A great Shenzhen neighborhood brings together several generations and types of housing. There is usually an urban village or two, danwei housing that was built before 2000 (more or less), and a larger mall complex that brings in the subway. When these clusters of different building types are located within walking distance of each other, you end up with a thriving independent food scene, affordable housing for singletons and low-income families, and upscale spaces that provide air-conditioned comfort for a cup of coffee or a cram school.
Among 90s generation immigrants (who are twenty-something or just turned 30), Meilin has become popular because it not only provides a diversity of housing and shopping options, but also because it is centrally located; anyone who lives here is looking at relatively quick commutes to work. Nearby urban villages are also popular among low-income families, who can rent two-bedroom apartments for 3,000-4,000, which is expensive, but doable with two parents working and an elder who watches children.
The popularity of this kind of mixed housing neighborhoods means that Shenzhen doesn’t have enough elementary school places where most families live. Historically, Shenzhen has lacked school places relative to population, but that was managed through hukou. However, since the city has allowed the children of long-term residents to attend elementary and middle school, high-density schooling has increasingly become an issue in the city, especially in neighborhoods like Meilin, where low-income families live.
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, I wrote Heart of Shenzhen: The Movement to Preserve ‘Ancient’ Hubei Village. It was published in The New Companion to Urban Design, an (embarrassingly expensive) anthology, edited by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris & Tridib Banerjee. The paper tracks the rise of public intellectuals in Shenzhen as well as growing identification with the city’s cultural geographies.
So romancing the ocean, or is it oceans of romance? At any rate, once we’ve cordoned off and sold the coastline, it seems that all we’re left with romantic sunsets, looking toward the horizon that we’ll never reach. Poetic. Deliciously melancholy, even. And I do like looking off into the sunset. It’s just that the reduction of the coastline to commodified views distresses me. I keep wondering, what about the other senses? In Shenzhen it is incredibly difficult to smell fishing nets, feel of water rippling over our toes, listen to seabirds diving for crabs, and taste a gritty ocean breeze because we have been reduced to a pair of eyes in bodies that do not move beyond high rise window sills. Continue reading
On May 26, I participated in a municipal CPPCC event with the intimate title 《城中村——那些事儿》. The event name might be translated as “What’s happening in our urban villages?” PCC, of course, stands for Political Consultative Conference (政协), which has an advisory role to the government. Continue reading
Since the invention of cell phone cameras, most of us take more pictures in a day than we used to in a week or sometimes even a month. We take pictures of ourselves, we take pictures of landscapes, we take pictures of friends, and we take pictures of cats. Many, many pictures of cats. The question, of course, is what are we doing? What desires do these pictures represent? What is the story behind a selfie or the truth capture in a photography of a sleeping kitten? Continue reading
So, many of you know that Shenzhen has been debating what to do about urban villages. Half of the city’s population lives in one village or another, most of the city’s population has lived in a village at one point in their lives, and millions have set up mom & pops in a village, providing for themselves and their families through small capital investments. Just recently, the city approved the “Shenzhen Urban Village (Old Village) Comprehensive Remediation Plan (2019-2025) (《深圳市城中村（旧村）综合整治总体规划（2019-2025）》).” The key point, of course, is that the city is now choosing to remediate and upgrade village spaces, rather than demolishing and evicting residents. Continue reading
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.
Shenzhen has just released its 2018-2025 Comprehensive Plan for Urban Villages (Old Villages) 深圳市城中村总体规划（2018-2025). Here’s the long and short of it: Shenzhen has decided to suspend the demolition of designated urban villages and instead bring the housing stock and surrounding neighborhood shops into its affordable housing program. Continue reading
On October 14, 2018, Handshake 302 welcome a group of Chevening scholars to Baishizhou. We brought the Chevening scholars to seven of Baishizhou’s micro-environments. Each micro-environment not only illustrates the urban life of Shenzhen, but also represents an important moment in the city’s history. Continue reading