tangtou, baishizhou,may 23, 2016

Today while walking Baishizhou, I stumbled upon surveyors from the Nanshan District government. The were beginning the measurements for compensations and consequently for the first time in roughly two years the buildings were open.

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the “village” thing

This past week, I toured Shangling Old Village (上岭村) in Dalang. Decaying villages like Shangling contextualize the “what came after” success story that is SHENZHEN! And yet. This contextualization depends upon one, standardized (and quite frankly boring) narrative of rags to riches, sudden wealth, boom boom boom, etcetera etcetera and so forth.  Continue reading

baishizhou: withering practices

The process of uprooting the northern section of Baishizhou has begun through withering practices–the removal of social nutrients in order to promote razing and evacuations as inevitable, necessary, desired. Continue reading

baishizhou update

We’ve known for a while that the Tangtou rowhouses had been condemned. In fact, for the second half of 2012 and a few months in 2013, CZC tried to rent a room for our art intervention, but could not because even though people still lived in the houses, there had been ongoing evictions. Instead, we ended up renting a handshake efficiency (302!)in Shangbaishi, near the Jiangnan Grocery Store.

Yesterday, I saw that they had actually begun the process of sealing off the alleys between buildings. But the eviction process is just that, a process and there are still signs of inhabitation. In addition, the well at the southern edge of the Tangtou row house plaza has been hidden behind a white screen. The screen, however, has created a semi-private area, where women seem more comfortable doing their laundry. In fact, I haven’t seen this many women working at the well in a while.

I also wandered south across Shennan Road into the actual Baishizhou, where the wall between the urbanized village and Window of the World dramatically announces mixed-use with post-modern characteristics. The Baishizhou side of the wall reads like a half-built and abandoned handshake building, while the WoW side models the Corcovado mountain range just outside Rio de Janeiro, where Christ the Redeemer blesses theme park visitors.

Impressions, below.

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handshake 302

CZC logosCZC特工队 is a group organized to engage Shenzhen’s urban villages through art, theater, and social media documentary projects. Our first project is called “Handshake 302”.

The concept behind Handshake 302 is simple: Baishizhou is our “artspace”, which has its office at Shangbaishi, second block, building 49, apartment 302, a 15 sq meter conveniency apartment in Shangbaishi.

We will use the actual apartment to commission and develop installations. Our first project is “Numbers” and will open on October 10. In addition, we work with visual artists, performing artists, and writers to develop projects that engage and extend Baishizhou. We will use the Baishizhou Culture Plaza (and outdoor stage) to develop performance pieces. On October 20, for example, Peter Moser will work with local street musicians to create a communnity concert. We also encourage artists and performers to create and install / perform works throughout Baishizhou. Fat Bird, for example, is currently developing a piece that uses the Tangtou rowhouses as their stage.

Handshake 302 has been accepted by the 2013 Shenzhen-Hong Kong Architecture Biennale as a collatoral venue, bringing Baishizhou into conversation with the main venues in Shekou.

Impressions of 302 and its immediate environment, below.

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even maoist spaces crumble and fade…

Only eleven houses remain occupied in Baishizhou’s Tangtou row houses.

Nanshan District tacitly condemned these houses several years ago, but did not become serious about evictions until the Universidade (Summer 2011). As inhabitants were evicted, the District padlocked the doors, so that the buildings could not be reoccupied. However, as the saying goes, “Those on top have policies, those on the bottom have countermeasures (上有政策,下有对策)”. When houses weren’t immediately padlocked, another family or worker or group of friends moved in. The owners continued to collect rent. When enforcers from the Urban Management Bureau (城管) came by either the inhabitants moved, or made friends with them and stayed, waiting for the final eviction.

This wait and see attitude has been much more successful for inhabitants of houses where the landlord is either in Hong Kong or further abroad. As a 4-year resident said, “Property managers don’t care what we do because the absent landlords are legally responsible. All they have to do is collect rents and their paychecks. I’m polite to urban management and they leave me alone. We’re all human, and when it’s time to move, they’ll tell me.”

Nanshan District has decided to close down the area completely because the summer rains further weakened the structures. These buildings from rural collectivism are no longer simply considered an eyesore, but also dangerously unsound. The vanishing of Maoist economic legacies was, of course, one of Shenzhen’s raison d’etre. However, Maoism lingered in the nooks and crannies of previously built spaces, such as Tangtou. Indeed, the Tangtou row houses are one of the few remaining examples of Maoist architecture in Shenzhen’s inner districts and once they have been razed, Maoism will become more of a spectre than it already is.

Thought du jour: in Shenzhen, even crumbling, Maoist dormitories can no longer safely shelter the city’s poorest workers and their families. Wither the left, indeed.

Impressions of Tangtou wet and sunny, and still occupied interior.

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as shenzhen razes: the baishizhou urban renewal plan online

Shenzhen developer, Lvgem Group (绿景集团) has uploaded a video of the Urban Renewal Plan for the Five Shahe Villages in Baishizhou (白石洲沙河五村旧改专项规划).

Wow. Just wow. And not in the good way.

The current built environment of roughly 580,000 square meters will increase 10-fold, to 5.5 million square meters.

The argument for razing the current settlement and replacing it with high, high rises and skyscrapers is that Baishizhou villagers live in grungy unpleasant conditions that need to be upgraded. The proposed solution is for the developers will work with villagers in order to bring them into the urbanization process.

In a nutshell,  the problem is that the video conflates the idea of “villagers” with the ruralized current residents of Baishizhou. There will be a resettlement area for “villagers”, but who counts as a villager? The actual population of Baishizhou is over 140,000, of which 120,000 do not have Shenzhen hukou. So, inquiring minds want to know: is the plan calling for ten times the space to house the 20,000 residents who do have hukou? Or does “villager” only refer to the actual members of the five villages, which means we’re talking about less than 2,000 people with resettlement rights. And if that’s the case, who will live in all this new, upgraded, hyper-modern space after the current residents have been forced to leave?

A quick visit to 58 net reveals how cheap housing in Baishizhou is relative to the surrounding area. In fact, many young office workers and professionals from neighboring Science and Technology Park (科技园) also live in Baishizhou as to designers and creative talents who work in the OCT Loft. Providing this class with livable (宜居) housing is an ongoing Shenzhen concern. Indeed, there is now an official plaque for hanging on a rental building which confirms a building’s livability.

It is estimated that over half Shenzhen’s population live in the villages, which account for roughly 10% of the area’s land. Arguably, the villages are the city, while high end housing estates and neighborhoods might be thought as wealthy suburbs, with lovely gardens and huge tracks of private spaces. Consequently, the question of who actually belongs to an “urban village” is the social, political, economic question because as Jonathan Bach has argued, the villages have been the incubators where (some of) Shenzhen’s migrant workers transform themselves into urbanites and potentially citizens.

As Shenzhen razes. Stay tuned.

egalitarian architecture

One of the more interesting architectural continuities between Maoist Tangtou and Handshake Baishizhou is the ideology of egalitarianism (平均主义).

When Tangtou villagers first came to Baishizhou in 1959, they gave up their rural status and became members of the Shahe Farm (沙河农场). As members of the Farm, their hukou status was “non-rural (非农)”. This meant that they had rights to socialist welfare benefits, including housing, a salary, a rice allocation, and education for their children. In turn, they gave up their land rights. All this, even though they continued to do agricultural labor. Thus, as a architectural typology, Tangtou’s flat houses were not rural buildings — traditional or modern — but rather socialist dormitories.

According to the Maoist planned economy, non-rural members of socialist work units were entitled to dormitory housing, or “one houselhold, one room (一户一间)”. Within these dormitories, all facilities were the same — the same size sleeping and communal areas, the same number of windows, and the same access to the collective canteen and outhouses, differences in family size, notwithstanding. This type of dormitory construction was the architectural manifestation of a larger egalitarian ideology.

Of course, architectural egalitarianism was relative to regions as well as local resources. For example, the dormitories that Tangtou villagers built in Baishizhou were one story structures made of cement admixtures, wooden beams, and Hakka technology. After the canteen system broke down, families constructed small stoves outside their front doors, but continued to share nearby outhouses and wells. In contrast, dormitories in cities ranged from buildings of stacked, one-room efficiencies with a bathroom at the end of the hallway to buildings of multiple room apartments. In the colder northern cities, the decision to turn on and off central heating for everyone in a dormitory was an extension of this theory as was the decision not to provide central heating to dormitories south of the Yangtze River.

The construction of urban villages in Shenzhen has been an extension of architectural egalitarianism in the post Mao era. All handshakes were built on plats of 10 X 10 meters. To insure equal access to sunlight, there is a mandatory distance of 3 meters on the east-west axis between buildings and a distance of 8 meters on the north south axis. This mandated layout is the basic grid of an urban village. Moreover, when juxtaposed against older settlements, including rural dormitories like Tangtou or village settlements at Hubei, for example, the layout of a handshake settlement extends and often further rationalizes the egalitarianism of the previous layout.

This form of development has brought with it two urban planning conundrums:

  1. The 10 X 10 grid, with its mandatory distances of 3 and 8 meters between buildings pre-empts the efforts to put in adequate roads. 3 meters is small enough that handshakes have grown closer together — albeit without touching — on the east-west axis. At the same time, 8 meters is only wide enough to accommodate one traffic lane, which often gets jammed during deliveries or when too many motorcycles dart through.
  2. Public space and access to main roads is at a premium within the settlements. At Tangtou, for example, the large basketball court in front of the 59 dormitories is the one large space, where children and older people can meet outside. At night this area becomes a night market with more business than those areas in the Baishizhou alleys. Likewise, the roads that connect Baishizhou to Shennan Road are also the most profitable because they have storefronts in areas with large numbers of pedestrians.

The ongoing ruralization of Tangtou (and other urban villages  neighborhoods) has had paradoxical ideological effects. On the one hand, thinking of Tangtou as rural empowered Tangtou residents to make handshake land grabs. On the other hand, thinking of Tangtou as rural continues to justify the exclusion of Tangtou residents from discussions of future development, differing to the expertise of “urban” intellectuals and authorities. Moreover, the urban planning problems presented by Tangtou are considered effects of “rural” and “traditional” thinking. However, Tangtou is as “rural” and as “traditional” as Greenwich Village, NYC. The current built environment of Mao-era dormitories and post Mao handshakes is itself a product of non-rural socialism, first as the Shahe Farm and then as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.

And there’s the rub: what does it mean that “rural” and “traditional” Tangtou Baishizhou has come to represent all that is good and problematic about Shenzhen’s “urban villages”?  More generally, what are we to make of Maoist egalitarianism — both its continued appeal to the broad masses of Chinese people and its problematic manifestations — when we confuse it with a Chinese past that never happened?

aging in tangtou, baishizhou

This past week I have been listening to stories from the residents of the Tangtou row houses. Here is one:

Old Xu was born on November 12, 1945. In neidi, he was an accountant on a production team and then for the village enterprise.  After the redistribution of land during the household responsibility system, he and his wife did not receive enough land to farm cotton profitably. Consequently, his three children left to work elsewhere and the land has gone fallow except for a small vegetable plot.

Two years ago, Old Xu came to Shenzhen at the age of 65 because he did not want to burden his children with the cost of his retirement. His wife continues to live back home, taking care of their grandchild.His pension is only 30 or 40 rmb a month. Together, he and his wife need 20,000 rmb annually, or about 1,700 a month to meet their expenses. In Baishizhou, he makes a living collecting and reselling cardboard boxes and other garbage. He says he can save money this way because although there’s no real profit, he makes enough to support himself and to bring a little home for Chinese New Year.

At present Old Xu lives with two other old men in one of the 25+ square meter houses. This house is one of the cheaper in the settlement, with a rent of about 600 rmb a month plus water and electricity. His share is 200 rmb a month, or roughly 5 times his retirement pension back home. A bathroom has been added to the outside of the building. Inside, the space has been divided for sleeping and simple cooking.

When I asked him how the environment could be improved, Old Xu said that old people have no place to exercise. Instead, they just sit around talking, but that was the fastest way to an unhealthy old age! Old Xu also admitted that he was lonely because except for his roommates, he didn’t know anyone in the area. He then shrugged and asked rhetorically, “What can be done? If I go home, I can only become a burden for my children.”

tangtou research begins!

After many months of waiting and hoping and wishing (and yes research is often an overplayed love song), the CZC Special Forces have begun our research in Tangtou, Baishizhou. Yesterday morning and afternoon, we began a survey of the buildings.

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