These past two days, Zhang Kaiqin led a Handshake 302 art workshop in the Shenzhen Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. The workshop was organized quite simply: on the first morning we learned about the plants and then in the afternoon and next day we created site-specific art. The only rule was that we couldn’t bring anything (except tools) into the botanical garden. And that limitation led to visceral experience of how narrow the actual space for creative subjectivity is in modern spaces.
At dinner last night a friend asked me, “If you had to choose between living in a 50 story building or an urban village walk-up, where would you live?”
This question illustrates the kind of double bind thinking that current debates about urban villages generate. As posed, the question compels us to choose between either high end futurism or unsanitary crowded settlements. But all too often the question itself becomes rhetorical justification for ignoring other examples of more successful urbanization. What’s more, the question also blinds us to what we can learn from the tight organization and convenience of the villages, while using high tech knowledge and skills to imagine low-rise, more environmentally friendly settlements. Continue reading