built in the area around the train station and then moving north parallel to the train tracks, the earliest residences for Shenzhen cadres were small, danwei compounds. In 1980ish, the Xili Industry and Trade Enterprise bought land rights from Caiwuwei Village and built a small compound along what became Heping Road, just east of the railway. Xili went out of business and Shenzhen Travel took over the compound. However, Shenzhen began privatizing danwei houses in 1988, a full ten years before the rest of the country. Thus, China Travel employees who had housing in the residential area were able to purchase their benefit housing (福利房) at cost.
Sometime after privatization, the residential compound was renamed, Baoping. Old and small, the residential compound is no longer upscale housing. Instead, most of the homes are shared rentals (合租), in which each bedroom is rented out and then the kitchen, bathroom, and living spaces are shared. Continue reading
Thursday last, I walked Old Hubei Village with Chen Ting, an architectural graduate student with an interest in the landscape of Shenzhen’s state-owned industries. A walk around the train station and then through the Dongmen pedestrian street brought us across the Dongmen pedestrian overpass to the complex neighborhood where Hubei Villages Old and New abut the Luohu Culture Park, crumbling 80s factories, and 90s high-rises and one of the oldest Shenzhen food-streets eased into dusk. Impressions below:
A translation of a 天涯深圳网 post, this time about a woman boss who set herself on fire to protest having her rental property revoked (罗湖文锦广场物管收回物业女老板自焚).
A Woman Boss sets herself on fire after the luohu wenjin plaza Property Management revokes her property by Nanfang Reporter, Feng Lei (南都记者丰雷 — 南方都市报)
Yesterday afternoon (January 12, 2012), Ms. Zou of Eastern Fengming Children’s Training, which is located on the 4th Floor, Building A of Luohu Wenjin Plaza set herself on fire to protest that the Plaza’s Property Management Firm had suddenly ended her rental contract, leaving her with over 2 million investment that cannot be recovered. At the moment of crisis, the Tianbei Fire Department and Plaza Management Firm came. According to the Management Firm, the contract stated that when the property owner needed to reclaim the property, then the renter would have to leave. According to Ms. Zou, the Property Management Firm was not the property owner and therefore has no right to evict her from the premiss. Continue reading
Universiade facelifts continue and, along certain paths in the city – the global, neoliberal, middle class paths – one walks through rubble under tarps and past construction sites. Nevertheless, several steps off those intended tracks, life continues undisturbed by visions of what Shenzhen leaders think foreigners / outsiders should see. The effect of this selective construction is to further isolate pockets of working class ordinariness and transform it into unsightly poverty. In fact, one of the reasons urban villages are as such is because the city grew up around them, closing them in, and distorting their relationship to greater landscape. Thirty odd years ago, a village was a tight cluster of single story story houses and narrow paths in the midst of rice paddies, streams, orchards, and small docks that opened to either the Pearl River or the South China Sea; today an urban village is a tight cluster of three to eight story rentals that hum in the shadows of thirty story apartment complexes and postmodern skyscrapers even as the sea recedes.
Below, a walk through Dongmen, Hubei New Village, and Old Luohu work unit neighborhoods, begging the question: if what we see is what we get, why aren’t we learning to look more deeply?