Exit A Baishizhou Station, Luobao Metro Line

51 seconds in Baishizhou.

fuhua south road

Impressions of a walk along Fuhua South Road. This is one of the oldest areas in the city. Of note, the street is busy and vibrant and runs parallel to Shennan Road, which is wide and long and filled with vehicular traffic, but few pedestrians.

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double bind urbanization

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

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

street life, baishizhou

Xintang and Shang Baishizhou lie northwesterly to Tangtou within the larger Baishizhou neighborhood. Where the allies widen into roads, a vibrant, bustling urbanity hints at unexpected encounters. The Baishizhou Pedestrian Commercial Street, the Baishizhou Christian Church, and inadvertent plazas, for example, speak to the social possibilities that high density street life creates.

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figuring out the street, shekou gongye number 8 road

I live on Shekou Gongye Number 8 Road, translated, my address is “Shekou Industry Road #8”. There are 10 industry roads in Shekou, remnants of the Shekou Industrial Zone. Walking these roads gives a good sense of not only how the city is gentrifying, but also the different street lives that various generations of urbanization have engendered.

To understand my discussion of class differences and symbolic geography of Industry Road #8, please reform to the map below which gives a rough sense of extent of land reclamation on the Nantou Peninsula. For purposes of this discussion, key landmarks, Industry Rd #8 and Houhai Road, which connects to New Shekou Road:

The older core of #8 threads through the residential parts of Old Shekou, linking up with what was the area’s commercial center and industrial parks. However, as part of the stutterstep Houhai Land Reclamation Project, #8 has lengthened with each burst of fill. Houhai Road used parallel the coastline and marked the thick edge where Mangrove trees gave way to piers and oyster cultivation, it now marks the historic divide between the old and new coastlines, between which upscale residential areas and shopping malls continue to be built. Thus, Houhai Road also constitutes a boundary between older but poorer and new rich neighborhoods

On #8, Houhai Road also divides the area into two different kinds of street life. The older section has concrete sidewalks that connect housing developments with 7 story walk-ups, community park areas with local foliage, and simple (also concrete) benches. The gate between the housing development and the street is a security bar that controls traffic flow in and out of the area. The new section has stylized sidewalks that are embellished with granite and marble at residences. The buildings are over 20 stories, the community park areas landscaped with imported topiary, and the benches ornate designs of iron and wood. The gates are over one story high with faux noble emblems that control pedestrian traffic in and out of the development because cars have a separate entrance that leads to underground parking.

During the day, the older section bustles with ad hoc businesses — soybean milk and steamed bun venders, people sitting on plastic chairs chatting, and various kiosks selling drinks, snacks, and newspapers. In the newer section, all these activities take place indoors and no one uses the public benches because the trees haven’t grown in enough to give shade. At night, in the older section a bbq station sets up and older people play chess. In the newer section, several entrepreneurs have set up roller blade classes for the children of the housing estates.

All this to make a simple observation about the ongoing construction of the Houhai Land Reclamation Area — in Shenzhen’s symbolic geography, the reclaimed areas function as a negation of the previous areas. This is not surprising given the SEZ’s historic role as a negation of Maoist space. However, it is important to note the vocabulary through which the ongoing formation of class identities in Shenzhen is expressed. The most recent, the newest is the best, representing the improvement of the past.

In practice, this symbolic geography has depended upon building large projects on unclaimed or reclaimed land. As unclaimed and reclaimed land become increasing scarce, however, this has meant that razing older areas has become the preferred way of creating “new” space. Consequently, these new spaces do not only negate the old symbolically, but increasingly depend razing old neighborhoods and the displacement of poorer residents, so that the negation becomes explicit — you and your type not welcome in the city. At present this logic is most visible and visceral in the urban villages. Nevertheless, here in the older section of #8, we hear the bulldozers on the horizon. More notes and images of the Houhai transformation, here.