This is a speculative post about something that has been niggling at the back of my mind this past year. Or at least since I started walking around Shenzhen after COVID restrictions lifted circa April 2020; I think the era of urban villages in Shenzhen has ended.Continue reading
So, I realized the other day that I’ve been walking neighborhoods that have been scheduled for urban renewal without actually posting anything about them. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve lost track of what iteration of Shenzhen planning we’re on, or if its just that construction sites blur together after awhile. At any rate, photos from a recent walk around Dongmen (东门) and Hubei Ancient Village (湖贝古村).
Yesterday I walked Baishizhou, remembering the bustle of our rushed departure. Bikes and motorbikes, cars and moving vans clogged the hot streets, and we squeezed through and around pedestrians on their way home or to work or to shop or out for a snack. Yesterday, even the once crowded food alley has been mostly abandoned; a few shops are still open at the intersections between the alley and main roads, but the overwhelming feeling is one of departure and a viscous waiting.
So after the Municipality announced that it would suspend demolition of extant urban villages, villagers who will still have to hand their property rights over to the city took to the streets to agitate for demolitions. Because here’s the rub. The city has been using the demolitions as a way of regularizing property ownership, transforming the grays of collective ownership into the black and white of law. Now, the new plan will proceed with the regularization of property without the wealth that demolition has generated. Suddenly, there are villages facing what they clearly see as “lose-lose.” On the one hand, as the city upgrades living conditions in the handshake buildings, in perpetuity rights will become the 70 year rights of ordinary urban property. On the other hand, the transfer fees for those rights will no longer (can no longer) generate instant millionaires a la Gangxia and Dachong.
So, Hubei Old Village isn’t being demolished, but it’s not being protected from the fallout of master plans and hammer drills. I walked the edges of the demolition area in and around New Hubei Village and the former Luohu Culture Park, which used to be one of my favorite public spaces downtown. Impressions of the withering practices that encroach on the “Old Special Zone, below.”
Impressions of the Xiasha Plaza since the opening of the k.k. one mall. Those who follow the cycle of urban village demolition, relocation, and upgrading know the k.k. folks as 京基, the same development company involved in renovating Caiwuwei.
They will soon begin digging the basement and putting in foundation where the Shahe Creative Park used to be. As I have yet to invest in a drone, I resort to climbing–past the five&dime, the yoga studio, the taikwando studio, and the Shahe Creative Park Office–to the top of a partially cordoned building to take pictures of the changing landscape:
Last night, the Baishizhou Squad (as I think of the loosely organised group that is dedicated to documenting and finding alternatives to redeveloping urban villages) held a “flash exhibition” of images from their “Don’t Demolish Baishizhou” series. The entire performance took 30 minutes: 25 minutes to put up the images and then roughly 5 minutes for the city management folk to take them down. They chose to put the pictures up near the pharmacy, which is contesting the demolition in order to secure compensation for his investment. Continue reading
New edges and older sections, urban tumescence overtakes low-lying hills and buries oceans. The strength of urban expansion, its righteous inevitability, shimmers and jiggles, impresses–even though eventually paths peter out and doors remain bolted.
Closed off closed out: enclosed.
This is not the city that I want. It is however the city that has shaped my dreams and fears, given form to what I think is possible, what I believe to be necessary. Continue reading
Luohu as we knew it is changing. The recent announcement that urban renewal compensation has made billionaires of Shuibei villagers, the decision to selectively preserve and redesign Hubei as a “historic” public park area, and ongoing renewal of Caiwuwei fang (坊) or “branches”–individually, each of these projects entails demolition, evictions, and rebuilding and restructuring of particular neighborhoods, but taken together these projects entail through revision of the Old Special Zone. And yes, we’ve been watching this happen all along, but enough of the earlier urban tecture remained that we could feel where we came from, as we moved between and through adjacent neighborhoods. These new projects signal something else. Continue reading