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.
Friday, April 20, 2018, Handshake 302 had the privilege of hosting Wu Xiaoya’s (吴晓雅) sharing about her recently published book, Baishizhou: Shenzhen’s Center and Periphery (白石洲：深圳的中心与边缘。深圳报业集团出版社，2018). Roughly twenty people squeezed into the backroom at Banxian Coffee House, which graciously offered its space for the two-hour event. Of note? The audience comprised a representative sample of the young intellectuals interested in Shenzhen’s urban villages, including recent college graduates who currently live in urban villages, graduate and doctoral students from Shenzhen University, and several second generation Shenzheners who are active in the city’s 公益 scene. We gathered not only to discuss Baishizhou specifically, but also the so-called “urban village phenomenon.” Continue reading
If you’re wondering how Shenzhen’s urban village experience does and does not map into planned and unplanned urbanization and concomitant urbanisms in Asian Cities, please check out Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity Past and Present. Tim Bunnell and Daniel Goh have edited this cross-disciplinary discussion about how cities manifest future dreams and aspirations, as well as the problems that arise when the forms of outdated futures structure everyday life.
Also: the more I interact with architects, urban planners, and designers the more I have come to appreciate good design. As an object, the book is lovely.
Jonathan BACH opened our three-day workshop “Informal Plans, Planned Informality: Shenzhen as Model and Field” with the observation that our goal is not to map the borders between the proper city and its others, but rather to track the (slightly inflammatory, a bit delirious) algorithms that constantly produce those borders, which in turn keep re-producing the city. What does it mean, we ask, to document uncertainty?
Just finished reading Ting Chen’s A State beyond the State: Shenzhen and the Transformation of Urban China, which maps how land was assigned and developed over the course of 35 years of development in Shenzhen. One of my favorite sections in the book tracks the transformation of Shahe State Farm, pre-1979 Bao’an County’s only danwei into Baishizhou, the city’s most iconic urban village. Indeed, Chen’s meticulous maps suggest how the area has mediated rural-urban conditions since 1959, when the farm was established. Continue reading
The Migrations exhibition opened beneath bright sun and clear skies, bringing together people from Longhua and Dalang, as well as graduate students from Shenzhen University and Langkou aunties. The opening ceremony celebrated the central idea of the 7th edition of the Biennale “Cities grow in difference,” taking advantage of the contrasts between the restored P+V, its surrounding urban village, and the clean design of INFUTURE. These contrasts created a particularly postmodern aesthetic that celebrated three generations of migrants—Hakkas who came to the area 300 years ago, missionaries who arrived 150 years ago, and the Shenzheners who have been path breaking Shenzhen since 1980. Indeed, the these differences are the nutrients that have made Shenzhen’s unique migrant culture. Continue reading