I contributed a chapter to The Emerging Public Realm of the Greater Bay Area: Approaches to Public Space in a Chinese Mega-Region, which was edited by Miodrag Mitrašinović and Timothy Jachna. The book matters, not only because the GBA is one of the world’s largest mega-regions, but also because China seems to be strategically planning and developing its mega-regions. Shenzhen matters in all this because even if the GBA ranks second to the Yangzte River Delta, nevertheless, it is one of the world leaders (and first in China) for patent applications and new industries. In 2018, China Briefing published a brief introduction to China’s three leading mega-regions (YRD, GBA, and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster).
But back to the book! According to the website blurb, The Emerging Public Realm of the Greater Bay Area “assembles diverse approaches to interrogating the forms of public space and the public realm that are emerging in the context of this region’s rapid urban development in the last forty years, bringing together authors from urbanism, architecture, planning, sociology, anthropology and politics to examine innovative ways of framing and conceptualizing public space in/of the Greater Bay Area. The blend of authors’ first-hand practical experiences has created a unique cross-disciplinary book that employs public space to frame issues of planning, political control, social inclusion, participation, learning/education and appropriation in the production of everyday urbanism. In the context of the Greater Bay Area, such spaces and practices also present opportunities for reconfiguring design-driven urban practice beyond traditional interventions manifested by the design of physical objects and public amenities to the design of new social protocols, processes, infrastructures and capabilities.”
In December 2020, the central government called for speeding up rural modernization (加快农业农村现代化). As elsewhere on the planet, this means industrialization, more Science and Technology R&D, and a new role for Shenzhen in the region! (I know that’s what we care about.) Anyway, a few days ago, I visited the Huizhou City Shennong Fragrant Orchid Valley Ecological Agriculture Science and Technology Ltd. (惠州市神农兰香谷生态农业科技有限公司), which is a grape farm, where no grapes would naturally grow, let alone thrive. So what’s the connection to Shenzhen?
A few weeks ago, Handshake 302 visited a learning farm in Zhongshan. The farm was located in a valley near Zhuhai; five hundred years ago, the area would have been an island. There is underground spring water on the mountain, which facilitated the conversion of sand and silt runoff (from the West and North Rivers) into polders, where it was possible to grow rice and lotuses, and to cultivate fish ponds and vegetable gardens. This particular farm is too small to support a family, but large enough for children and their parents to visit and learn about organic gardening. Indeed, the municipal government has already annexed surrounding farms into its latest master plan. This farm survived because it has a “modern” purpose.
The next installment in the Myriad Transformations, “City on the Fill” is a series of riffs on land reclamation, both as an important feature of Shenzhen’s cultural ecology and as a metaphor for the replacement of southern Chinese culture with northern norms.
This image of the Shenzhen Bay coastline was taken behind the south gate of Shenzhen University in 2002. Squatters occupied the landfill and planted small vegetable gardens and raised chickens near their houses. Most worked in the informal economy, sorting garbage, working on nearby construction sites, and cultivating the oyster and fish farms that would be shut down in 2006. Today, the water has been reclaimed and is part of the Hi-Tech corridor that connects the Tencent Headquarters to University town via Shenzhen University, branch campuses of Hong Kong universities, and office buildings of Shenzhen and China’s top hi-tech companies. Indeed, this area was the site of the Shenzhen Maker Faire, 2015. The building under construction in the background is the Yangri Wanpan （洋日湾畔）estates, next to the Coastal City Shopping Mall complex. However, what strikes me more than the “that was then feeling” of a landscape transformed is the squatters’ clothing; even in 2002, when Shenzhen was still a manufacturing city, squatters would have difficulty finding jobs in the formal economy where appearance was part of gaining employment.
This is the Hi-Tech area, circa 2015. The white buildings in the left of the photograph comprise the Yangri Wanpan housing estates, which were under construction (and considered seafront property) in 2002. In 2015, the Hi-Tech area was the site of the Shenzhen Maker Faire, shown in the Chaihuo clip, below:
Here’s the thing about the retreat of manufacturing from the townships and villages of the Pearl River Delta; these areas have urbanized, migrants have settled in and are raising families, but as the low-end jobs and shops that once sustained local and migrant communities follow the factories elsewhere, these neighborhoods are withering. Consider, for example, the older section of Dongguan–莞城, which only twenty years ago was a vibrant community and today is an abandoned reminder of the area’s complicated history with Ming pirates and British opium, its deep relationships with the late Qing Chinese diaspora, and the Pearl River Delta’s urban village origins. Old Dongguan has become a focus of concern for urban planners and concerned citizens: how to revitalize an “old street” that is no longer viable, but sits on prime real estate, or more precisely, inquiring minds want to know: to raze or not to raze historic areas and landmark buildings? Continue reading
Last year, the last of Foshan’s famous pottery kilns was decommissioned, leaving the city poised at the edge of a complete renovation–from a dense network of markets, township and village owned industrial parks, and new villages into something bright and shiny, an amalgamation of high-rises, offices, and malls, where products that are no longer produced in Foshan can be purchased by people who suddenly find themselves positioned to become a next generation of “urban village” landlords. Continue reading
Happy happy to have been part of the wonderful exhibit, Art+Village+City. Margaret Crawford and Winnie Wong curated the exhibition. Featuring the work of the Art+Village+City Research Studio, SHIMURAbros (as researchers at Studio Olafur Eliasson), Sascha Pohle, Jing Wen, and José Figueroa. The exhibition is on in Berkeley and Shanghai; those in either area, check out the challenges and opportunities that urban(izing) villages in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou present.
Wurster Gallery, Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley
October 13-November 14
Shanghai West Bund Biennale/Urban Art Space Season
West Bund Cultural Center, Shanghai
October 1-December 31, 2015
…and yes “we” is you white man. I began this morning grappling with the problem of statistical representation and sustainable imaginaries in the Pearl River Delta, which has roughly the same GDP as Switzerland spread over an area that is only 1.3 times greater than Switzerland. So yes, I live in an important region of the global economy. But here’s the rub: the PRD has a population that is almost 8 times that of Switzerland. This means that sustainable development in the PRD entails grappling with issues at a scale much greater and with fewer resources per person than in Switzerland. Continue reading
is that very unequal material living environments have to be made to look, well, equal. This is why the current Chinese government focus on growth rates, rather than actual GDP figures matter. With mandated growth rates, every city looks like they’re growing (more or less) equally, while others don’t look like they are stagnating. However, when the actual GDP figures for, let’s say, the Pearl River Delta cities are compared, what we see is that three cities–Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen–completely dominate the region, even as collectively the 9 PRD cities are estimated to account for 70% of Guangdong’s GDP (and only 30% of population). Moreover, given that sub provincial Shenzhen can’t (yet) officially have a higher GDP than provincial Guangzhou, we have know way of knowing if Shenzhen is in fact earning less than Guangzhou.
Provocation du jour: government growth rate targets directly impact a functionary’s ability to rise within administrative ranks, even as the business of Shenzhen remains, well, profitable business. Inquiring minds want to know: is this a contradiction between the people, or a meaningful crack between the government and its residents (居民)?
Today I learned about cultivating oysters. I also visited Shajing, the town that oysters built even though oysters are no longer cultivated here. Instead the oyster babies are sent to Taishan where they are raised and returned to Shajing for processing. It’s almost like assembly manufacturing, except its agricultural production. Continue reading