iGlobalization@szurbanvillage

In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.

My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.

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more community websites

Shenzhen long since gave up on “neighborhoods (居委会)” and “villages (村)”. Instead, the ruralized urban hybrids that the SEZ has spawned are legally known as “communities (社区)”. Note du jour is simply to point out that many of the sites connect landlords and renters. Soufun or “Search for a house” web, has sites that not only include rental information, but also track real estate prices. Guloucun — literally Old Lou Village Community (古楼村小区网) and Tianmiancun or Tianmian Village Community (田面村小区网), for example.

However, some community websites are more community oriented, in addition to providing a commercial forum. For the curious, checkout these community websites:

Shangsha and Xiasha Community Website (上下沙社区网)

Baishizhou Community Website (白石洲社区网)

下沙陈杨候王庙: mapping the transition of property rights in shenzhen

Dedicated to Chen and Yang, a scholar and general, respectively, the Xiasha Houwang Temple 候王庙) is worth a visit and not only because these kings-in-waiting represent the Confucian ideal of uniting literary and military talents in governance, but also because they remind us that the contemporary figures of “high intellectual (高知)” and “high cadres (高干)” have historical president. What’s more, a glance at the plaque of sponsors suggests the extent to which reinvented traditions have been incorporated into Shenzhen’s urban village renewal projects. In addition to Xiasha Village Holdings Limited CEO, Huang Chaoying, CEOs from the various companies involved in Xiasha renewal also donated to temple construction, including Chen Hua (CEO Kingkey – 3 million yuan); Huang Chulong (CEO Galaxy – 2 million yuan); Huang Kangjing (Lvgem – 2 million): and Huang Guangmiao (CEO Centralcon– 2 million).

These four Shenzhen based conglomerates have a been major players in the implementation of the Municipality’s post 1996 urban plan, with investments that began either as a joint venture with an urban village or winning a bid from the government. Over time, these conglomerates have emerged become active in larger projects, participating in this second “village urbanization” effort and thus extending their holdings through collaboration with other Shenzhen urban villages as well as extended holdings throughout neidi. Kingkey, of course, is best known for the KK 100 in Caiwuwei, but also built the upscale mall, KK Baina in the reclaimed Hongshuwan area. It began as a Luohu developer, most notably the Jingdu Hotel, near the train station. Within the past decade, Kingkey has also expanded to open branches in Tianjin, Beijing, and Zhejiang.

The three other developers also followed this path – from developing buildings or housing complexes in a particular district (Kingkey began in Luohu, while Galaxy, Lvgem, and Zhongzhou had their start in Futian)  through urban village renovation (negotiating to lead the renovation of entire urban villages) to national player. All were formed in the early 90s, when Shenzhen began dismantling the State’s benefit housing system. The key point about the rise of real estate developers is that they are all less than twenty years old, profit(eer)ing from the Chinese State’s decision to discontinue public housing for middle class workers (For more details, see Historic Footnote, below).

Less than fifteen years after the end of public housing, the fact that four Shenzhen real estate developers are collaborating with Xiasha isn’t surprising. After all, the only remaining land to be developed in Shenzhen is under the control of Village Community Limited Corporations. Indeed, much of what is currently glossed as “renovation” is in fact, a process in which land rights transfer from the Village Holding Company to the Municipality by way of a developer, who sells buildings but not land. What is interesting, however, in how these developers are working with Xiasha to create a recognizably traditional and Confucian identity. In other words, Xiasha is being presented as a viable form of upgraded urban village that explicitly references tradition, rather than Communist history and the establishment of New China. Significantly, renovation at Xiasha not only marks the convergence of Village Community and Enterprise interests, but also reveals the ideological form of this convergence as an upscale urban village. What remains to be seen is whether or not Xiasha Limited can expand as the real estate companies have, or if it will remained tied to its traditional land.

Below, impressions caught on a walk from Chegongmiao to Xiasha. Several notes. 1. Chegongmiao was a mid-80s industrial park. It is now being renovated with restaurants and office space, but it does save the older urban layout as well as benefit housing stock. Thus, the area offers middle class workers relatively affordable and convenient housing. 2. Just across the street, Xiasha will soon boast a major KK skyscraper, which will make the urban village prime real estate. 3. I finished my walk by having my fortune told, by a Tianjin grandma, whose hand-written notebook reminds us that popular religion is not simply about respecting social hierarchy (as in the Chen-Yang Temple), but also manipulating fate to get ahead.

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Historic Footnote: The Privatization of Work Unit Housing and the Creation of Shenzhen’s Housing Market

Before the 1992 Southern Tour, housing in Shenzhen was typically of two kinds — either work unit housing, which was built by state work units for their staff or rental properties in the urban villages. Accordingly, state work units and independent crews were responsible for most housing design and construction. After the Southern Tour, however, Shenzhen began extensive housing reform (房改), which entailed both privatizing extant housing and creating commercial housing stocks. Until 1999, when the last work unit developments had been approved, Shenzhen had three kinds of housing — benefit housing (福利房), small profit housing (微利房), and commercial housing (商品房). Benefit housing belonged to the work unit, which assigned housing to staff by calculating such factors as seniority, tenure and hukou status. Small profit housing was just that, work unit housing whereby the unit building the housing was able to earn a small profit. Commercial housing was just that, housing that was developed with an eye to making a profit.

During the 1990s, most middle class Shenzhen residents lived in either benefit or small profit housing. In order to make their housing attractive to people who might otherwise settle for benefit or small profit housing, nascent real estate development groups sold life styles, the most popular of which was known as “European style”. Many middle class workers who already had a benefit or small profit home invested in commercial housing. However, most middle class workers aspired to either benefit or small profit housing. Nevertheless, housing reform transformed this system and by the end of the 90s and especially first years of the new millennium, commercial housing stocks had become the most common option for middle class migrants, who arrived in the city after benefit and small profit housing had been discontinued. For the next five years, work units allocated the last of benefit and small profit housing. Then, in mid 2007 – early 2008, Shenzhen’s real estate market took off, with housing and building prices abruptly doubling within one calendar year.